Pressbooks is Backbone for Nascent OER Efforts at University of Central Florida

It was while searching for a tool to help an American Government professor adapt an open textbook that James Paradiso, an instructional designer at University of Central Florida, discovered his university’s Pressbooks instance.

UCF is a member of Unizin, a consortium of higher education institutions across the United States. Unizin offers access to educational software like PressbooksEDU to its member universities.   

James was looking for suitable tools to help a professor adapt an OpenStax textbook for a high-enrollment course, and after exploration, he found that Pressbooks fit the bill perfectly.

He was able to use a developer instance of Pressbooks to test out the BCcampus-created OpenStax plugin, which allowed him to easily pull in the text. He cleaned up the HTML, then cloned the book over to UCF’s instance of Pressbooks in fall 2017. The book was ready to use for the spring 2018 semester, and has been revised twice since.

“No one told me, ‘Hey, use Pressbooks,’” said James. “I just thought to myself, ‘I want a solution and this seems like a cool platform, and I’m interested in a way to put OER in a customizable space.”

James has created sandbox access for a few other faculty who have also expressed interest in trying out Pressbooks for a project.

“We’re in a very nascent stage,” he says.

James has also used the Pressbooks cloning feature to bring in a few existing open textbooks to the system from OpenStax and Lumen Learning. He started with high-enrollment, general education courses and began bringing relevant texts into the catalog, which he hopes will be good talking points with faculty interested in moving to OER.

“The type of materials that are most interesting to me,” James says, “[are] works that are complete (or nearly complete) and reviewed, so I can provide faculty with an ‘out-of-the-box’ type of solution that can be modified or rearranged. This is why [I took the] approach to build a library/repository, to encourage buy-in.”

James, who has a background in leveraging open educational resources in the classroom, is the main person supporting Pressbooks at his institution. But as his job and caseload have changed—he is now on the Adaptive Learning team—he knows he needs to inspire others to get involved to help this scale.

As the next step, James hopes to gain support from colleagues to help spread the word about Pressbooks and its ability to help faculty revise, remix and/or reuse open textbooks.

“My goal is to try to build some awareness sessions around Pressbooks,” James says. “I need to build a workflow around awareness and training.” He would also like to get some of the cloned and ingested books cleaned up and ready for launch, and get at least two more adoptions by the beginning of the fall semester.

His workflow in Pressbooks first involved using the OpenStax importer plugin (coming soon to PressbooksEDU networks) to clone books.

However, now that more networks are using Pressbooks, the power of the cloning tool has increased. “I can just take a link to the Presbooks book and clone straight from that!” While cloning is technologically easy, faculty may still need to refine the content before the adapted book is ready to use.

“Bringing in a textbook from another university…is quite a bit more time-consuming than some would imagine,” James says. Such textbooks reflect the authors’ personalized preferences for how they taught the subject, meaning the adapted text might need more revision before becoming student-facing.

“So, I find bringing a more ‘base-model’ version from Lumen [Learning], or bringing in from OpenStax might actually save time and effort.”

When faculty are creating an OER from scratch, James finds it’s best “when people are intrinsically motivated to build something that’s directly related to an initiative they’re working on.”

James says the people most willing to work on open textbook projects so far have been instructor-lecturers, who are focused on teaching and have a high percentage of instruction in their responsibilities breakdown. Long-tenured professors, particularly those with expensive textbooks, have also been receptive.

“So that’s what I’ve learned—instructor-lecturers yes, [and] tenure-earning faculty who are willing to shake it up because they’re looking to try something new, or they’re like, ‘Wow, my students are spending a lot of money,’” James says. “Especially in certain disciplines—[students spend] approximately $200 a semester on their textbook, and even an etext is upwards of $120. It seems [these professors] are at the point in their career where they’re reflecting more on that.”

He believes those that fall between these two ends of the spectrum would be best incentivized by top-down programs. It’s tough to combat stigmas around the quality and/or rigor of OER texts, and sometimes departments have long-standing track records with certain textbooks.

“The publishing reps—they live here at my university. They’re in those hallways just as much if not more than I am, talking to the same people I’m talking to, working deals with them, discounted deals.”

James says it’s probably not the same everywhere, citing community colleges where faculty are strongly encouraged and maybe even required to use open resources.

“UCF is working on creating more momentum around OER / textbook affordability,” James says. “I’m happy to be part of it.”

He says some professors have been excited about the idea that, with an open textbook, they could provide first-day access to educational resources for their classroom. Students wouldn’t have to wait for loans and scholarships to come through, or wait for others to buy the text then borrow it afterward.

In a class of 600-1,200 students, not having first-day access can have a substantial impact.

“You can affect a lot of people with that solution if your class offers a book that’s available on day one,” James says. “If someone didn’t read the textbook, there’s no monetary excuse, at least.”

Still, James says, when advocating OER, he is competing with big publishers who have gotten better at reducing such frictions, with inclusive access and other options.

