University of Florida Looks to Expand Open Textbook Initiatives

The University of Florida, having recently acquired a hosted PressbooksEDU network in partnership with the Unizin higher education consortium, is looking to ramp up its OER production in the coming months.

Jennifer Smith, director of the Office of Faculty Development and Teaching Experience, tested the tool herself to “ensure that the tool will be helpful to faculty,” she says.

She is currently developing a UF Instructor Guide for faculty and teaching assistants on the platform, which serves a two-fold purpose – first as the resource itself, and also as an example of Pressbooks’ capabilities. “Faculty can look at the guide to see what Pressbooks does, and how it could work for their students.” Smith says. The guide is a work in progress, but the ease of updates and additions make it possible to collaborate with contributors campus-wide.

She also used the platform as part of a student project in fall 2017, when students in her Creative Thinking course decided to write a book as their creative project. Together, the students wrote For Students by Students: Guide for UF Freshmen. They wanted to share the things no one had told them as new college students. “The students appreciated the opportunity to create a publicly available resource,” says Smith. “Because of the ease of adding new authors, future students can continue to add to the guide.”

One thing that worked well on the student-produced book, she says, was dividing the work so each student was responsible for one area. This meant that while all the students had access to work with the content in Pressbooks, only one student was charged with updating the formatting in Pressbooks, which led to greater consistency with styles throughout the book.

Smith has found the new hosting through PressbooksEDU to be reliable and feature-rich with expanded templates and plugins. “I have shared the tool availability with campus instructional designers who will assist faculty with template setup,” commented Smith.

Pressbooks was among the textbook affordability options presented at a mini-OER e-text conference at the university. Smith suggests “Pressbooks is a great option for instructor-authored content, because it provides complete control as well as multi-format export and easy electronic access.

“I am also using it to breathe new life into material that I originally created for an online course in costume pattern making.” Smith is capturing the Flash animations as video and building them into an interactive eText. The text will use features now available in Pressbooks, including the ability to add in-text quizzes using H5P.

Smith recommends collaborating with campus instructional designers to ensure a high-quality product that meets accessibility requirements. “The ID team can customize the .css to meet the needs and vision of the faculty author. Once the ebook formatting is set up, it is fairly easy to write the text.”

The potential for the tool to be used collaboratively can be carried over to faculty projects as well. Overall, Smith says, “Pressbooks is a reliable and robust tool that provides complete control to the author.”