Profs Create New Open Textbook: Ancient Greek for Everyone

The new open textbook from Wilfred E. Major and Michael Laughy, “Ancient Greek for Everyone,” is built on Pressbooks and will teach the foundations of classical Greek.

Michael Laughy is an assistant professor of Classics at Washington and Lee University. Among other classes, he teaches first-year Greek.

Laughy said most Greek textbooks are daunting because they try to cover everything. Unlike some languages, Greek dialects vary widely from region to region. Most textbooks try to be comprehensive and cover all the dialects, but this becomes overwhelming.

“It ends up turning students away,” Laughy said.

What Laughy felt was needed was a text that would teach classical Greek linguistically–to teach basic skills and abilities, so that students would have a foundation to tackle other dialects later.

Using Pressbooks, he decided to create his own text, Ancient Greek for Everyone: Essential Morphology and Syntax for Beginning Greek with a co-author, Wilfred E. Major, from Louisiana State University.

Web book: Ancient Greek for Everyone open textbook Web book: Ancient Greek for Everyone

The book contains a study of the essential morphology and syntax of ancient Greek; vocabulary and exercises; and reading passages drawn from ancient sources.

Laughy chose Pressbooks after looking at a variety of software. He wanted a collaborative online tool where “the learning curve [for other professors wanting to use or adapt the book] would be manageable.” He also liked the adaptability and remixability that Pressbooks enables through easy copying of the book either through XML replication or one-click cloning.

Laughy hopes that as the book grows and evolves, multiple faculty authors will add materials and exercises to it, or replicate it and adapt new editions to suit how they teach the subject at their own campus instruction by adding exercises, lesson plans etc., as they see fit.

For Laughy, these capabilities change the way instructors engage with and use textbooks, and may have other pedagogical impacts. He said, “You’re no longer teaching against a textbook. You’re teaching with a textbook.”

He also liked the web book, PDF and ebook format availability, which helps the book suit a particular instructor or department’s needs. In his case, students are loaned free iPads, so he wanted something they could read on these devices even if they didn’t produce a printed version of the text.

Pressbooks also had the ability to write in both monotonic and polytonic Greek (though some themes handle the language better than others).

Laughy piloted the web version of the textbook in his Fall 2016 course. Students expressed appreciation for the book’s online formatting in their evaluations. Laughy liked how he was even able to make changes to the book live in class: “Someone would say ‘I don’t understand what you mean’ on a passage,” and he would say, “‘Is this better?’ I would go live into Pressbooks on my iPad while they’re watching. I would fix it, upload and refresh the web page.”

Two additional campuses, Louisiana State University and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, are now using the book in Fall 2017 courses and nine more have expressed interest in using the book in the future.

Can you “clone” a Pressbooks book? You can now*!

Here at Pressbooks HQ we’ve been doing a whole lot more development work for the Open Textbook world, in our opinion the most exciting space in the world of publishing. For the uninitiated, an Open Textbook is an openly licensed (i.e. free) book that supports the “5Rs,” defined by David Wiley as the rights to: remix, revise, reuse, retain, and redistribute.

Open Textbooks are powerful not just because they are free for students, but also because teachers and profs (or even students) can easily improve them and modify them for the particular needs of their students.

Theory vs. Practice

In theory, at least.

In practice, all that 5R-y stuff can be difficult: How do you revise a PDF? How do you remix an EPUB? How do you redistribute a print book?

Clone me, please!

The new answer — at least for Open Textbooks built on Pressbooks as of now is: You clone them!

That is, you can now, with the click of a button, clone/copy a complete Pressbooks book (including all metadata, image and media, and content) from one Pressbooks account or instance to another, as long as the original book is:

  • Openly licensed (i.e. licensed with a Creative Commons license)
  • Publicly available on the web

And this means, once you’ve cloned that book, you can 5R it to your heart’s content!

Wait, does this mean anyone can just copy my book?

No. No. No! … No, cloning is only possible in the case that:

  • Your book is openly licensed (with a Creative Commons license)
  • You book privacy setting is: public on the web

So for any books that have standard copyright, or are not available on the web — this doesn’t apply.

Why would you clone a book?

This is, we think, a very exciting development for the Open Textbook ecosystem.

Here are just some of the ways we expect the new feature to be utilized:

  • A community college wants to make changes to the level of subject matter in an open textbook that was originally created for upper-division undergraduates.
  • A faculty member wants to adapt an open textbook to reflect the way they personally teach the subject matter.
  • A university department wants to copy the books contained in a catalogue at a similar department in another university.
  • An instructor wants to make a copy in order to have their class expand an existing open textbook as part of a classroom project.

Cloning ultimately allows books built in Pressbooks to become more modular and easily adaptable for more courses.

Pressbooks, Ryerson University & eCampus Ontario

Have you heard about the exciting Open Textbook work happening in Ontario?