“I feel like I’m contending with big hitters who can offer solutions—quick solutions.”

Writing, or even adapting, a textbook, can be labor-intensive, James admits. And even Pressbooks’ WordPress-based interface can be intimidating for authors who are new to it, a category James includes himself in.

He said there was a learning curve to find ways to adjust the text size, use textboxes, and insert images. Figuring out best practices for these took some trial and error.

“It’s not an obvious process,” he says, adding that professors need that basic functionality of text size adjustment and it’s important to be able to let them know they can create a book that looks professional.

Still, he says, the Pressbooks product has been making lots of helpful updates.

“I love that they’ve recently added a feature where I don’t have to leave the editor to go from chapter to chapter,” James says. ”That was a big headache for me before. When that update hit, I was like ‘yes!’ I was really happy.”

Another thing he’s excited for is the ability to “chunk” content into shorter chapters and click a “next” button so that long chapters don’t seem so overwhelming.

James says he’s glad for the community around Pressbooks, as well as the staff he has encountered.  

“I’ve found the community to be really helpful and all the people surrounding the project to be my saving grace in all of this,” James says. “I can’t speak highly enough about all the people I’ve worked with up to this point. [They’ve been] very accessible, very helpful, and very interested in what, individually, we’re doing.”

In 2018, Unizin moved away from running an open source network and partnered with Pressbooks to host Unizin institutions’ Pressbooks networks.

James says that now that their open source network has moved to Pressbooks hosting, the university will hopefully be able to leverage some of the new Pressbooks-developed features such as LTI and single sign-on.

“I think the improvements have been positive. I’m pretty happy with it,” James says. “The tool is very, very useful and very helpful, and it’s only getting better.”

Q4 Roadmap Preview

In Q3, we added a couple new and exciting features to Pressbooks:

  • Image attributions (thanks to Brad and Alex at BCcampus)
  • New shortcodes to facilitate adding more complex content

We also released a new Open Source plugin, Pressbooks Shibboleth SSO, which provides bilateral Shibboleth SSO integration for Pressbooks networks. And we converted a few more themes to use Buckram, our theme component library, which gives us added flexibility to add new theme options for all themes.

In Q4 we’re wrapping up a few loose ends from our Q3 goals:

  • UX improvements to the webbook Table of Contents
  • UX improvements to the Export page

We’re also working on:

  • UI and UX improvements to the Theme Options page
  • Adding support for DOIs in Book Info and metadata outputs
  • Testing integration with Gutenberg, WordPress’s new editing interface
  • Continuing to convert themes and improve Buckram

As always, we’d love to hear your ideas for Pressbooks, so feel free to share them in the Pressbooks Community Forum!

Welcome Steel Wagstaff, Pressbooks EDU Client Manager

We’re thrilled to announce the arrival of a new team member, Steel Wagstaff.

Steel will work with our EDU clients to help them get the most out of their PressbooksEDU systems for OER initiatives.

We couldn’t have found a more qualified candidate for the role. If you’re in open education, you’re probably already familiar with Steel’s work. As an educational technology consultant in the College of Letters & Science at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Steel piloted the use of Pressbooks and led a robust community of Pressbooks practitioners at the institution. (Read more about the projects Steel has supported on UW-Madison’s PressbooksEDU network, which now contains more than 300 books.)

As a power-user of the software, Steel has long found innovative educational use cases and pushed the boundaries of what Pressbooks could do, while advocating for new features with our developers and the open source developer community.

He has also conducted numerous trainings on how to use Pressbooks to create OER, not only within a community of practice at UW-Madison, but also at conferences and universities across the U.S.

(If you’d like to catch him this week, he’ll be speaking at OpenEd18 on Open Learning Platforms: The Next Frontier of the Struggle with Publishers, with Pressbooks founder Hugh McGuire. Details are here.)

Steel has created instructional videos, presentations and numerous blog posts on how to use Pressbooks in education.

We think there is no better expert to guide fellow faculty, instructional designers, and library publishing staff in using their PressbooksEDU networks to the fullest to further their institutional OER initiatives.

“I’m really excited to be joining the Pressbooks team,” says Steel Wagstaff. “I’ve long admired both the Pressbooks software and the organization’s values, and can’t wait to work with other educational users to expand the reach of their open publication networks.”

We hope you’ll be as thrilled to work with Steel as we are! Please join us in welcoming him to the Pressbooks team.

Improved Internal Linking Mechanism, Removed Suggested Videos, and more

What’s New on PressbooksEDU

This week’s release brings with it a number of improvements to the default behaviors and interface of Pressbooks.

Removed Suggested Videos from Embedded YouTube Videos

YouTube videos embedded in platforms like Pressbooks naturally roll over into suggested videos once the video ends. As a platform for educational texts, we recognized the need to alter this behavior. Now, YouTube videos should end without suggested videos and revert back to the opening screen of the video when they’ve been played out.

