Part I – Pilot Project
Rapid research, design, and development to delivery is part faith, opportunity, and appreciation of a quantum reality.
The process was organic, with continuous feedback and reflections, on the client needs and compromises. Technologies are continually changing, and the cloud  services are a tempting option. In the short term, a commercial e-publishing service may provide an e-textbook product without the administrative and IT challenges in a post-secondary education institution. However, cloud services cannot guarantee long term operation in a capitalist environment.
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.
– Sir Charles Dilke 1891
Reality depends on what you choose to measure, as paraphrased from Niels Bohr, Copenhagen interpretation
Collecting statistics from Internet activity can be challenging due to the difficulty of filtering out the machine activity, such as a web crawler, from legitimate human users. In addition, the statistical WordPress plugin had bugs that interfered with the quality of the data collection.
A WordPress Slimstat plugin was employed to gather statistics on the activities of the website deploying the multi-format open source e-textbook – Creative clinical teaching in the health professions (http://epub-fhd.athabascau.ca/clinical-teaching). In November of 2015, there were 430 file downloads by unique users. While the quantity of downloads or page access counts cannot determine learning achievements, it is an indicator of level of engagement. Since deployment of Pressbooks on 2015-08-14, the traffic sources have grown from national locations to Australia, Chile, India, Norway, and beyond.
Slimstat shortcodes can be challenging to incorporate in Pressbooks. In particular graphic based shortcodes such as the figure 5.1 geolocation world map can produce a white space on a webpage. However, the current solution for Slimstat shortcode in Pressbooks is to use a Preformatted style, as dynamically produced on this sites statistics page. It is noteworthy that a city geolocation database setting in Slimstat maps a visitor’s nearest city location in the form of a black dot (e.g. sites statistics page).
- Plugins to consider: SEO (Yoast SEO), Search Relevancy (Relevanssi only available for multisite in commercial version), database optimization (Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions), comments (wpDiscuz – Supercharged native comments), audio/visual embedding, quick purge of versions (Simple Revisions Delete not compatible with Pressbooks), Bibliographic referencing (Zotero – Zotpress), editor annotation (TinyMCE Annotate also not compatible with Pressbooks), and multilanguage (i.e., Google Language Translator currently incompatible with Pressbooks)
- Server caching (i.e., Varnish)
- A computer system with up to date hardware and operating system with PHP 5.6.x and MySQL 5.5.x or greater
- WordPress Pressbooks upgrading required to align with WordPress upgrades, as enhancements can reduce authoring frustrations
- Efficient WordPress multisite installation cloning from development server to production server
- Options in Pressbooks to display the download count for each type of file export format on the site frontpage and in the Export panel.
- More exposure within the institution and outside audiences
- Conference and research explorations
- Provincial and federal recognition of achievements and support in open e-textbook publishing in Canada
- More support to programmers of open source applications
- Workshops and training opportunities for authors
The open source e-publishing is a relationship between producers, consumers, and the institutional environment (including technology systems). Pressbooks developers need to remain committed and flourish in an open source environment. According to WordPress there were only 90+ active Pressbook installations (as of 2015-12-18). In the Pressbooks developer site there are only a few people handling all the issues produced by active administrators and endusers. Hence, the Pressbooks and Pressbooks Textbook applications are supported by a handful of devoted developers. While this can be a strength in achieving goals, with no bureaucratic overhead, the human resources element can not be underestimated. Fortunately Pressbooks, associated plugins, and WordPress platform are open-source, thereby ensuring future open access.
There are many other systems and file formats (both proprietary and open source) that are designed to output e-books. However, they are also subject to similar producer and consumer conditions as Pressbooks. Commercial interests may defer to the old cliché of “you get what you pay for.” In a total cost accounting perspective, an open e-textbook will cost in the production cycle from design to development, deployment, and management. However, the investment of open e-textbooks expands to unlimited consumers. Hence, the open e-textbook product needs to be valued as an important educational resource for everyone, anywhere, at anytime.
Layers of software achieve the presentation that is displayed to the enduser. Due to the nature of the complexity of hardware and software, bugs exists. Future updates in any layer of the software applications from operating system, MySQL, PHP, WordPress, Pressbooks, or plugins, can break the presentation and accessibility to the content. Testing and continued development are critical to the open e-publishing edu-ecosystem.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing ↵
- Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. (2012, July 19). [Academic]. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/maths/histstat/lies.htm ↵
- Copenhagen interpretation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copenhagen_interpretation ↵
- https://www.varnish-cache.org ↵
- https://wordpress.org/plugins/pressbooks/ ↵
- https://github.com/pressbooks/pressbooks/issues ↵