Where to begin?! Getting started with your open textbook project is always the hardest part. Before you get into full-swing of things with your project, here are some critical pieces to think about.
First up, you should know about some of the (many) things that go into publishing a textbook: planning, project management, recruiting, writing, editing, peer review, formatting, accessibility review, printing, storytelling, or marketing. Some of these might happen simultaneously, and not every project will take the same approach to all of them, but remember, there is more to creating an open textbook than just writing the content. Producing an OER involves all of these many stages, and this is why careful planning can help you do this work in more efficient ways.
Thinking about the process of creating the book from the very start, and planning things out early will only make it easier for you and your team down the line. While it may seem overwhelming at first, work through it together, and your future selves will thank you for it!
Read on to explore the whys and hows of scoping out and starting on your open textbook project.
Considerations when getting started
This chapter will guide you through defining your project scope and expectations. Having a clear understanding of the purpose and goals of your OER is critical to a successful publishing process. Figure 1.1 outlines the publishing process — you’ll see from the circular shape and multi-directional arrows that much of the work is indeed recursive. Some of these production stages may happen simultaneously, and not every project will take the same approach to all of them. In this guide, we’ll explain the importance of each stage of this cycle so you can self-determine what pieces of this approach are going to be most valuable or pertinent to your work.
You’ll notice that our process doesn’t separate out things like accessibility, designing with equity, student considerations, or marketing — we consider these core practices that are embedded at every stage. Keeping these principles in mind throughout the publishing process promotes a culture of respect, support, and inclusion which shows through in our final OER. We think this approach can help you have, and can have impacts beyond improving the quality of your OER. We believe this approach is helpful to create valuable resources that center student experiences, create equitable classrooms, and genuinely support student success. With each OER you create and use, you can bring a transformational shift to education as we know it.
Thinking about accessibility as you are planning, writing, editing, revising, and formatting content will ensure that everyone can access your book from the moment of publication. Good accessibility practices benefit all readers, and the more that can be done during the creation process, the less remediation will be needed later. Through this guide and your OER production process, we hope you will reframe how you think of disability and shift the idea of accessibility away from something that needs to be accommodated, and instead to a means by which you can make space for and value diverse experiences (Arley Cruthers & Samantha Walsh, Disability-Informed Open Pedagogy).
We also encourage you to reflect on what other motivations and values you bring to the table, and how you can build them into your open textbook. This might mean building a diverse and/or international team, developing content that reflects the experiences of your students, or pushing the boundaries of traditional teaching practices.
With all that in mind, let’s acknowledge something right away: you’ll likely find yourself saying at many stages of the process “this is a lot of work”. Creating an OER is no minor feat, but we want you to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There are plenty of people who are willing to assist you, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. Look to your institution, colleagues, students, the Rebus Community, and the academic community more broadly to help. There may also be specific resources, grants, or funding opportunities available to you, so keep an eye out! You should also be sure to step away from the project and take time off as needed – it’s important to look after yourself and keep things in perspective. Remember that it’s okay to put other priorities before your work on the project and deadlines.
Finally, your project, and the work that goes into making your open textbook, is worth talking about! We strongly believe that storytelling is built into every stage of the publishing process, and starts right now. You may want to make announcements that you’re beginning a new project, that you’re excited about what will happen, and that you’ll keep others updated along the way. This is not only a great way to gather contributors and encourage eventual adoptions of the textbook, but also a good way to celebrate small victories and milestones along the way. Onward!
Forming a leadership team around your project is just as important as curating the content for your book. With the right leadership team, you can distribute responsibilities, keep the project driving forward, and ensure that it runs smoothly. There are many different approaches to forming this team, and not everyone has to sign up for a big workload. You may want to have a core leadership team that focuses on the project’s day-to-day activities, as well as an advisory team to help steer the project in the right direction as needed.
Once you have recruited all the members for your leadership team, we recommend that you begin with introductions and assigning clear roles. For instance, you may be the team’s Project Manager, and may want to assign roles such as Lead Editor, Lead Author to other members. Each role comes with its own set of responsibilities, so make sure to lay these out when assigning roles. As Project Manager, you may be responsible for keeping track of the project and ensuring that it is on track for publication. Other responsibilities might include communicating project updates to the team, scheduling and running meetings, and assisting with recruitment efforts.
Laying out the responsibilities upfront will avoid members from taking on more than they can commit to, and help you clearly distribute the project workload. Creating an open textbook is no small feat. It takes a lot of time, and can often be more work than initially anticipated, but with a competent, committed project team, where tasks are evenly distributed, you won’t have to worry about too much falling on your plate or feeling overloaded.
As you move forward with your project, keep in mind other resources that you could tap for assistance. You could look for students, colleagues, research or teaching assistants, and other volunteers to help with certain tasks. The Rebus Community is also a great way to find people outside your own network to help with different pieces of your project.
And finally, it’s important that you find your community and support team. Having a community of people who believe in your project’s purpose, want it to succeed as much as you do, can celebrate milestones, and can pick you up when you think you’re not making as much progress is key. Start with your leadership team, and build the community as you get your project off the ground. You won’t regret it!
Once you have your leadership and advisory teams together, you can start getting into the details of what your project is all about. Defining your project is important not only because it helps you and your team understand what you’re working towards, but also as it helps provide vital information and framing about the project to those interested in participating. By being as clear and detailed as possible upfront, you can be sure that collaborators coming on to your project at any time have the same understanding, and know exactly where they can contribute.
There’s no limit to the amount of information you could include on your project’s public listing page, but we recommend starting off with a few sentences explaining why this project is important. Your project might be the first of its kind in a particular field, model a new approach to a certain course, or it might just be exactly what you need for your own teaching. Highlighting any unique aspects of your project and emphasising its importance will help your collaborators feel like they are working towards a larger goal.
