IAP e-textbooks embedded in modules – student usage, feedback and engagement PART 1

This blog post was written by Errol Rivera, Edinburgh Napier University.

Everything that happens in an educational environment should be for the students, and e-textbook publishing is no different. Whether you’re a university team looking to provide your students with a more affordable or personalised experience, a lecturer looking to forge their own path in academic writing, or simply a module leader who rightly feels like you could write the best textbook for your own module, you’re ultimately thinking about your students – at least I hope you are. In education, innovations based in research are well equipped to stand under scrutiny, and make it easier for us as educators to hold our decision making and implementation to account. The challenge is producing data that serves several masters. You want your research to inform your innovation as well as justify it. It also needs to show that word that many hard working academics can find contemptible in the messily qualified world of day-to-day teaching: Success.

If you’re adopting an Institution as Publisher (IAP) model for producing your own etextbook, this becomes a unique challenge. This practice is new and under-researched, making it easy for us to ask questions that might seem reasonable, but may not lead to the most useful or clearly meaningful data. As evaluator on an IAP project, we used academic research to support the embedding of IAP texts into modules, and the embedding of an IAP model into normal university operations. The following is a brief of how we developed and executed this research, as well as what’s come of it so far:

Making no assumptions: This is a given in research, but it’s worth saying here. The IAP etextbook is a new concept, which means we took plenty of time to discuss the kinds of questions we wanted to ask, and why we were asking them.

Avoiding bias: We saw a lot of potential for IAP etextbooks. Cheaper for students. More money directly to lecturers who wrote them. Textbooks fully tailored for a single lecturers designed learning journey. I was constantly looking for questions that were some version of “tell us why this idea is so good?” or “what are you scared of?” and after some hard interrogation, I found more than a few questions that I had to re-write.

What are we trying to do and who’s this for?: We knew that we needed to learn whether or not there was a place for an IAP model of producing etextbooks, but we also wanted to inform how that was done. We also wanted to make sure about all of our definitions for success, so that we could decide how to measure it. Those definitions were chosen by looking at the stakeholders.

  • The IAP team: A cheap, easily accessible text, that has the quality of a mainstream produced textbook. One that takes advantage of the “e” in etextbook, and could be produced sustainably. The IAP team at The University of the Highlands and Islands wasn’t just interested in making one book for one class, and this had a broad influence on our questions. Their full focus was on a well-developed process that wouldn’t run the danger of, say, working better for one disciplinary culture than another. To fit this philosophy, they decided to make an etextbook that could be used in any number of disciplines: research projects and dissertation writing. Our surveys had to be flexible in terms of subject discipline, sample size, and type of university. This is also important to note, because we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about subject-centred questions. For that expertise, you’ll want to consult the other Jisc funded IAP teams.
  • The Student: a cheap text that’s easy to get and easy to understand, and relevant to what they’re learning.
  • University leadership: an IAP process that is financially sustainable, easy to manage, with a positive effect on the student experience, as well as the reputation of the university.
  • Our funders: Jisc was good enough to give us a list of things they wanted to learn about, all of which added up to all-the-above, and much much more. Ultimately, our understanding is that they wanted a knowledge base for forming IAP models, one that lecturers and universities alike could participate in and benefit from, as well as understanding the economic influences that might occur from a shift in the landscape of higher education publishing. They also wanted to know how much students were already using etextbooks and whether that had a meaningful difference on how they experienced higher education.

As mentioned before, your data should inform the design of your IAP model. So, we asked a lot of questions about price, quality, where students get books, on what devices and platforms do they read etextbooks. We also asked what makes them get books that are only recommended as opposed to required. There were more than a few questions not just about etextbooks but texts in general. This started to feel like market research, and this is where the “who’s this for?” question really kept us in line – that and good old fashioned research ethics.

We weren’t the authors and producers of the etextbook, but we worked with the people who did and we support them. We were also responsible for getting lecturers to volunteer for this project – that meant, welcoming the UHI IAP etextbook onto their reading lists, as such we were constantly policing ourselves to make sure we weren’t acting like salesmen. If I learned anything in this process, it’s that when you’re trying to introduce an innovation you care about (especially one that makes money), the ethical rigors of academic research aren’t just helpful – they’re necessary. That doesn’t mean you can’t collect data from students who pay for the product/process you’re researching, but there should always be a free option. As such we created a two-stage survey collection – one survey about textbooks and etextbooks in general, and one about the etextbooks in question which they could acquire for free after finishing the first survey.

