Part I - Pilot Project

3 – Design

Tree Swing Design Analogy

Figure 3.1 – A humorous illustration on the process from design to development and production.

Modified from Tree Swing Pictures by Alan Chapman (2016) [1]

This Tree Swing is a visual design anchor, as a reminder to maintain an uncomplicated perspective of the open e-textbook project focused on what the client wanted. Part of this focus involved understanding the project scope, expectations, and necessary compromises.

The project vision was to provide an online open access Canadian textbook to graduate students, with relevant quality content and current references, accessible from any mobile electronic device. The open e-textbook was intentionally presented in a website context without barriers (i.e., no login), to freely downloadable content in different formats (i.e., PDF, EPUB, MOBI).  The technological scope was to install a WordPress Pressbooks system, input the word-processed manuscript, edit content, and output into multiple digital formats for e-book readers and smartphone applications.  The open source e-publishing environment needed to be collaborative with content control (account and versioning).

Holistic Overview

The design of this project flowed in an organic fashion, with continuous reflection, modification, and adaptation. The key project parameters were:

  1. The e-textbook had to be accessible on all computing devices, from desktop to smartphone; accessible in the context of ease of acquiring information and viewing it by what ever device the end-user preferred.
  2. Project had a very short timeline from initiation of project to deployment (approximately 4 months); promoting information currency.
  3. Stakeholders were internal and external to the institution.

Project Challenges

There were many human and technological hurdles along the way, as outlined in the following list:

  • Identify all stakeholders, understand their interests in the project, and how best to assist in a positive outcome
  • Identify and test e-publishing software applications, and examine existing Internet e-publishing services
  • Evaluate risks of adopting leading edge open source software
  • Review Canadian online open e-textbook publishing initiatives
  • Seek a sustainable online “home” for the open e-textbook

Pathways

BCcampus OpenEd examplified the vision of the open e-textbook pilot project, and as a Canadian role model for collaborative open source e-publishing and distribution. Other applications and services were examined for return on investment, however sustainability, autonomy, and availability of open source applications superseded cloud services such as Blurb (http://www.blurb.com) and Atavist (https://atavist.com). Application and distribution of content via cloud services were reviewed such as ISSU (https://issuu.com) and Storify (https://storify.com). However, native mobile apps risk maintenance and OS dependency issues, which can become problematic for future sustainability of the project. Although the rental model appears to be the trend (i.e. computer software), with no autonomy or archival quality, this model promotes a culture of short term consumerism and dubious sustainability.  An important assumption in consideration of an e-publishing platform was the ability for an open e-textbook site to grow, in content and in adoption. Publishing an open e-textbook is not necessarily the final static product, rather it is the seed of an organic intellect.

Since BCcampus has been successfully using Pressbooks, combined with the project authors’ previous e-textbook experiences – Supporting Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities & Mental Illness (Melrose, Dusome, Simpson, Crocker, & Athens, 2015), the collaborative academic e-publishing process had already been vetted at the institutional level. It is noteworthy that feasibility of Pressbooks as an e-publishing platform had been tested by Dr. Tony Bates (2015).  In addition, Pressbooks has been the focus of an online learning course – The Amplified Author Mini-Course: Ebook Creation.

Alternatives Revisited

There is a wide variety of electronic publishing options from personal computer to cloud services.  Traditional desktop publishing provides a high level of autonomy, customization, and proprietary formatting, as the author is dependent on a specific software application that may not be accessible on all hardware. In example, iBooks Author is a free Apple product to produce content for the iBooks reader. Such proprietary formats are not archival friendly or globally accessible. Although LibreOffice (with EPUB plugin) and Scribus are open source alternatives, they do not include convenient online distribution and collaboration functionality. LibreOffice open document format is a zip container[2] for a collection of files that is a similar file package to EPUB format[3]. LibreOffice has many features that could produce a comparable output to EPUB, however its original function was office document processing, not hypermedia. The EPUB format is HTML5 hypermedia capable, and thus is a file package that is similar to a reflowable and responsive website in a zip container. This evolution in formatting begs the question of how far can the hypermedia go? Will it supersede the hypermedia functionality found in Apple Hypercard and OWL Guide?

Hence, there are many standalone applications that export to EPUB format with varying degrees of accuracy in output. The Pressbooks application has the advantage of being operating system independent and based on HTML.  It is noteworthy that Pressbooks has been forked on GitHub to different purposes such as a multilingual focus[4] or interactive quizes[5].  Choosing a forked version of Pressbooks would be a concern as it is an additional application layer to the e-publishing system; more layers, more potential issues.

Pressbooks alternatives, such as Booktype by Sourcefabric, can be found on GitHub[6].  Unfortunately Booktype has Python programming language dependencies that may not be available on all Internet hosting services.  Booktype features are very similar to Pressbooks in accounts, security, media collection, collaboration, and content.

OpenStax CNX is another digital publishing system that provides a producer and consumer e-textbook environment. OpenStax CNX software components[7] has complex installation requirements with Zope based Rhaptos software that could limit Internet hosting options.

In conclusion to examining the plethora of e-publishing applications, WordPress Pressbooks was the most flexible option for Internet hosting services, features, and ease of installation.

What the client wanted

The focus of the pilot project was the production and deployment of an open e-textbook, from the source word-processed document and images, that could be accessed by all computing devices from desktop to smartphone.  The timeline for this project was less than three months from conception to public deployment. Collaboration was important to enable multiple authors to edit the same content with version control. Hence, an e-publishing system that accurately shared, controlled, compiled, and exported the content to an EPUB reader was the technological baseline.

Authoring Reflections

Dr. Melroses’ reflections on the experience of authoring in Pressbooks to produce Creative Clinical Teaching In The Health Professions (Melrose, Park, & Perry, 2015):

The result though, is an amazing way of making information available to those who really need it.  With the first book Steve and I did, information about mental illness was made available to those who care for individuals with both mental illness and intellectual disability. These caregivers have few other resources to turn to. So, the open access – particularly on Smartphones – was especially important.

Information about clinical teaching was made available to the health professionals who teach in clinical settings. In many instances, these are highly skilled clinicians who work on a sessional or contract basis with educational institutions. They have few benefits and opportunities to learn about how to teach. So, once again, the open access text where they can find teaching tips and theories at a glance, online, on their phones, wherever and whenever they need that piece of information – provides a much needed resource.

Melrose, S. (2015, August 18). e-textbook integration in Alberta.

References

Bates, T. (2015, June 10). Writing an online, open textbook: is it worth it? Retrieved from http://www.tonybates.ca/2015/06/10/writing-an-online-open-textbook-is-it-worth-it

Chapman, A. (2016). tree swing pictures – tire swing, tire swing, rope swing cartoon pictures. Retrieved April 4, 2016, from http://www.businessballs.com/treeswing.htm

Melrose, S. (2015, August 18). e-textbook integration in Alberta.

Melrose, S., Park, C. & Perry, B. (2015). Creative clinical teaching in the health professions. Retrieved from http://epub-fhd.athabascau.ca/clinical-teaching

Melrose, S., Dusome, D., Simpson, J., Crocker, C., Athens, E. (2015). Supporting Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities & Mental Illness: What Caregivers Need to Know. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: BCcampus. Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/caregivers


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