8 Emerging Publishing Tools

Isaac Mulolani

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this chapter, the reader should be able to

  1. Identify alternative publishing tools for OER
  2. Describe the features of each tools useful for publishing
  3. Compare the list of features in each of these tools

Up to this point, we have discussed a number of tools ranging from word processors (commercial and open-source) and several open-source tools that have been around for a while. In this chapter, we will describe a select group of emerging tools that are growing in use. In particular, we will look at Pressbooks, EdTech Books, LibreTexts, Ximera and PreTeXt.

All of these tools are open-source options although PressbooksEDU is provided as a paid subscription to many institutions across the globe. Institutions with the means to do so can install and maintain an open-source instance of Pressbooks that can be connected to other paid subscription networks as well. BCcampus and Concordia University are examples of open-source Pressbooks installations.

Pressbooks

Pressbooks is an open educational resources development platform based on WordPress. The platform is available for a number of different audiences.

Higher Education Institutions Faculty Authors Self-Publishers
Build a publishing program on a branded institutional Pressbooks network or get a central network for a consortium of schools. Take advantage of our suite of EDU features to create books on a shared network. This option is based on a per book fee. Publish your own novel, monograph, or other text in multiple online and offline formats.

Table 8.1 Audiences using Pressbooks

From their website, Pressbooks states that they have three products designed by and for educators

  1. Pressbooks Directory,
  2. Authoring & Editing Platform, and
  3. Results for LMS.

Together, these elements form the infrastructure for open publishing.

Key Pressbooks Open Education Features

For each of these, there are specific features of interest to open education users. A document on the 2020-PressbooksEDU-Overview can be obtained from the Pressbooks website.

Pressbooks Directory

One of the most useful features of Pressbooks is making all public books created in the platform available and discoverable in the Pressbooks Directory. This means that both Pressbooks users and non-users can access material, read it on the web and download it in multiple formats. However, only PressbooksEDU users can clone and adapt OER in accordance with its license. The features include:

  • Discover New Content – Any open education practitioner can search for open textbooks, course outlines, lab manuals and more. Currently there are over 3,314 texts created using Pressbooks.
  • Filter by License –  The Directory is a search facility that has several filters. One of these is the ability to search for content by its licence.
  • Find Interactive OER – Another filter that the Directory uses for searching is by the number of H5P interactive elements.
  • Import Content – For users with access to a PressbooksEDU instance, openly licensed content can be imported from the Pressbooks Directory. It can also be imported from other sources including MS Word documents and Open Document Format. This will then allow the user to adapt the OER as per license permissions.

Pressbooks Authoring & Editing Platform

Adaptation of existing OER for classrooms can be achieved through Pressbooks Authoring & Editing Platform. Users can create content from scratch and enrich OER with accessible math notation, videos, audio, web annotation and interactive elements. Specific features include:

  • Write New content or Import & Edit –  A user can write original OER content or adapt an existing OER. Options exist to import content from the Pressbooks Directory and other sources to adapt to a specific local need.
  • Add Accessible Math Notation – A user can ensure that all STEM content uses accessible math notation. Pressbooks renders LaTeX, AsciiMath and MathML with MathJax. Content can be exported in a variety of downloadable formats including PDF, and EPUB.
  • Include Audio and Video Content – OER can be enhanced by including audio/visual content. It is possible to include music, recorded lectures, lab demonstrations etc., into OER.
  • Add Assessment with H5P – One can include assessments throughout an OER using H5P. The performance on these assessments can be reviewed in the LMS gradebook using Pressbooks Results for LMS.
  • Create an Online Social Annotation Space with Hypothesis – An instructor can assign students in-text activities incorporating discussions. These discussions can be enriched with audio/visual content.
  • Publish with beautiful book templates – Pressbooks current has a wide range of book templates presenting content in accessible and professional form.
  • Conform with the Highest Accessibility Standards – Pressbooks is built to conform with WCAG 2.0 A & AA guidelines. It also encourages the creation of accessible OER content that satisfies the UN SDG 4.
  • Delivery of OER in multiple formats – A user can export and deliver content in 10+ formats that include web, PDF, EPUB and Thin Common Cartridge. This conforms to accessibility requirements to provide multiple means of access to content.