Reduced Spam for Your Support Team

We’ve noticed a lot of spam in our support inbox lately, and we bet you have too. To mitigate this recent increase in spam, we’re ramping up anti-spam security for Pressbooks Contact Forms.

We’re using the Honeypot Method. This involves adding an extra, hidden field to the Contact Form that users won’t be able to see but bots will fill out automatically. This automatically filters your spam out from the rest of your Contact Form submissions.

Improved Internal Links in Digital PDF Exports

Users can now link to other content within the same book using absolute links. Prior to this change, absolute links, when clicked, would direct readers to the webbook. Authors would need to make all internal links relative rather than absolute in order for the content to link properly.

Now, absolute links will automatically register as relative links when placed in your chapter, and will allow users to navigate within the digital PDF itself.

Other Great News

You may notice these other changes we’re releasing this week to improve your Pressbooks experience:

    • Improved link insertion interface. We’ve enabled users to search for anchors throughout the entire book instead of just a single chapter. Previously, the link insertion interface only let you search for anchors within the chapter you were currently editing.
    • Improved fallback for authorless clone books. Previously, if a clone book’s source book had no authors, the attribution on the clone book’s cover page would say “by ,” with a blank space where the author name(s) should have been. We’ve improved how this auto-populated content accommodates authorless books.
    • Easier book creation for first-time users. Logged-in Pressbooks users can now create books from the menu of their network homepage. Previously, this functionality was only available to users who already had books in their user catalog.

Have any questions about these changes? Contact

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.”

University of Minnesota Publishes Research on Affordable Content

The Evolution of Affordable Content Efforts in the Higher Education Environment: Programs, Case Studies, and Examples, edited by Kristi Jensen and Shane Nackerud, is one of the latest books to be published by University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing on the Libraries’ Pressbooks network.

The book is a compilation of case studies that delve deeply into all facets of affordable educational content. It showcases diverse affordable content efforts across a range of higher education institutions, from the use of library licensed content, to creating and publishing open content, to inclusive access and other models from commercial publishers.

Kristi, who works with the University Libraries’ eLearning Support Initiative, says the breadth of affordable content options had been on her mind for several years.

“In a lot of settings, folks sometimes want to limit the conversation to a particular aspect of affordable content work, and in the day-to-day work that we do we found that it’s really necessary to explore all of those options so that we can meet faculty needs,” Kristi says.

In her role as Program Development Lead for the eLearning Support Initiative at the University of Minnesota Libraries, Kristi liaises with campus partners, including the Office of Information Technology, the Center for Educational Innovation (focused on teaching and learning), the Disability Resource Center, collegiate academic technology units, and the University Bookstores. She is the co-chair of the Campus Course Content Strategy Planning group, which includes students, faculty, IT professionals, and academic technologists. The group looks at data about the course content faculty are using. In addition, Kristi co-leads UMN’s Partnership for Affordable Content grant program, which offers mini-grants to faculty who want to write books, create digital course packs to replace more expensive materials, or utilize other strategies to make course materials more affordable.

“Over time we felt like there was a need to explain the conversation about affordable content beyond just OER,” she says. “And so the book was kind of like the culmination of that desire to help people understand this complex environment and all of the options that are really happening in so many places.”

Shane, for his part, is the Technology Lead for Library Initiatives at the University of Minnesota Libraries. He is part of the eLearning Support Initiative, where he identifies tech tools and works with projects such as the open textbook publishing initiative and Digital Course Pack project. Along with developer John Barneson, he manages the university’s Pressbooks instance.

“We tried with this book to really promote all the different things you can do to advocate for  affordable content on your campus or to make it happen–OER being one, digital course packs could be another, and the use of reserves–library licensed resources, fair use claims, freely available content on the web…there’s just a whole lot of options,” Shane says. “We can argue that the more options that you choose, the more affordable content you will have for your students.”

The University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing issues a call for proposals for new publications twice a year. Kristi wrote up a proposal for the affordable content book.

Their project was selected, and Kristi, who has been a librarian at UMN for 14 years, applied for her first professional development leave, which gave her two six-week blocks of time off.

In the first block, she wrote an author guide and agreements, communicated with authors, and analyzed student survey data for the chapter she would ultimately write.

Because of their work and the conferences they attended with peers at other universities, both Shane and Kristi knew individuals who had worked on different types of affordable content projects to reach out to in the hopes that they might contribute to the book. They also put out an open call, which Kristi says received traction on listservs popular among librarians.

More than 50 people, including the editors, contributed to what ended up being 26 chapters.

“That’s a lot of chapters about affordable content,” Shane said. “We’re happy that people felt so strongly about it to contribute.”

Once Kristi and Shane knew who the authors would be and what chapters they would write, they put the abstracts from selected chapters together into book format in Pressbooks. They shared the public book shell with the authors, so they could understand the context in which the work would live, and, if needed, connect with their fellow authors.