What we learned was that students, more than anything, prioritise usefulness. They put a lot of trust in their lecturers, to guide them in finding texts. We were also happy to learn that a majority of our respondents made good use of the university library for their texts. However, out with the library and required reading lists, low prices can actually give students second thoughts about the prospective quality of textbooks – so, IAP teams have to do different things to ensure students that their etextbook is worth it. This can encompass everything from search engine optimisation, to recommendations from prominent academics and award winning students, or even just engaging with individual lecturers who could benefit. We also learned that lecturers consistently want their books available in libraries, which provides licensing challenges for IAP teams. Finally, we learned that the IAP concept presented lecturers with exciting professional development possibilities for their own writing and academic careers.

This is just a quick look at the kinds of questions and data that could be used to justify an IAP pilot, but what about when you get them in the classroom? For that, you’ll have to read part two of IAP Etextbooks embedded in modules – student usage, feedback and engagement.

In the meantime, feel free to have a look at our stage-one survey, and interrogate it for your own usage. This annotated PDF will detail question structure and explain a bit of the thinking behind specific questions.

Marketing engagement and creativity

This blog post was written by Emily Felton, Marketing Assistant, Liverpool University Press.

One of the foremost principles in academic books marketing is to ensure that the research of an author gets the exposure it deserves. Publishing within the academic markets of the humanities and social sciences ensures that we often encounter some of the more niche denominations of wider subject areas. As a result of this, determining the most effective approach for our market segments can be challenging. Where one segment of the market is responsive to one method of marketing, another often is not.  A consistently effective books marketing strategy is thus reliant on a combination of both digital and traditional tools to which various audiences are receptive.

Whilst traditional methods of books marketing enjoy a degree of success, digital marketing methods are increasingly preferred by publishers for their wider outreach, accessibility and ability to create an ongoing dialogue with customers. Digital marketing platforms have the potential to be profoundly useful owing to their ability to be measured though metrics, views, shares, likes, and retweets. Because of this, publishers can identify what works and disregard unsuccessful approaches and therefore build a successful digital marketing campaign in a relatively short space of time.

The force that is social media must now be acknowledged as one of the most useful tools in books marketing. The ever-developing platforms of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow publishers to showcase new titles and their content in a way that is easily accessible and cost effective. Social media platforms are used to announce the release of titles, share reviews, engage with the academic community and project the content of our titles directly to our followers. The marketing campaign for Using Primary Sources is continuously conducted predominately on Twitter and allows us to creatively interact with our five-thousand followers to encourage them to engage with the resource. Recently, we have used the hashtag trend ‘Flashback Friday’, posting images from Using Primary Sources to demonstrate the resource’s rich archival material, from the historical to the humorous. If nothing else, we provided pictorial evidence that Friday Feeling was a thing in 1890! Our ‘Caption this’ campaign also encouraged and challenged our audience to engage with the content of Using Primary Sources by tweeting us their own captions for the resource’s images. The response from our followers, alongside the metrics obtained from Twitter, reveal how effective social media has been in spreading awareness of Using Primary Sources to a wide international audience, as users in over 31 countries have engaged with the e-textbook within the first year of its launch. This is something that would have been much harder to achieve through traditional marketing activities.

As the first port of call for many customers of the press, the Liverpool University Press website is a natural space for marketing activity. The blogging aspect of our website provides a space where we can devote considerable attention to a title, which we did for Using Primary Sources. Recently, categories were introduced to the blog, so that visitors could browse the content by subject area. We are thus able to promote the content of our books more directly to each segment of our audience through our multitude of marketing platforms. Marketing activity for a title can be accompanied by a link to the subject area blog which directs a potential customer to content of relevance to them.  We regularly release interviews and original pieces to promote the content of books and research of the authors. By interviewing an author, we draw out the most interesting aspects of a book, asking how an author’s work furthers scholarly discussion within their field. Snippets of the content of blogs can be adapted for social media to draw in readers. This year, for example, we promoted a military history interview with the headline ‘Why Everything You Thought You Knew about The Battle of Crécy is Wrong.’ A blog piece is arguably the medium by which we can share the most in-depth information about a title, and reach out to our audience in a personal and accessible tone whilst allowing an author to champion their own research.

Amidst the success of digital marketing approaches, we also reap the benefits of more traditional marketing practises. The pre-digital practise of reviews marketing is a ritual by which ourselves and other publishers still abide. By arranging for journals to review our titles, we create considerable exposure for a book through a medium that is directly relevant to our various segments. From the huge variety of academic journals published, we select those which reflect our niche subject areas to cultivate reviews. If you look hard enough, there really is a journal for everything!

