16 Assignment: Create an Open Textbook

Anna Andrzejewski, art history professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Below is an example of an open textbook creation project assigned by professor Anna Andrzejewski at University of Wisconsin. While this assignment is specific to Art History, it could easily be adapted to other disciplines and your own classroom learning objectives.

Assignment #2 followed an earlier project in which each student focused on a phase of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career (in time) or a theme in his work in order to build a chapter providing overall context. In this, part two of the assignment, students visited significant local Frank Lloyd Wright architectural landmarks and developed a chapter highlighting each of them.

Group Project Assignment

By Anna Andrzejewski

You have been assigned to work in a group one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s (or his followers’) buildings in Madison. Your “chapter” on your research on this building is the focus of this project. Also, you will want to revise your first group project assignment as well (see below) making suggested revisions offered by the Instructor earlier in the term. Please read this carefully; it contains much of what you need to know (though specific details of formatting – including for references and potentially image credits – will follow at a later date).

Objective of the Group Projects

Our class is collectively working on a “textbook” for future classes and the public on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Madison buildings. The first group assignment (Group Project Assignment #1) was meant as a frame for Wright’s career. Each group was to focus on a “phase” of Wright’s career (in time) or a theme in his work, and the overall “chapter” – produced as a collective product of the class – thus is intended to provide a context for the chapters that follow (Group Project Assignment #2) – each of which deals with a building by Wright (or his followers) in Madison.

Given the goal of this project being a textbook for a generalist audience, this content should be easily producible – meaning, you have a good bit of information from our readings and site visits to write something pretty spiffy.  I’m asking you to do a bit of additional research to enrich the chapter on your building and also make revisions to the portion of the first chapter (Group Project Assignment #1). That revision process is explained below.

Since this is a textbook, you also want to produce it in a way that is readable and approachable. You should use shorter sentences and clear and precise language. When appropriate, use images, movies, diagrams, maps to make your points. You can also use tables and callout boxes to amplify key points. This is an opportunity to be creative as well as scholarly! Have fun.

Revisions to Group Project Assignment #1

As noted in the previous guidelines (Group Project Assignment #1), the goal of this was to provide a CONTEXT for your particular building. That can be through chronology (i.e., the “prairie phase”) or through a theme (i.e., organic architecture). All groups did this relatively successfully, though as you write your CHAPTER (Group Assignment #2) you will likely want to add/change things in the introductory chapter. For example, you may find illustrations of other similar buildings you want to include in your original (GP #1) entry. Or you may realize you talked too much about your building in the first assignment and will want to move content from your first group project assignment to the second.

Although your grade on the first group project assignment will not change, you will be partly graded on the 2nd group project assignment on REVISING the first group project assignment. 20% of your grade for GROUP PROJECT ASSIGNMENT #2 is based on “cleaning up” your initial post. In addition to fine-tuning the content (responding to my feedback and suggestions and bringing it in line with the rest of the class), I would ask everyone to address the following in their revisions:

  • Standardize the reference format to bring it in line with the standards for Group Project Assignment #2 (that may mean adding footnotes…required).
  • Add images to make your entry visually appealing.
  • Delete any text that is not relevant to your theme (basic facts about Wright’s career or biography.

There is no standard length for these – some may be shorter or longer depending on the points you are trying to make. But they should be at least 2-3 paragraphs and perhaps longer.

Group Project Assignment #2

Your focus for the rest of term should be on producing content for the chapter on your building. You will be working with the same partner(s) on this. Please work together and plan ahead. I will give you suggestions on sources to look at and other information, but you should feel free to take this your own direction based on your individual interests and your group as a whole.

As noted above, you want to provide information that is of interest to future students as well as a general audience. To that end, your chapter has to include some basic information, a building description, and a more interpretive section (a three-part structure). The interpretive section is where the individual interest and the interest/focus of your group as a whole come in. The basic information and building description must be there, and they should be front and center in the chapter. To that end, I suggest dividing your chapter into sections.