While the authors drafted their chapters, Kristi got back to work. In her second six-week sabbatical, she worked on the content editing. Shane and Kristi both edited the chapters, which they sent first to the authors to review, then to a professional copy editor provided by UMN Libraries Publishing for editing.

Shane says they enjoyed working with the copy editor, Sue Everson, and that she played a crucial role in the book’s development.

“Editing a book is not trivial,” Shane says. “It’s so much work to edit a book of this size.”

Following the edit, they sent the chapters back to the authors for a second review.

Next, Shane imported the chapters into Pressbooks and styled them with consistent visual elements, such as pull quotes, tables, and other formatting.

“We promote this tool to faculty,” Shane says of Pressbooks. “So we’re going to use this tool for our own open content as well.”

Kristi and Shane say they found the Pressbooks interface easy and helpful for formatting the work.

“I was able to go in there and more quickly create this openly licensed book than I could if I wanted to use something like InDesign,” Shane says. “Pressbooks made it very fast and easy.”

Rearranging the chapters was easy using the drag and drop feature on the Organize dashboard. Shane used pull quotes to create emphasis and break up long pages of text. He also used some CSS to customize various elements. Colored textboxes helped highlight important information. The editors also inserted clickable images and created an author index easily in the backmatter that links to chapters with authors’ names. They were pleased with the fact they were able to export and make the book available in different formats for download from the book homepage.

“It’s so easy to create all those things,” Kristi says. “Not just in creating this book, but working with faculty on creating books, it is just so streamlined and easy in the Pressbooks environment.”

Kristi says she was grateful to have a partner and colleague on the project.

“I don’t think you can do something like this alone,” she says.

The Evolution of Affordable Content Efforts coverShane and Kristi promoted the completed book through similar channels, distributing it through library listservs, the Unizin listserv, on Twitter, through word of mouth, and at conferences. The book had its official launch at the Open Textbook Network’s Summer Institute, with several authors in the room. They’re hoping for some press coverage from higher education publications and are also looking out for opportunities to do webinars on the book with related organizations.

The UMN Pressbooks instance has Google Analytics data tracking activated, so they know that the book received approximately 5,300 page views in its first month of release.

Shane says it is getting about 100 hits a day now.

The complete work is 26 chapters, but the editors intentionally built in modularity. Kristi says she doesn’t expect most readers to read them straight through in one sitting.

Even within individual chapters, they consistently included an intro at the top and a summary at the end, which she hopes will help the potential reader scan and quickly figure out which chapters they would like to dive deeper into or which will be most relevant for their purposes.

“My hope would be that people find the chapters that resonate with them,” Kristi says. “In this case, when you’re doing case studies and examples and projects, it should definitely be something where people can find the type of institution that they’re at. Are they at a private institution? They can find the private institution chapters. Are they at a large public institution? They can find those easily.”

Kristi is not quite ready to think about a second edition, especially when another leave might not be possible anytime soon. But she is considering an annual blog post, which might include an update to certain chapters. Then, they could link to those blog posts from within the book.

Also, she says there were a few voices that, despite all efforts, they weren’t able to find and include in Version 1. For instance, there were no student authors, and community colleges were not represented as well as she had hoped. These too might be areas for expansion.

Kristi and Shane hope the finished work will be of interest to anybody in higher education–not just librarians, but administrators, educational technologists, and anyone thinking about retention issues or enhancing teaching and learning.

“From my perspective, the work that we are doing here at the UMN is work to change culture, and the way that culture changes is a little bit at a time,” Kristi says. “And it is faculty and other colleagues hearing about it not just from us but from others. The book has all of these voices. So it demonstrates to faculty and others that we talk to that this work is going on at a wide range of universities by a wide range of people.”

Shane says he was happy to be part of an important conversation around affordable content and promote the many models that are out there.

“Hopefully if people read the book they will realize that libraries have a lot to offer in terms of affordable content beyond OER and in addition to OER,” Shane says. “I think we have a nice toolkit that we provide to faculty that are interested in this, and I hope makes a difference in the lives of students.”

Improvements to Cloning, Tables, Navigation, Media Metadata & More in PressbooksEDU

We’re always trying to make your Pressbooks experience better—more user-friendly, more customizable, and more enjoyable.

You can look forward to a few improvements to changes on Pressbooks, coming out today. Read on for details.

Improved Book Cloning

We’ve come a long way since we first rolled out the cloning feature for PressbooksEDU networks in August 2017. We’ve been working hard to improve it since then. Today’s update will bring you:

Cloned media. Now, when you clone a public, openly licensed book from another network or your own, all of the media files from the original book’s media will also import with the book. Previously, cloned books would only retain images. Now, videos, audio files and other media files will also come over.  

Internal links. Internal links in cloned books will now be automatically converted to point to the newly-cloned book. URLs will undergo this action as part of the cloning process, so that manual conversion isn’t necessary.