Pressbook Results for LMS

The Pressbooks development platform supports the creation of open content and the integration of course material into a learning management system (LMS). Pressbooks has achieved
IMS Global certification for the LTI 1.3 and LTI Assignment & Grade Service (See IMS Global certification). The following are features available:

  • Secure LTI 1.3 Advantage connection to LMS – Educational content created using Pressbooks can be securely and seamlessly integrated into online classes delivered in an institution’s learning management system.
  • Interactions and display – Students and instructors can better understand how students are learning using Pressbooks. Analytics from H5P quizzes and other interactive elements can be passed to the LMS’s gradebook.
  • Analytics – The analytics for how an institution is using Pressbooks can be accessed through Network Analytics. This allows network managers to track information about users, books, network visits and downloads.

There are many different groups that use Pressbooks: educational institutions, academic presses, small publishers and individual authors. For any group interested in using it, there are the following options:

  • PressbooksEDU plans: Pressbooks hosts and maintains a Pressbooks network for you. The plans include priority setup, tech support and training
  • Host and maintain your own Pressbooks network:  Pressbooks is open source software and requires staff for development and maintenance.
  • Use Pressbooks.com: This option is best for individuals or as a testing option for an institution.

For those interested in hosting and maintaining their own Pressbooks instance, the platform is free software released under the GNU Public Licence. There are a number of institutions such as BCcampus and Concordia University who maintain their own networks. The inhouse expertise for system administration and maintenance is a prerequisite to leveraging this option.

For those accessing the hosted PressbooksEDU plan (an increasingly popular option), access is provided to premium support.  There is also documentation available on the Pressbooks  Support page. Users can also access a Pressbooks channel in YouTube to watch product demos, update webinars etc. The following is a recent webinar from the Pressbooks YouTube channel.

Video length: 1:03:32

The Appendix contains some useful Pressbooks guides and resources. The interested user is asked to consult these as a starting point.

Collaborative Pressbooks Repositories

Across North America, an increasing number of higher education institutions are leveraging Pressbooks as one of their primary open publishing platforms. In Canada, provincially supported Pressbooks repositories have been implemented to help facilitate collaboration across higher education institutions. Current examples of these include:

  1. BCcampus – supporting the adaptation and evolution of teaching and learning practices in post-secondary institutions across British Columbia through collaboration, communication, and innovation.
  2. Open Education Alberta – Open Education Alberta is a collaborative, no-fee publishing service for open textbooks and other open educational resources. This service is available to all Alberta post-secondary institutions.
  3. Open ManitobaCampus Manitoba and the Manitoba Open Education Initiative have established a PressbooksEDU network for Campus Manitoba’s partner institutions, as a pilot project for the 2021-2022 academic year.
  4. eCampusOntario – Pressbooks accounts at eCampusOntario are available at no cost to educators affiliated with one of Ontario’s public post-secondary institutions.
  5. AtlanticOER – Founded by CAUL-CBUA, AtlanticOER is a service that supports the hosting and creation of open educational resources by educators and students in the Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

One thing to note is that even with a provincial Pressbooks instance,  some colleges and universities within the province do maintain their own institutional instance. For example in the Atlantic Canadian provinces,  the University of Prince Edward Island, Dalhousie University, and Nova Scotia Community College all have their own Pressbooks instances.

LibreTexts

LibreTexts is a tool that was developed with the idea of, freeing the textbook from the limitations and costs of traditional textbooks…[1] LibreTexts provides open and freely accessible resources that give students a more engaging learning experience without financial burden. The University of California initiated the LibreText Project to create a leading non-commercial open textbook technology.

LibreTexts’ goal is to work with faculty, students and outside experts to build open educational resources. It is a simple to use online platform for creating, adapting and distributing OER. The LibreTexts team can be viewed on their site and includes administrative and development teams along with general and industrial advisory boards.

LibreText Libraries

The LibreTexts online platform is organised according to libraries: there are 14 different libraries:

Biology Spanish Mathematics Statistics
Chemistry Geosciences Medicine Workforce
Business Humanities Physics
Engineering K12 Education Social Sciences

Table 8.2 LibreText available Libraries

Within each of these libraries are:[2]

  • Campus Bookshelves – this area holds campus-specific and faculty-specific course shells. These shells can be exported into an LMS as PDF or physical texts.
  • Bookshelves – the LibreTexts team curates these texts for direct use or in creating remixes for use in localized resources. Two categories of resources exist: and .
  • Learning Objects – these are content items, practice items and assessment items. They are all self-contained digital and non-digital resources useful for learning.

Video length: 49:01

One of the key features of LibreTexts is the OER Remixer. The following video explains the purpose and use of the OER Remixer.