  1. Introduction. This should give at minimum the building name, building type (house, church, or other), date and location (and any other important information – i.e., Lamp House, you may want to note who it was built for (the patron)), and a statement of the thesis of the chapter  – this is the main point you want to convey through the narrative. This should be 1-2 paragraphs long at most.
  2. Description. Your description should give the reader a “mental picture” through narrative of what your building looks like. It should discuss (at least minimally) the following: size (including square footage, function and # of rooms) and height (# of stories, for example); materials (focusing on the main exterior materials, and interior ones as relevant); “style” (both in relation to the period in which it was built and in Wright’s own body of work – i.e., prairie, usonian, or other). You should consider discussing layout as well – i.e., how the floor plan works. This section should be illustrated abundantly. Try to put in floor plans, historic photos, and current photos (as appropriate). Images should not replace narrative description; they should mutually reinforce one another. This section should be at least 3 paragraphs long, likely 4-5. Do not feel compelled to go “room by room” or “floor by floor.” I will try to provide examples.
  3. Interpretive section. Part 3 will be your “interpretive section.” This should have a subheading appropriate to what it is. It may simply be History of the X Building. Or it could be more thematic (i.e., The Lamp House as a Statement of Wright’s Personal Ties to Madison). Here you want to showcase your “take” on the building. Use what interested you about it to make a POINT (or perhaps a FEW POINTS) about why it is interesting to you (to you individually and to your group as a whole). It should not be a series of random thoughts or a series of things you found in research sources; it should, rather, work toward a point (or several points). Here are some possible topics you could focus on for this:
  • Patronage (how the building relates to the patron (the person for whom the building is built)
  • Construction technology (example would be modular building or prefabrication)
  • The relationship of the building to Wright’s theories of architecture (i.e., art and craft of the machine, or perhaps organic building, or Usonia)
  • The relationship of the building (and/or its patron) to Madison or its particular geographic context

To reiterate, this interpretive section can have more than one point, and it could address more than one of these categories (or even others not on this list). But it shouldn’t be a series of random observations!

You want to show in this section you’ve “listened” to our class discussions at the sites as well as your classmates’ feedback. I will send you summaries of what interested your classmates (from their journals). You also have access to the discussion boards. This information should not be quoted or used in your books but should be inspiration for your chapter’s theme and its content.

You also want to show evidence of “research” here beyond the class. I will suggest books and other reference sources for you to consult. There are other resources you can look to as well – here are a few to consider. I would divvy these up and look at them, or consider them all (in one way or another).

  • Madcat/library book search. Our library contains TONS of books on Frank Lloyd Wright and even on specific buildings, including these.
  • Avery Index of Architectural Periodicals. This is a library networked database that contains articles on architectural history; you can search Wright and your building (by its various names) in it.
  • NewspaperArchive. This is a library networked database which has newspaper articles from around the country. You can search Madison’s newspapers, which ran features on all of Wright’s buildings (especially the later ones – Unitarian, Rudin, and Monona Terrace).
  • Wisconsin Historical Society AHI.[1] This is the State historic Preservation Office inventory of Historic Buildings.
  • National Park Service.[2]/national register/National Historic Landmarks[3] Most buildings (not Monona Terrace) are listed properties, and have forms about them. Most are downloadable.
  • Interviews. Interview residents or others knowledgeable about the building! Ask me for contacts.
  • Class Google photos pages for photos.
  • Getty Images.[4] Just go nuts here.
  • Historical Society image database.[5] Full of photos of our buildings. Go nuts here, too.
  • Websites. Websites discussed early on in class (linked on learn@UW)

You need to come up with a logically flowing, clear narrative. Minimum of the interpretive section is 3-4 paragraphs, but it may be longer. It should – like your contribution to chapter 1 – be abundantly illustrated (use the sources above).

Information on reference format will come later. For now, use parenthetical citations. We will convert them (most likely) to footnotes by the end of term. Make sure to keep a bibliography of your sources.

Groups. I’ve listed the groups below, but these may change depending on a variety of factors.

Lamp – [student names redacted]

Gilmore – [student names redacted]

PEW – [student names redacted]

Jacobs – [student names redacted]

Rudin – [student names redacted]

Unitarian – [student names redacted]

Monona Terrace – [student names redacted]

The Pressbooks site has been set up with chapters for each group (take a look!).

If you have any questions at any time, please let me know.


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A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students Copyright © 2017 by Anna Andrzejewski, art history professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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