More accurate source comparison. We’ve improved the source comparison tool so that readers can more easily see the differences between the original source book and a cloned book when the user has enabled source comparison on their cloned webbook. Word counts on source books will now be more accurate too, as we’ve eliminated some of the factors affecting markup differences.

Improved source comparison in the PressbooksEDU cloning feature

Addition of TablePress

TablePress will now be available on PressbooksEDU networks.

TablePress makes it much easier to create larger, more complex tables, with more interactive functionality, such as the ability to sort by column.

To use it, activate the TablePress plugin on your book.

Adding a new table in TablePress

New Media Attributions Display Options

Pressbooks users can now format media attributions in their books in a standardized way.

You can now add more comprehensive metadata and attribution information to image files in your Media Library.

To make this information display publicly, check the Media Attributions setting under Theme Options.

With this box checked, the information will display at the end of each chapter after your body text and before your footnotes.

Shows the media attributions setting with a checkbox selected to display attributions at the end of a chapter.

This feature is helpful for users who, for example, are creating textbooks and may be using a large quantity of images from different sources, or for users who are creating open textbooks that want to easily embed the metadata for those who may clone and remix the book.

More information on this feature can be found at

Thanks to Brad Payne and Alex Paredes at BCcampus for building this feature.

Other Improvements

With this release, Pressbooks is also:

  • Fixing the icon size on collapsible chapter subsections
  • Generating a smaller cover image for the book homepage
  • Improving the design of the navigation links on the webbook for more logical navigation through front matter and back matter
  • Improving navigation links for visual clarity and accessibility by moving the cues to the bottom of the screen
  • Updating our Thema integration to Thema version 1.3.0, which includes French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese translations for subject matter categories

Have questions about these changes? Contact

University of Texas at Arlington Kicks off OER Program with Eight Books in Development

University of Texas at Arlington is using its PressbooksEDU system as a platform on which to build open educational resources as part of UTA Libraries’ open education program.

Open Education Librarian Michelle Reed says the program supports open education broadly, including distribution of grant funding for the creation and adoption of OER, as well as the incentivization of open pedagogy.

Anyone affiliated with UTA can get access to the UTA Pressbooks network to develop openly licensed content. (While UTA recommends and prefers the CC BY license, they will allow any Creative Commons license except for Non-Derivatives.)

In June, Michelle hired a student worker who spent the summer moving content into the Pressbooks platform and readying the OER for publication.

The first book ready to publish was Matt Crosslin’s Creating Online Learning Experiences, which is also available for print through Lulu. Read more about this project.

Michelle says this text was a bit of an outlier compared to many of the resources they’ll be using Pressbooks for, but it’s a step into OER and open access monograph work. A typical OER from UTA will be designed to be shared with students; this work was instead created to be shared with instructors of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the LINK Research Lab. (It was later expanded to be a resource to anyone building an online course.)

So far, UTA has seven  other texts in development on the Pressbooks platform. Half of these are also UTA CARES Grant Program grantees.

The second book UTA Libraries released, in partnership with UTA’s Division of Student Success, was a customized textbook for use in first-year experience courses.  It replaces a $20-$25 book that UTA owned the copyright to. They decided to move the resource into Pressbooks instead and make it available to students for free as an OER. With approval at the provost level, the resource will be used by all first-year experience courses in fall and revised in time for the following year’s courses. In its first semester of use, the OER will impact over 3,000 students and result in approximately $75,000 in cost savings for incoming first-time-in-college students.

“It’s a huge moment for our campus because so many people in different disciplines teach that course,” Michelle says.

Two of the books being built on UTA’s Pressbooks instance are from OER grant recipients in civil engineering. One of the texts is a resource originally developed on Google Sites, which the team is moving into Pressbooks.

Author Sharareh Kermanshachi, an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering, had created an open website with interactive OER course materials to use instead of a traditional textbook, in her fall 2017 course. She also collected data about students’ perception of OER and academic performance in the class. Among her findings, students with loans had a more positive perception of the OER, and in this particular course, students using this OER did better than students who had used a traditional textbook in her same course the prior semester.

She presented her research at a conference, where the resource gained interest from other institutions. The OER will be released publicly on Pressbooks where it will continue to be updated.

Another civil engineering instructor runs a flipped classroom in which students watch the video lectures as homework and come in prepared to work hands-on with equipment. He received a $10,000 OER innovation grant for a project in which he will develop a video series and interactive assessment lab manuals.

An intermediate French textbook, which was initially developed in a Word document, will also be converted into book format on Pressbooks.

Even students have gotten involved in OER production at UTA, helping to retrofit a lab manual for a biology class with openly licensed, attributed images.

Human Anatomy Lab Manual book Cover

While they received high-level assistance from faculty and training in Creative Commons licenses, “students were the ones driving that effort,” Michelle says.

“When I told them how it was going to be distributed and how their work would be acknowledged, they got really excited.”