Another well-established avenue of books marketing is attendance at conferences. Again, a side-step from the digital approach to marketing, conferences provide an excellent opportunity to showcase an entire list with physical stock and promotional material for forthcoming titles. The opportunity arises to discuss a list in terms of forthcoming titles and commissioning with potential authors or to arrange reviews of recent titles. Presence at a conference can be very beneficial in terms of expanding and commissioning lists as well as raising the profile of the press.

This blog post is a snapshot of some of the marketing activities we employ at Liverpool University Press. It hopefully shows that with a bit of creativity, you can engage directly with your audience and bring a resource like Using Primary Sources to life.

External Distribution and Promotion of eTIPS eTextbooks

This blog post was written by Laurence Patterson, Edinburgh Napier University.

The largest distribution network in the world is, of course Amazon, used by millions of book readers each year, but also by millions of writers, as a means of self-publishing through their Kindle Distribution Publishing (KDP) service. For eTIPS, a joint project between Edinburgh Napier University and the University of the Highlands and Islands, the outputs were two eTextbooks that discussed students’ preparation for research. The eBooks were distributed primarily through the KDP service.

Some significant advantages come with using KDP – the files they require to be uploaded aren’t difficult to create and format – the artwork you use for the cover needn’t be too complex (indeed, they have a good selection of templates if Photoshop isn’t your thing!) When everything is loaded, and sales are coming in, you’re going to be able to access a good statistics package, telling you where and when people have paid for your publications. And you’re going to have immediate distribution, of course, to a global marketplace – Amazon’s network extends to Australia, to Japan, to India. Royalties are then paid to your bank account at the end of each month, based on the activity of the month before. The biggest problem is that, given the ease of the process, everyone is doing it, so your publication is going to struggle to be seen, unless you take advantage of some promotion opportunities offered by Amazon and by the wider community.

Readers will choose to purchase a Kindle eBook that they’ve heard of, which they think sounds interesting, that they believe is offered at good value. Price is a good motivator then, and publishers should exploit opportunities to play around with dropping and lifting those titles. Amazon KDP offers a couple of key promotional tools but, arguably, little in the way of instruction on their use. Titles can be offered to Unlimited customers for FREE download for a limited time – up to five days in any ninety-day period. Royalties are then paid not through sales, but by pages read. In contrast, publishers can use KDP’s Countdown Deal promotion to set a Kindle price to fall (or rise) over a select number of days, motivating a purchase at an early (or a late) stage. Both tools aim to draw readers’ attention to a Kindle title which, of course, might otherwise have been lost in the huge selection of available eBooks. The readers, themselves, need to make the effort to see the eBook record.

But premium services like BookBub and BargainBooksy offer publisher-paid promotion for eBooks, highlighting a price-drop across their mailing-list members. This strategy can work in the short term – since it might take fewer than 500 Kindle copies sold for a title to become the number one bestseller mark. These days, across Amazon, a mailing list with 250,000 members is likely to return good sales. At a cost of up to £800 for a single mailing-list promotion, publishers really do need to consider the pros and cons of approaching premium services, but lots of less-effective, much cheaper services exist – eReader News Today, Fussy Librarian and BookGorilla are examples.

At times, Amazon itself will advertise price drops on Kindle titles – ’50 Kindle eBooks at 99p’, ‘Christmas eBooks To Warm Your Heart’, and ‘100 Best Kindle eBooks of 2017’ are three recent examples of fiction promotions run by them. Publishers might be picked and contacted at random for these, but may request that their eBooks are included in future promotions by contacting Amazon directly. A popular title (i.e. one with lots of reviews!) is more likely to be picked up.

In general, then, publishers should embrace the need to spend money to promote their Kindle titles, and to plan how, and when, to do so. Consider who a likely audience is for your work, what approach your competitors are taking, and your available budget. The most important thing is to seek appropriate opportunities to bring potential readers to your Amazon book page, by price promotion over an extended period, careful selection of keyword and category. What they then see on the page will determine how attractive the eBook is to them – the book title, reviews, similar titles, the cover itself – and these can be tackled, updating, amended by you. The second most important rule is to keep going with this strategy!

Surveying authors on resourcing university-led e-textbooks publications

This blog post was written by Mafalda Marques and Graham Stone, Jisc Collections.