This cloning feature was developed as part of a project Pressbooks is doing with Ryerson University, funded by a grant from eCampusOntario, developing infrastructure for Open Resource Publishing in Ontario.

Also under this project, Pressbooks is getting a full design refresh, including redesigns of the book home page, the webbook reading interface, and, for Pressbooks systems, updates to the landing page and Pressbooks’ built-in catalog page.

So, How Do I Start Cloning?

The bad news is: This feature is not available on Pressbooks.com. Cloning is an educational feature only available in standalone Pressbooks systems (Pressbooks EDU client systems and Pressbooks open source). (Contact us if you’re interested in us hosting a Pressbooks EDU system for you.)

Pressbooks.com also supports replicating books. However, the process of copying a book is more labour intensive, and requires users to reach out to original creators for the book’s XML files. This new cloning feature omits these steps for enterprise users, making duplication possible with only a few clicks of a button.

Learn more about how to use the new cloning feature.

Built on Pressbooks: Mike Caulfield’s Guide to Student Web Literacy

Mike Caulfield is the director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver. He also leads the Digital Polarization Initiative (Digipo), a “cross-institutional initiative to improve civic discourse by developing web literacy skills in college undergraduates,” which is part of American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project.

Web-Literacy-for-Student-Fact-Checkers-coverIn February 2017, Caulfield released the open (CC BY) textbook, Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers,” built on Pressbooks.

He began writing the book, which was a pivot of an earlier concept, in November 2016, and wrote the bulk of it over the following winter holiday break.

“It occurred to me that what the world needed, much more than a scholarly book or extended philippic, was a textbook or field guide that explained how to survive in this world of viral information flows and social media firehoses,” Caulfield wrote in a blog post detailing the origins of the project.

Caulfield said faculty were interested in doing such work in their classrooms, but were nervous about teaching it without a structured approach or resource they could have their students follow.

Originally Caulfield thought about creating a series of blog posts, but after conversations with faculty determined the more structured format of a textbook would better serve their needs.

The book’s focus, he explained in the post, is on “the question of what web literacy for stream culture looked like.”

Caulfield has continued to expand the book since its release, based on feedback from faculty on their needs and the gaps in the book.

He hopes to get more collaborators–faculty and others–involved in the future, and he sees a particular need for collaboration to add new content and keep the text up to date.

“The future of this text has to be collaborative,” he said.

Much of the content in the book–which points to concrete, specific tools and methods to verify information, or dispel disinformation–has a limited shelf life. “It’s something that’s going to have a high rot rate, and we’re gonna need to bring others in,” Caulfield said. “This is some of the fastest-aging material around because it is a never-ending war between people trying to sort through the information pollution out there and people who find new and better ways to propel pollution into the network.”

He said there is a good precedent in open circles for building a community around the book that maintains and extends it. “It’s difficult to get people to collaborate on something initially,” he said. “But collaborating on maintenance and extension on something is easier to do, and I’m hoping that’s where we end up going on this.”

He also hopes people will take advantage of the book’s open license, combined with the ability to copy the book in Pressbooks to create additional derivatives, perhaps with different screen shots or localized examples.

In building the book, Caulfield used Pressbooks’ parts feature to divide the book into broad sections under which he uses chapters to explain strategies and tactics under those headings. The main parts are followed by a field guide part of the book whose chapters detail specific aspects of fact checking in an almost “episodic” way.

He wanted to keep the main portion of the text short enough for students to read in about two to three hours, whereas the field guide is designed to be read as needed to support their work on specific projects. Such a structure allows faculty to use the book for modules as short as a week or two, as well as for longer projects.

Ideally, he said, faculty members would have their students read the first four sections and then the handful of articles from the field guide that are most relevant to their assigned project.

The field guide is one area Caulfield would like to expand in future editions. He would also like to add more activities.

 

Table-of-Contents-Mike-Caulfield-Fact-Checking-book

Users of the book can add their feedback to the book using Hypothes.is, which enables any readers with a Hypothes.is account to comment on or annotate the book. Caulfield said this mechanism is best utilized as part of a specific request for feedback from a particular group rather than for seeking casual feedback from anyone.

Adopters of the textbook come from WSU and the many other institutions that participate in the Digipo project, through which students fact-check or comment to add context to news stories from various social streams, as well as others who’ve learned of the book and adopted it.

Caulfield said he is surprised by the degree to which the book spread into classroom use. He emails Digipo participants to let them know when the book and updates are available, but mainly thinks the book has spread through word of mouth as well as through librarians and library guides.

“One of the vectors through which it has spread has been the library community, which has been very generous in promoting the book.”

When building the book, Caulfield appreciated the similarities to WordPress (which Pressbooks is based on) in the Pressbooks interface, along with the ability to embed videos in the web book and also the home page for the web book, which he said has helped to market the book.