Michelle says they’ll be using the Pressbooks platform for both authoring and adaptations. (A recent UTA Libraries blog post talks more about how they plan to use the system.)

In some cases, a school or department want to use OER, but find that no open access (or commercial) resource currently exists that meets all of their qualifications.

“Now that we have Pressbooks, we have a real alternative for people to modify the content that doesn’t quite fit their needs,” Michelle says. “I think it will increase adoptions across the board. But I think we’ll also see a huge increase in people modifying OER through the Pressbooks platform because it makes it so easy – particularly if something’s in Pressbooks already – with the cloning feature.”

PressbooksEDU users can use the cloning feature to instantly copy any book on a Pressbooks network that has a CC license and allows derivatives onto their own institutional network. Users can then modify and adapt that book to include whatever content they need for their own use of the book.

“We’re showing off cloning, because it’s just, it’s so easy,” Michelle says. “We’re hoping that we can [use this feature to] reach people who are very interested in OER but resistant because it feels difficult.”

UTA Libraries plans to market the program more heavily over the next academic year.  Michelle spoke about OER at new faculty orientation this falls. They also hope to partner with the university’s IDEAS Center. Currently they’re looking for early adopters to demonstrate what’s feasible and learn what infrastructure they’ll need to develop to support future instructors who sign on. Over the summer they hosted community meetings every other week, and they also offered a series of Pressbooks exploration sessions.

“People love it. They’re just so excited to see that it’s easy to use and it makes the whole revision and remix process – which can be hard for people to understand when they’ve never tried to do it – Pressbooks makes it real for them.”

At this point, she says, a key goal is to make more resources available so people can see that this work is happening on the campus.

Michelle and her team are currently doing a lot of the work to help faculty get content from where it lives now into Pressbooks, as well as to make sure it’s accessible. However, the long-term goal is to build a community of practice and empower faculty and their student workers to do this work.

She says features such as H5P integration, which enables interactive assessment, have been very attractive to faculty and help OER compete with content from commercial publishers, or commercial platforms such as Top Hat.

“That’s what gets people excited,” she says. “That’s really what they’re looking to commercial publishers to provide.”

She is also optimistic about the cloning feature. Much of UTA’s OER program has been inspired by learning what other leaders in this space have been doing. Michelle says they looked at work by BCcampus, by Steel Wagstaff at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and by Billy Meinke at University of Hawaii.  It was also appealing that the Open Textbook Network offered a discount on Pressbooks to its members.

“A lot of the people who are leading work we admire are moving this direction,” Michelle says.

The more open content there is in Pressbooks, the more powerful the cloning feature becomes, she says.

“As more open educators move to this system, it’s going to really benefit us all because it makes our job easier.”

Update 8/31: We updated the post to note that Creating Online Learning Experiences has been updated to be a resource to anyone building an online course.

Creating Online Learning Experiences is New Resource for MOOC Creators, Instructional Designers

The University of Texas – Arlington PressbooksEDU network was created in February of 2018.

Creating Online Learning Experiences, by UTA Learning Innovation Coordinator Matt Crosslin and collaborators, was the first book released on the network.

Originally, the book was conceived as a resource for instructors working with his department to create massive open online courses, or MOOCs, to help faculty who didn’t necessarily have a background in instructional design think about issues and processes to consider when putting a course online.

The idea evolved when Matt realized, “We could use this to also train instructional designers.”

The book was expanded last year to be a resource to anyone building an online course, including instructors at other institutions.

While there’s a flow from the beginning to the end of the book, Matt says they built it so that individual chapters could also stand alone.

To help build the book, he reached out to potential collaborators with the relevant expertise, both within UTA and also in his personal network. Several others wrote chapters, and numerous contributors authored sections of chapters. Matt plans to add even more contributors for the second edition, along with more in-depth revisions to existing content.

Matt says from a technical standpoint building the book was easy because he was already familiar with WordPress, and Pressbooks is built on WordPress.

He started in a Word document, which he uploaded to Google docs for reviewers and editors, and ultimately copy-pasted the work into Pressbooks.

The book is 14 chapters, plus front matter and back matter. For version two, he plans to add interactive multimedia.

People are already using the book in a variety of ways. Some instructors have started referencing it in some of their courses; others had been waiting to incorporate it into their instructional design courses. And some at UTA are using it to guide their online course creation process.

The book was released in late June 2018, and Matt is talking with the university’s media group to release an official press release. He has seen some traction for the book on Twitter and social media, and he’s working with UTA Open Education Librarian Michelle Reed on publicizing the book in print-on-demand through Lulu, and setting up stats to find out how often it’s downloaded. The library also set up an adoption form where people can let UTA know they have adopted the book and how they’re using it.

He says the book has broadened his network.

“I’m starting to see a lot of people I wasn’t connected with that are looking at it,” Matt says, noting he also received a rush of LinkedIn connection requests from people in the educational technology sector. “People at least liked it and wanted to connect professionally about it.”