Introduction

The survey for resource profiling towards project embedding was developed by Errol Rivera and Laurence Patterson as part the contribution from the University of the Highlands and Islands/Edinburgh Napier to the institution as e-textbook publisher project.

The survey was described by Rivera in a recent blog post as “a tool meant to enable the embedding of a viable and sustainable model for the publication of e-textbooks by a university”. The survey invites authors to answer to questions on four areas of interest:

  • Skills set
  • Time spent writing e-textbooks
  • Appropriate compensation
  • What department or other institutional structure is better suited to manage the publication of e-textbooks.

The survey was completed by those who contributed to the e-textbooks published by UHI/Napier. However, we thought that the survey results would provide a benchmark for other institutions seeking to embark on this journey and as Rivera puts it, want to know “how much did it really cost” to produce as e-textbook? Therefore, as part of the institution as e-textbook publisher project we have invited all the e-textbooks authors to complete the survey, so that we could look for common themes across the projects.

Who completed the survey?

The survey was completed by the e-textbooks authors/co-authors (40% responses), editors (20% responses), editors and authors (20%) as well as by support staff, i.e. administrative and marketing staff (20% responses). Our authors/co-authors/editors skills set varied. Some contributed solely to authoring one or more e-textbook chapters, while others combined this with managing the “whole process from conception of book, content page, peer review, liaising with all authors, communication [with the] publishing team for delivery of book chapters, [coordinating the] external review and promotion of final book”. Support staff tended to provide more ad hoc support during a specific stage of the project.

Time commitment

In order to understand the time commitment involved in writing the e-textbooks, the survey asked how much time authors/co-authors/editors allocated weekly to the publication of the textbooks.

Answers from support staff ranged between three hours per month to 35 hours for the whole project. However, it is more difficult to quantify the time commitment from authors/editors/co-authors. For many, the time spent on the project depended on the particular stage of the e-textbook production process. One author reported that ‘[w]eekly allocation does not accurately reflect the time spent on the project. Book publishing was staged process and thus on some occasion[s] I have to only work on this project to ensure delivery of objectives on time’.

Some of the authors were able to estimate a weekly allocation ranging between 0.5/1 day per week and 12 hours per week. Nevertheless, some of these authors also stated that projects went through stages of requiring more or less time. Therefore, their time allocation could change depending on the workload. This highlights how difficult it is to estimate the real costs of producing a textbook.

We asked authors to give a rough estimation on the total time spent working on the most recent book since its production began. Answers ranged from months, 0.5 to 1.0 day per week, 10% of their time over two years, 120 hours or three weeks or between 250 and 322 hours. This shows just how different the experience can by depending on the type of book being written, the discipline and the size of the team.

One author suggested that it would have been useful to have developed a “guideline to estimate the time allocation required for the production tasks – such as proof-reading, formatting”. In hindsight this is something that would have helped enormously.

For support staff it was easier to estimate the time spent on the project as their contribution included fewer but very specific tasks – between 35 and 40 hours.

Looking to the future, we asked respondents to estimate the amount of staff time required to meet a production schedule of one e-textbook per academic year. Half of our authors answered that it would take them 1-2 days or 10-20% FTE per week, or 2-3 weeks. One editor replied that he would need “[o]ne day a week, but […] would also require one research day a week, which would only leave three days for teaching commitments”. Another valuable comment was that the time commitment would depend “on how much material I would need to generate from scratch”.

Support staff said that they would need 3 hours per month or 17 hours per book. The latter responses show that there is a variation in terms of time commitment depending on the type of contribution these staff make on the publication of e-textbooks.

Allocating costs

The survey asked that, if another member of staff took over the author’s role, what the appropriate compensation would be (£/hour). Half of the respondents were not able to estimate this. However, one author suggested that if an e-textbook would be specially commissioned, “the rates of pay and workload would equate to the existing salary of the commissioned member of staff […]”. Moreover, this author suggested that “a more useful figure would be the cost of the time required by the technical staff to proof, format, and manage the various production stages of the publication”.

The remaining authors/co-authors/editors highlighted that a minimum level of expertise would be required for someone to undertake their role and pointed that the compensation should be between £15 and £100 per hour, or between £33k-£40k per year (i.e. the starting salary for a full-time lecturer/assistant professor).