“The look of the front page where the table of contents is right there has been very useful to people to whom I’ve sent the book. They’re coming to the book and they’re trying to quickly get a sense of whether this is a good fit for what they do. The way that faculty do that around the world is to scan the table of contents.”

He said one thing he would like to see in the future is the ability to better flag additional chapters he would like to add in the future to supplement the core of the content set apart from the flow of the book, in a way that does not make the overall book appear unfinished.

In addition, the way Pressbooks displays the content license (which Caulfield intended to be CC BY in this case) was not intuitive. (We’ve helped to fix this and have made further improvements to this functionality since!)

Caulfield said he is surprised at the degree to which the book has impacted him professionally.

“There’s a lot of different vectors through which I’ve had influence on the way people teach this stuff, and some of those have been quite successful,” said Caulfield, who’s received his share of press in prominent media outlets. “This textbook has really outdone them all in terms of the broad impact.”

It’s great to be quoted in mass media or to present at major conferences, he said, but that’s not effective if people don’t have a clear guide on what to do next. “Whereas with this, I get an email a week from somebody who thanks me for the book, and lets me know they have already integrated it into their teaching.”

The book has developed a life of its own, Caulfield said.

“I haven’t been that great a steward or promoter of this book since it’s been up there,” he said. “I put in the initial effort, and it’s been on autopilot for months, and yet it’s still attracting new users. That’s not a pattern of impact I see in other areas. There’s something about a book in a central location that just goes really well with word-of-mouth promotion.”

Pressbooks working with Ryerson University on eCampusOntario grant: “Open Publishing Infrastructure”

We are very very excited to announce that we’re working with eCampusOntario and Ryerson University to improve Pressbooks as an Open Textbook authoring tool, under the just-announced eCampusOntario project: “Open Publishing Infrastructure for Ontario Post-Secondary Educators, Learners.”

Most of the development work we undertake under this grant will be released as open source improvements to the Pressbooks GPL codebase — so anyone using Pressbooks will benefit.

Pressbooks as we’ve dreamed since, well, 2010

This project is going to allow us to develop some of the most exciting capabilities of Pressbooks, something we have been dreaming of since, well, since I started working on Pressbooks way back in 2011.

In particular, we will be making some very visible improvements, including a redesign of the “webbook” interface (for reading Pressbooks books online) and a refresh of the standard catalog page for dedicated Pressbooks instances (such as this one, hosted by BCcampus).

APIs and Cloning

But the more exciting work is going on under the hood, where we’ll be migrating the Pressbooks API (built by Brad Payne from BCcampus) to the WordPress core REST API, extending the metadata capabilities, and building “cloning” of Pressbooks books into Pressbooks core (also leaning on work done by Brad).

This means that you’ll soon be able to point at any openly-licensed Pressbooks book in the universe, and pull it into your own Pressbooks environment, to enable the famous 5Rs of Open Educational Resources: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute.

An API for Books (finally!)

What does this mean? This means Pressbooks will, finally, be able to fulfill a promise I’ve been thinking about since I started Pressbooks back in 2011: an API for books.

Indeed, looking through some archives, I am gratified to see that we’ve managed to build a lot of what I laid out in my May 2010 (!!) article for O’Reilly: “An Open, Webby, Book-Publishing Platform.”

More exciting is that we are now poised to move beyond that initial set of ideas, and offer something I wrote about a year later, in September 2010 (!), An API for Books.

It’s taken a while, but we’re getting there!

The past number of years have been an exercise in patience: We have always had dedicated and faithful users—from self-publishers to academic presses—who love Pressbooks because of how easy it makes formatting books for print and ebook stores.

But the real power of Pressbooks, from my perspective, has always been hidden in the plain sight of the web: all Pressbooks books are web-native from the start.

Open Textbooks and the Web

The Open Textbook movement is really the first coherent usecase for Pressbooks that has emerged to embrace the potential in Open, webby book publishing systems. So, it’s been gratifying to see the Pressbooks open source software being adopted in the Open Textbook world, by such leading projects as: Lumen Learning, BCcampus, and OpenSUNY.

At the same time, it’s been a challenge for a small company like ours to support the exciting Open Textbook possibilities of Pressbooks with our limited resources. This new project will enable us to move much faster towards an Open Textbook future we hope for.

Working with Ryerson and eCampusOntario

We’re thrilled to be working with some great people at Ryerson University on this project: Wendy Freeman, Fangmin Wang, Ann Ludbrook, Sally Wilson, and the rest of their team. And we’re excited as well to be working on an eCampus Ontario project: David Porter and Lena Patterson have a a great vision for the future of Open Textbooks in Ontario, and we’re excited to be part of it.

If you’d like more information about Pressbooks and Open Textbooks, get in touch! hugh@pressbooks.com.