Leigh A. Hall, of the YouTube channel Teaching Academia, even did a YouTube review of the book.

Matt says at first people asked him why he was writing another book on instructional design, as there were already a number of books on the subject.

“My response to that was that I was actually trying not to cover the same ground as those books cover. They cover a lot of the complex processes for instructional design, and they do it well.”

Matt says his goal was to start looking at contemporary modern issues—equality, access, surveillance—in the context of instructional design.

“For example, what is instructional design going to look like in the wake of Cambridge Analytica?” Matt asks, saying he wanted this resource to merge the theoretical with social justice and make sure there’s a good source connecting the two.

“To not only just look at some of these people from several decades ago who came up with these design methods but also these people today who are asking hard questions about how we’re using technology; why we’re using it.”

The book is available for sale through Lulu at

8/31 Update: This case study was edited to refer to Crosslin as Matt throughout and to note that the book was expanded to be a resource to all online instructors, not just those building MOOCs. 

UW-Madison PressbooksEDU Instance Supports 70+ Open Publishing Projects

University of Wisconsin-Madison has been using Pressbooks as a platform to facilitate open educational resources (OER) and open textbook publishing for years.

Steel Wagstaff, an instructional technology consultant at UW-Madison, piloted the use of Pressbooks at the university starting in 2015 to help faculty create open educational resources for the UW-Madison’s College of Letters & Science.

After demonstrating the platform’s success, Steel reached out to Unizin, a higher education consortium of which UW-Madison was a founding member, to request that they host an open source Pressbooks network with additional plugins for the university. Unizin’s self-hosted network was launched in August 2016.

Since then, UW-Madison faculty and staff have created nearly 250 book shells on the network. Though many of these shells are used as sandboxes for new users to test how the platform works, at least 70 are real projects in later stages of development.

UW-Madison, along with other Unizin schools, migrated their production network to a PressbooksEDU hosted network in June 2018.

When looking for early adopters, Steel initially approached faculty who he knew were committed to teaching, were particular in their choice of course materials, and already had produced teaching materials but lacked a good mechanism to deliver them to students. Many instructors have developed their own course materials, sometimes writing and maintaining their own textbook in a DIY fashion with desktop publishing or word processing tools like Microsoft Word, for instance. These instructors “had already written teaching materials, but were frustrated in how to deliver them.” In these cases, Steel emphasized how using Pressbooks to publish their content on the web could help them make their teaching material more interactive and broadly accessible to other interested learners.

Steel says Pressbooks has been particularly useful for four categories of projects, which he outlines in this presentation.

The first is course materials designed to supplement or replace existing texts. More than a dozen projects at UW-Madison fall into this category, the most high-profile of which is Global Regions: World Regional Geography for a Globalizing World from Geography professor Dr. Kris Olds.

A number of departments at UW-Madison, including Chemistry, Physics and Math, have been redesigning courses and curriculum for active learning. In some cases, they are using the opportunity to create open content. Some of these texts are new works; others are adoptions or remixes of existing open texts, like those published by OpenStax.

Language instruction, training, outreach, and distance learning are other subject areas where Steel advocates building materials in Pressbooks.

Steel says a variety of instructors of less commonly taught languages have found there is no suitable resource to use as a textbook, and for that reason they have already been creating their own materials.

Pressbooks is great for language practice texts, he says, because it allows you to include exercises in the book using the H5P plugin. Current texts in various stages of development on UW-Madison’s Pressbooks network cover Portuguese, Indonesian, Hindi, Tibetan, and African languages. Not all of these projects are full textbooks, but each includes a variety of teaching materials in the target language.

There are also some books that serve as teasers for full courses. One example is a continuing ed course on Wisconsin weather. Four chapters from the text are available free on the web, where those who stumble upon it can say, “Oh, here’s some cool course content. I like this. I’m interested. Maybe I want to take the course and talk to a professor and learn more about it.”

Another use case for Pressbooks at UW-Madison has been compilations – student- or professor-produced anthologies of public domain texts. Steel, who has a Ph.D. in English, says there are many pre-1923, public-domain texts on Project Gutenberg that could be used in this way. The Open Syllabus Project, he adds, tracks the most commonly assigned texts. He would love to see a clonable collection of all of these texts which are now in the public domain published using Pressbooks, he notes.

Over the years, there have also been a variety of projects in which faculty or students do research in the community and compile that into a student-authored, university-community partnership text. Among these, professor Anna Andrzejewski had her students document Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the area. Later, she took students to North Dakota to do a similar project with farm buildings. A different class built a catalog for a historical exhibit at Mount Horeb’s Driftless Historium museum. The exhibit looked at ethnic identity through objects. Students did research and wrote pieces about the story behind each of the objects. Print copies were made, and the ebook version was on display on an iPad at the exhibit.