Institutional structure

The final set of questions focused on understanding what department or other institutional structure is best suited to manage the publication of e-textbooks. When asked if their responsibility on this project reasonably fell under the purview of the department authors/co-authors/editors currently work for, 90% of respondents (including support staff) said yes. In addition, when asked if there would be another department or structure within the university that should manage the publication of e-textbooks, 70% said that there was not another structure better suited to manage e-textbooks publications. One respondent went further, saying that they were “setting up a digital humanities centre, which could eventually take responsibility for leading projects like this”.

When asked if e-textbooks publications should exist as an independent department (i.e. a university press), 50% said yes, 30% were not sure (20% of these respondents were support staff), and 20% did not answer the question. For those that answered yes, one comment was that the current service “could warrant its own unit [and] benefit from being stand alone as it could focus primarily on publishing ebooks”. Others suggested that it could evolve into a press and “be at least partially student ‘owned’ through explicit connection to digital media courses”. Another respondent said that the service could evolve to “an online publication strand to the work of the [current department, and it could benefit from the already existing] processes for learning design management and production”. One respondent who was not sure answered that it depends on the available time and resources, both human and financial.

Other issues

The survey concluded with an invitation to discuss any other aspects not covered in the survey. Specifically areas that upper-level management should consider when determining resources for future university-funded e-textbook production.

Authors/co-authors/editors highlighted issues such as increasing collaboration between early career and senior staff, authors’ compensation (e.g. financial compensation, academic promotion, taking time off from teaching), providing support on ethical and copyright issues, increasing in-house support (e.g. use of internal proofreading services), and making funds available for specific areas (e.g. providing funding for illustrations). In addition, suggestions were also made about supporting the development of new authors within the institution, further developing and harnessing open educational approaches and exploring the potential to engage students in the sharing and publication of their work and as contributors to public knowledge.

 

We believe that, although inconclusive – we didn’t get a simple “it takes X hours to write a textbook” answer, these are valuable insights into the authoring and research process for an e-textbook and could be used by institutions considering funding this area. Particularly around author rewards, e.g. buying out teaching time etc. and this is an area that Jisc would like to take further in due course.

 

 

The author’s view on e-textbook publishing: The Textbook of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

This blog post was written by Deepak Kalaskar, Lecturer in Cellular Engineering, UCL.

Writing a textbook was never on my agenda and thoughts of editing one had never crossed my mind. However, when I got involved in the postgraduate course delivery of the MSc in Burns and Plastic Reconstructive Surgery at UCL, I increasingly realised as an academic the need for a textbook which delivered teaching in this subject area at postgraduate level. Students and even lecturers still scan hundreds of books and make notes to understand over 40 different topics. Why not convert those refined and useful notes into one comprehensive textbook? This is where my journey into editing the book started.

It was by no means a trivial task. Overseeing the organisation of a multi-contributor volume that was reviewed by a senior plastic surgery consultant was an arduous journey. I spent hours editing and discussing chapters with the author team to ensure the content was appropriate and they were of high quality. However, the most interesting aspect I would like to highlight is not the writing or the editing, but the publication of the book. There are many books in plastic surgery but access to them is limited for obvious reasons, their cost! Even if a student wants to expand their learning the price is prohibitive. Also, one is never enough; you always need more as you expand your knowledge in this field.

What we achieved with UCL Press is revolutionary, we have created a textbook Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery which is available to the masses. Being the only postgraduate programme offering of its kind at UCL, the MSc in Burns, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery attracts students from all around the world. This textbook fulfils the academic needs of these students and beyond. Now, the textbook is available via the UCL Press website and has become the first seminal textbook for the course I am running.  The EPDF can be freely downloaded on most electronic devices making it even easier to access. The book has been downloaded more than 20,000 times in 152 countries. This textbook rightfully earned global engagement for both our team and UCL Division of Surgery. This is an excellent example of collaborative work, which aligned very well with UCL’s connected curriculum and ‘UCL 2034’ educational strategy. We are already in the process of preparing the second edition.

The Stages of E-Textbooks Creation

This blog post was written by Jaimee Biggins, Managing Editor, UCL Press.

UCL Press chose Key Concepts in Public Archaeology as its second e-textbook with Jisc as part of the ‘Institution as e-textbook publisher project’. Initially UCL Press had planned for the book to go through the traditional production processes and simultaneous publication of print and online formats. However, during production this was re-assessed partly because of the delayed delivery of some of the chapters in the manuscript – unfortunately a common issue in multi-author edited volumes. As the General Editor had submitted the bulk of the chapters UCL Press chose to follow an online-first model and launch several chapters on the UCL Press digital platform. As Key Concepts in Public Archaeology is an edited collection, with each chapter covering a specific aspect of public archaeology, the chapters can be read quite independently and do not necessarily need to be presented in a linear format.