You should also include a brief summary of your project, and of the open textbook that you are working to create. This needn’t be very long – a few paragraphs should suffice!
At this stage, you’ll also need to make some high-level decisions about your project. For instance, you’ll need to decide what license to apply to your book, what audience you would like the book to target, and at what reading level content should be aimed. In cases where projects are receiving grants or funding from organizations, you may need to adhere to the requirements in the contract. As you finalize this information, make sure it’s clearly recorded and shared with everyone on the team.
One of the final tasks is to prepare a rough timeline that outlines the various stages of the process. It’s crucial for you and your team to have an idea of how long tasks take, and when their contributions might be due. We’ve realized from our work on numerous projects that timelines are never set in stone, and that no matter how hard you try, things can often take longer than planned. So try to revisit, refine, and revise the timeline periodically, and update your team of any changes.
The next step after writing out your project description is to create an outline for your book. Just as the project definition provides the necessary information and framing about your project, the outline will do the same for the textbook. We encourage you to prepare an outline at this stage, and before you begin recruiting authors or other contributors, because you have a clearer sense of the project’s goals and the type of resource you are hoping to create.
The outline itself can be fairly simple. It should, of course, contain a list of all the chapters to be included in the book, along with detailed descriptions of each. Writing out descriptions of the chapters will help you map out the content in your book, and ensure the scope for each is clearly defined and within the scope of your project. You may choose to have individual authors develop the outlines for their chapters, but whenever this happens, making sure they are consistent will help ensure that the final text is cohesive.
It’s also helpful to include features or elements that will recur through the text, such as case studies, learning objectives, assignments, etc. If possible, you can briefly sketch the structure of a model chapter which includes all these elements. You can also use the outline as an opportunity to map key concepts that will be covered in the book, so that they are not repeated in different chapters.
Lastly, you can consider the pedagogical outcomes of the book, and think of ways to gesture towards these in each chapter. Doing so may prompt you to rework chapter descriptions or add standard elements, but these changes will be crucial to ensuring that the resource becomes a valuable one for students.
Selecting a license
When selecting a license for your OER, we encourage you to pause and think about what you’d like your resource to support, achieve, or what impact you’d like it to have.
Creative Commons (CC) licensing conditions are the most widely used to license open materials. All Creative Commons licenses (expect the public domain dedication) work with copyright — meaning that you as the creator of an OER still need to be cited, credited, or attributed when someone uses or remixes your work. Open licenses simply grant upfront permissions on what someone can do with your OER. Read our licensing guide to learn more about the CC licensing conditions.
Review the conditions and these contextual considerations before making a decision on how to license your OER:
- Are you adapting a resource that already has a license? If so, what are the constraints you need to follow?
- Is there a protocol for knowledge you’ll be sharing in the resource, especially if this knowledge belongs to communities that you are not a member of?
- What is your envisioned use for this resource? How can the conditions of a license restrict or enable these goals?
It’s important to note that very permissive open licenses may not work for all content, contexts, or creators. Selecting an open license means making a deliberate choice that values sharing, ownership, and attribution of the work that’s being done by you and everyone else!
This sounds straightforward, but it’s important to have the right tools for managing your project. Tasks, reminders, and deadlines can begin to pile up very quickly, and if you don’t have your tools laid out at the start, it can be challenging to track your project’s progress.
The Rebus Community forum is a great space for discussion and networking for anyone working in open education, designed to guide you through the open textbook publishing process and make it easy to find, recruit, and organize collaborators. No matter the stage of your project, the Rebus Community forum is a place to build your team, discuss your book’s progress, and attract potential supporters.
The forum is a work in progress and new features are being released regularly, so keep an eye out! If you find that this forum doesn’t do what you need it to, or would prefer to use another system, we’ve found Google Spreadsheets to be very helpful for keeping track of all the moving parts on a project.
It’s also helpful to decide on channels of communication with your project team and leadership team. You can use the discussion option in the Rebus Community forum, Twitter, Slack, or email in any combination for day-to-day communication, and use video conferencing via Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts as needed. Take into account where your collaborators are located – if they are in different time zones than you are, an asynchronous mode of communication might be preferred. Other team members may also have varying access to fast or reliable internet, so video calls are not always the best option.
Lastly, you should also consider what software you will use for authoring, editing, formatting, and publishing your book. You could edit and revise your book in Google Docs, and use the Rebus Press (powered by Pressbooks) for formatting and publishing if you’re working with us. Otherwise, you could work in other editing interfaces, such as Pages, MS Word, and with other formatting softwares, such as InDesign – but remember that these options don’t always produce a range of formats, which can impact on how well a text can be accessed by students, and by others who wish to reuse & remix your content. Selecting your tools at the start lets you focus on refining content at every stage, instead having to make process decisions as you go.
Open textbook or OER projects can quickly grow to become quite large as volunteers and collaborators see the potential impact of the book being created. It’s important that you reiterate your project’s scope to your team – what are you hoping to achieve in the first edition? What tasks and materials have already been set aside as future work? Whenever possible, remind your team about the project’s workload and timeline. Letting others know that there is a clear plan of action towards publication will help allay stress and anxiety. And if needed, revisit your project’s timelines so they are attainable, instead of just aspirational.
Once you’re ready and feel like you have a good grasp on your project, you can start spreading the word! As mentioned earlier, marketing is something that should be built into every stage of the publishing process, and promoting your project from the start will lay the groundwork for publicizing the book, finding collaborators, and encouraging adoptions in the future.
You can also begin recruiting editors, authors, or other volunteers as suits your project. Remember to welcome each new member to the community, introduce them to the team, and encourage them to share the news about the project!