Some of the books are used privately, or they are public but not showcased in the main UW-Madison Pressbooks catalog yet.

Though Steel has occasionally done systematic project management for book projects, he primarily has provided Pressbooks training and resources while cultivating an OER community.

When faculty or instructors at UW-Madison express interest in using Pressbooks to make or adapt an open text, Steel and his graduate assistant, Naomi Salmon, conduct an hour-long training and provide resources, such as Naomi’s OER Activity Sourcebook and Pressbooks 101. They also conduct a monthly Pressbooks user group meeting (community of practice), which usually attracts 20-35 attendees. It includes a show-and-tell from faculty users and some how-to from him and Naomi, which is helpful for those new to Pressbooks.

“Hearing people talk about their ongoing projects is usually a highlight of these meetings, Steel says, “because they help everyone else expand their sense of the possible, get new ideas for the projects they’re working on, and work through common problems. The group almost always has better ideas for solving tricky issues than any one of us would singly.”

Steel and Naomi later make and send out a list of FAQs to answer questions that arise in the session for those who couldn’t attend in person.

Steel also demos Pressbooks to other instructional designers as well as central IT personnel, and they too become front-line trainers to faculty from different disciplines.

When it comes to teaching and learning, Steel says the Pressbooks platform supports UW-Madison’s needs better than any other tool he researched. That the software is open source is a major asset.

“The thing that I love most is that it’s open source,” Steel says.

That was particularly important, he says, because he was interested in trying things that currently weren’t available on hosted networks, and he was able to make those requests known to the Pressbooks developers through the open source community. The fact the software was open source allowed UW-Madison to hack solutions that would not have been possible on proprietary software.

“I feel like I’ve been able to be involved and been embraced by the Pressbooks development community,” he says.

He also appreciates that Pressbooks is web-based, but offers a range of other export formats (PDF for print-on-demand, EPUB and MOBI for ebookstores, open formats like HTML, XML, OpenDocument, and more).

“I’m thinking of this mainly as a web publishing tool,” Steel says, adding that he is “bullish” on the possibility of including in-line interaction, such as quizzes, in context.

He also likes the ability to collapse sections of text, a feature he says is particularly useful for language textbooks, where you might want to hide a translation at first, but let a learner expand it to check their understanding.

Steel says one great aspect of Pressbooks is the newly integrated H5P plugin, which lets users combine text and distributed quiz questions in the same container – something he notes that learning management systems still don’t do very well.

He has also been pushing the bounds with, an annotation plugin available in Pressbooks. The tool allows for another layer of interaction and engagement with the material by making it possible for instructors to enable student comments and highlights on a webbook posted either publicly or within a private group.

“The annotation layer is just gravy,” he says. “What it allows us to do is to have a canonical main body of the text, and then various layers or flavors of non-canonical or participatory text.”

As a case in point, he cites one class in which students read Revolutionary War-era literature in the public domain and comment or reflect in a layer on

“You’re allowing various levels of authority to experiment at, participate in, become part of the textual experience,” he says. “Enabling truly social conversation about the object of study is terrific for teaching and learning.”

Steel also likes the fact Pressbooks can be integrated into a learning management system and have the content appear natively. He believes that helps to reduce cognitive load on students consuming the text.

“I love that [books on] Pressbooks can exist as a web object on the open web and be free for anyone who wants to learn anywhere in the world, independent of their university affiliation,” he says. “We also recognize that most of the people that are building these texts are planning to use them in college, [and] at least on our campus, they want to use them in their college class.”

Steel talks more about the reasons he chose Pressbooks and the due diligence he underwent in this Medium post.

Recently, Steel has begun to partner with Carrie Nelson, the UW-Madison libraries’ director of scholarly communications, with whom he hopes to build a group that is enthusiastic about OER.

Steel also hopes to promote more OER adaptations going forward.

“I would say what’s strange about our use case so far is that we’ve mainly focused on new creation,” he says, which seems impractical given the prevalence of open resources. “Why aren’t we adopting and adapting?”

When that happens, he says, Pressbooks’ cloning feature will become even more valuable.

“And increasingly, as people say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m interested in using an OER that I’ve reviewed,’ for example, through the Open Textbook Network, then cloning is going to be a killer feature.”

He notes that this won’t be fully useful until they can clone H5P and annotations too.

But with their PressbooksEDU network newly hosted by Pressbooks through the Unizin consortium, Steel feels optimistic about the possibilities.

“Right now, we have a pretty experimental cobbling together of a bunch of custom homemade plugins and weird stuff,” he says. “Genericizing, standardizing, and making that feel stable and powerful is, for me, the way forward for us.”

Steel says the more the platform is standardized, the more useful it will be to other schools and institutions, who will also adopt it.

“Participating and coordinating our work with other institutions, like our fellow Unizin consortium members, helps me feel more secure, in that we no longer need to be the only ones out there at the very bleeding edge, doing this difficult, experimental thing.”