UCL Press is an open access publisher of scholarly monographs, textbooks and journals. Books are produced in all formats (open access PDF, hardback, paperback, epub, mobi as well as html). The html-based UCL Press digital platform offers an innovative way for UCL Press content to be read. It does this through three different formats – enhanced editions with audio/visual elements, monographs with scholarly functionalities such as the ability to note-take, highlight and share chapters and BOOCS (Books as Open Online Content), which are ‘living books’ with content being added to over time. Public archaeology is an emerging and rapidly growing field of study and therefore there is potential for more chapters to be commissioned in future – these can easily be added to the online version over time, rather than having to wait to produce a full new edition.

The development of the UCL Press platform can be seen in the context of the Academic Book of the Future project. This was a two year AHRC-funded research project (2014-16) run by a core project team from UCL and King’s College London, and led by Dr Samantha Rayner, the Principal Investigator (UCL), which looked at how scholarly work in the arts and humanities will be produced, read, and preserved in coming years and asked key questions such as ‘what is the nature of an academic book?’, as well as exploring new technologies for the book. The project investigated the academic book in its current and emerging contexts, from a range of perspectives (including academics, librarians, publishers and booksellers), and considered a variety of issues – from open access to the REF (Research Excellence Framework), to the future of academic bookselling and academic libraries, and more.

One of the project outcomes was the Academic Book of the Future BOOC, which features contributions connected to the project including blog posts, videos and articles. The discussion remains current and dynamic as articles can be added to the site over time, and the platform allows different ways to explore and share the ideas and discussions. UCL Press plans to expand the BOOC model in the future.

The full report on the Academic Book of the Future project was published in Spring 2017. Among the findings, it identified that enhanced, experimental book formats will continue to grow as a publishing output, alongside print, and by publishing Public Archaeology online, in a format that can be added to over time and that can include multimedia, UCL Press has offered a format that pushes the boundaries of the traditional book.

In terms of production, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology required a slightly different workflow from a standard monograph, and the sequence of production stages had to be re-ordered. As with all UCL Press books we followed an XML workflow and had it tagged by our typesetter with XML codes at the outset (before copyediting). An XML workflow enables content to be multi-purposed and used for a variety of formats such as epubs or html versions. After copyediting the files were passed to our typesetter who generated XML, which was then sent to our digital developer for ingestion onto the digital platform. Once ingested we spot checked the content on-screen to ensure no errors had crept in during ingestion. We then typeset at the very end of the process when all chapters had been delivered by the General Editor, to create a final PDF and book with prelims and index. This differs to the normal process where typesetting and page proofs stages of the book occur before publication, and the author and proofreader do a check of the complete PDF page proof which is paginated and a replica of the final printed book. In the workflow for this book it went from copyediting to XML, rather than copyediting and typesetting of a complete PDF and proofing.

Although the delays on this book were unfortunate it did enable UCL Press to develop a more flexible online-first format for edited collections. UCL Press will continue to develop this model in the future and may proactively offer this route to authors from the outset if a book is believed to have potential to grow over time.

An author’s experience on e-textbook writing by Dr Jon Hogg

This blog post was written by Dr Jon Hogg, General Editor of Using Primary Sources, 2017, University of Liverpool Library and Liverpool University Press.

As General Editor of the open access e-textbook Using Primary Sources: a practical guide for students, I helped co-ordinate this e-textbook project, combining the efforts of academics, librarians, publishers and software designers. The e-textbook is wide-ranging, accessible and practically focused. Over 30 historians from the UK and the USA have written nearly 30 thematic chapters. The first version launched in January 2017, with more chapters being added throughout the year.

From the beginning, we knew that this would be a different kind of textbook. I had been considering for a while the idea of creating a teaching text that offered more practical advice to students than was currently available and was going to propose the book to a publisher when I heard the University of Liverpool Library and Liverpool University Press (LUP) were planning to respond to the Jisc call for projects to explore the ‘institution as e-textbook publisher‘. We quickly put a proposal together for this innovative open access publication and once we learned of the successful bid, we confirmed the team of 31 authors and started work.

It is difficult to give an exact figure regarding how much time was spent on the project. A great deal of time was spent on planning. For example, we decided to create a prescriptive template for authors and their 7,000-word chapters, which ensured continuity of focus, emphasised practical advice and made the long-term work of those involved easier. We also planned and developed a process so that we could work with authors to identify and then digitise library materials, upload materials on to BiblioBoard and then hyperlink chapters to source materials. This sounds like a relatively simple process but, to begin with, it was time-consuming and complicated as our team was learning about the intricacies of BiblioBoard, trying to develop a consistent method of entering bibliographic information, chasing up copyright queries, and making a whole host of design and editorial decisions. Like any edited publication, the submission of authored work has been staggered, which means the work on the project has had to be quite fragmented. Keeping track of the status of all the chapters has been challenging. For parts of the project, it was relatively silent as authors worked on their content; for other times during the project, it became a full-time job as essays and archive material were reviewed, edited, uploaded and embedded.

We worked hard with BiblioBoard to create the e-textbook that we envisioned. They have been very good working partners, helping us to create bespoke features: for example, they created a new type of hyperlink between our chapters and the primary sources and the possibilities that the platform has offered us are impressive. Source materials are fully searchable, with the zoom feature proving powerful and quick, which is especially useful for medieval source materials. We can embed images, music and film, which allows for real visual variety. One great benefit is that we can easily revise, or add to, the e-textbook in the future, so the possibilities are exciting. Sustainability is something we have discussed from the beginning, and we are confident that the software will allow us to achieve this in the years ahead.

One of the biggest things I have learned during the project is that problems that might seem minor and simple to solve are often more complicated than they first appear in digital projects such as this. It is also hard to foresee the breadth of issues that can crop up during a large digital project. For instance, when working with BiblioBoard to create chapters in EPUB format – a file format that is designed to allow users to zoom in and out with ease – we had to spend considerable time thinking about how to present page numbers. Because our technical team liaised with BiblioBoard across a range of issues at the same time, resolving single issues was rarely instantaneous. At any one time the project team was working across many different areas, so keeping in frequent contact via e-mail and team meetings proved essential. With a project like this, the core team needed to know the ongoing status of the project, often in quite a lot of detail, and, as the textbook grew, we became better at foreseeing issues, rather than reacting to issues as they arose.

Would I do it again? Yes. For someone who had not worked on a digital project before, it opened up a whole range of opportunities relating to my work as a teacher and researcher. For instance, I have attended digital humanities conferences as a result, and become involved in a new digital university theme at Liverpool. I would recommend getting involved in collaborative digital projects to any academic who is willing to be open-minded, flexible and committed to a project with a central set of aims that you can be passionate about.

In the coming years, we hope that Using Primary Sources will enhance our students’ learning experience by offering practical, relevant and accessible advice in a way that supports research-led teaching and learning. As a showcase for some of the marvellous archival material held at Liverpool, we also hope that the resource will be used far and wide.

Exploring the ‘institution as e-textbook creator’ has been a long and resource-intensive process, but one that has been hugely rewarding from a professional point of view. Although significant commitment is needed to undertake and sustain these collaborative projects, they encourage innovation and creativity, develop individual and institutional expertise, and foster ideas for future projects.

I often think about how this project originally came about – essentially, by chance. It is safe to say that universities could do more to encourage and fund major teaching projects that are strong enough to attract external funding. Resourcing needs to be generous, with dedicated teams with varied expertise put in place to manage, administer and complete ambitious digital projects, and think of innovative ways to create new digital possibilities for students.

[This blog post is taken from a longer article by Dr Jon Hogg, available here https://insights.uksg.org/articles/10.1629/uksg.344/]

 

The UK Open Textbooks project

The UK Open Textbooks project is underway with the Open University, the University of the West of England, the Open Textbook Library and open publishers OpenStax to investigate the viability for UK Higher Education Institutions to publish open textbooks by testing two models — the OpenStax and the OpenTextbook Network models.

In a recent blog post, David Kernohan and Vivien Rolfe discuss how open textbooks publishing is evolving in the USA and the UK and contextualise how the sector is performing. Kernohan and Rolfe also discuss the UK Open Textbooks project and invite academics and teachers, both from Higher Education and Further Education to complete a survey on the use of textbooks as teaching resources.

Read the full blog post at: http://wonkhe.com/blogs/textbooks-a-tipping-point/

 

 

Why should institutions consider publishing open access textbooks

This blog post was written by Lara Speicher, Publishing Manager, UCL Press

Earlier this year, the education publisher Pearson reported a 30% decline in revenue in the fourth quarter, and Peter J. Cohen, president of McGraw-Hill Education’s U.S. education group, said in an interview. “We and the rest of the industry are recognizing that the days of what had been a high-priced textbook is over.” Because of the typical high prices of textbooks, students have increasingly been turning to rental options or the used textbook market, and are able to find more and more resources online. In response, some commercial publishers are adapting their models to provide all-inclusive access options that offer students direct access to textbooks at a far lower price, and some universities report success with such initiatives.

Another interesting response to this situation in the last few years has been the increase in the US of universities publishing their own open access textbooks for provision to their own students and beyond. Among them are initiatives such as Rice University’s Open Stax, the Open Textbook Library and Open SUNY (State University New York) Textbooks. The Open Textbook Library, a growing catalogue of open access textbooks from a wide range of university publishers, quotes from a report from the American College Board that students typically face costs of $1200 for textbooks, on top of their college fees and living expenses, and as a result many are not buying textbooks, and are missing courses or dropping out altogether.

So, will similar developments in open textbook publishing start to emerge in the UK? Two particular initiatives are testing the model: the Jisc Institution as E-textbook Publisher project that this blog is part of and which is due to present its final outputs in summer 2018, and more recently, the UK Open Textbook project has been launched to research the viability of introducing open textbooks in the UK higher education system. It asks key research questions about why it is the US in particular that has developed this model and whether this is about the particular context, such as the relative cost of textbooks, that means funding and interest are higher there. The UK Open Textbook project will research how the UK context differs from the US and what the methods for uptake are that might be transferrable.

Much of this activity in the US has emerged from library activity rather than university’s own presses. This is driven by the increasing role libraries are playing in the delivery of scholarly content, using their budgets to provide resources not just acquire and deliver them. This has resulted in a significant movement in the US and the establishment of such organisations as the Library Publishing Coalition to support and encourage library publishing activity.

As data emerges about usage by students and lecturers of the books published in the Jisc Institution as Etextbook Publisher project, it is hoped that such evidence will kickstart wider interest in the model as a way that institutions can directly contribute to an improved student experience. And with greater information also emerging from the UK Open Textbooks project about what is involved for institutions to publish their own textbooks in terms of cost, skills and resource, the next couple of years could see great strides being made in this area.

Publishing with UCL Press – an author’s perspective

This blog post was written by Gabriel Moshenska, Senior Lecturer in Public Archeology at UCL.

The book is out. It has gone where academic books are supposed to go: a copy in the library, a copy to my parents, one to my former PhD supervisor, and one placed casually on the coffee-table in my office as if to say ‘Oh this? Just my latest with UCL Press’. In these moments of pride, it’s easy to forget the blood, the sweat and the tears, so let’s take a few minutes to look back.

The colourful cover image of Stonehenge is a visual cliché in archaeology, and Key Concepts in Public Archaeology is a textbook example. Public archaeology is a mixture of science communication and science studies focused on archaeology and the ancient world, and UCL has been a leader in research, practice and teaching in this field for decades. The textbook draws on UCL Institute of Archaeology’s undergraduate module and the MA degree in public archaeology, and most of the authors of the chapters are regular guest lecturers on these courses.

Collections of papers by multiple authors are challenging to edit: one or two recalcitrant authors can delay publication and strain professional relationships, while the need to maintain a consistent standard and ‘voice’ requires a considerable effort, particularly for a textbook that needs to be more straightforwardly readable than other academic texts. The finished product, beautiful though it is, is considerably later and marginally slimmer than originally intended, but the Press remained supportive and encouraging throughout.

Public archaeology is grounded in a philosophy of openness and sharing scholarship, so the opportunity to publish an Open Access textbook with a Creative Commons license was extremely welcome. To combine this with the high editorial and production standards and the prestige of a University Press was a unique and brilliant opportunity. As chapter authors dragged their feet the Press decided to take advantage of the open, digital publishing format to launch the volume as a ‘living book’ to which additional chapters could be added until the final version appeared in print, pdf and a variety of other digital formats. This willingness to innovate was a significant part of the pleasure of working with UCL Press.

The print-runs for many academic books have dipped from the hundreds into the tens, while their prices have gone in precisely the opposite direction, and production values have apparently fallen out of somebody’s window. In contrast to this, UCL Press have produced a high-quality textbook that is improbably, gloriously free to download in pdf (as more than a thousand people have discovered), and very reasonably priced in print. From an author/editor perspective the process has been exemplary, and I very much hope to work with UCL Press again in the future.

Gabriel Moshenska