Video length: 28:42

This OER Remixer greatly simplifies the task of adapting an OER from several sources. This is one of the major features of interest to instructors who do not have time to create a new resource.

Another feature recently added is ADAPT, the LibreTexts homework system. A somewhat longer video of this system is shown below.

Video length: 1:19:35

Additional videos demonstrating many of the other features available in LibreTexts can be accessed through their LibreTexts YouTube channel. The channel contains playlists from LibreFest2020, LibreFest2021, tutorials and sessions from OpenEdWeek 2022.

EdTech Books

From the EdTech Books website, comes the following statement: “Our goal is nothing less than providing the best open textbook publishing platform and author experience on the web!”

The values behind the EdTech Books initiative are worth noting here.

  1. Freedom — All of our content is freely available, and most of it is free to remix, reuse, and redistribute without seeking permission.
  2. Accessibility — We design all of our content with a mobile-first mindset that focuses on making content fast and accessible to all.
  3. Usability — All of our content undergoes ongoing usability testing to improve our users’ experiences.
  4. Quality — Our content is created by leaders in the field, and much of it undergoes similar peer review processes used by journals or editorial review processes used by book publishers.

The key point to note is that EdTech Books main focus is to create mobile-first resources. In the current day where smart phones and mobile devices are key tools for many in education, this is a critical strategy. Many students who do not have Internet access at home will use their mobile phone to access educational content. Any tools for creating open content should at the very least have an option to provide a mobile viewing option.

A look at the EdTech Books website indicates that the platform is being used by authors to create books and also journals. This is similar to how Pressbooks is being used in some institutions. One key difference on this site is the availability of book reviews with each resource. This feature is built into the creation of each chapter of a resource: authors are provided with a mechanism to collect feedback on each chapter from the reader.

Another feature available is the use of badges to signal quality.[3] Clearly, this helps interested instructors  make informed decisions on adopting a given resource. This option deals with the quality questions some instructors still may have.

Another resource for the interested user is the EdTech Books User Guide. This provides a user with instructions on how to use the features of EdTech Books effectively. Some of the basic features available for use are:

  • Book covers – provides instructions on creating a book cover
  • Callouts – different types of callouts for emphasizing content
  • Equations with LaTeX – similar to Pressbooks, EdTech Books provides support for using LaTeX within a resource.
  • Footnotes – EdTech Books does not automate the creation of footnotes like other platorms. Instructions  are provided on how to create footnotes in the absence of this automation.
  • Glossaries – instructions on how to access the glossary feature
  • Images – instructions on how to add images to the media library
  • Videos – this provides instructions on how to add YouTube  and Vimeo videos
  • Microsoft Word Conversion – by default, all chapters can be downloaded as Microsoft Word documents
  • PDF conversion – by default, EdTech Books provides downloadable PDF chapter files for mobile and for print
  • Public submissions – You can turn on public submissions for a book.
  • Styles – there are a few styles that can be used in a resource.
  • WYSIWYG Editor – a visual editor provided for creating a resource.
  • Advanced Features – some of these include H5P, Code Snippets, CSS  Customization, Google Analytics, Languages,  Practice Quizzes, and Text-to-Speech.

One key difference between Pressbooks and EdTech Book is the fact that this platform is only accessible online from the EdTech Books website. For interested authors, a free account can be created using either Google or ORCID.

Video length: 3:36

TeX-Based Publishing Extensions

Ximera

There are many instructors who use LaTeX workflows for their publication and teaching workflows. The output from a LaTeX workflow is a static document either in PDF or HTML format. Two faculty from Ohio State University, Dr. Bart Snapp and Dr. Jim Fowler led a project to take a LaTeX source file and add interactive elements that allows students to access an online document that they can interact with. This would be in the form of a webpage. Watch the video Great Lakes Science Boot Camp for Librarians 2021 talk Ximera 2.0: Compiling in the Browser.

For students at Ohio State University, Ximera provides free interactive textbooks in a three sequence Calculus text. Clicking on each course, reveals a page organised by chapters and sections for a student to navigate. For example, the Calculus 1 text has 36 chapters organised by section for students to work through. In each section, there are a combination of text, videos, graphics, examples and interactive questions for students to answer. The purpose is to provide a more engaging student learning experience where they can immediately test their understanding of concepts just presented.

Ximera also comes with the ability to provide students with hints to the interactive questions, a math editor for entering responses, and feedback to the submitted responses. All these activities arise from a LaTeX text for Calculus with interactive elements added to it and provided as online interactive HTML content. The idea, of course, is this can be replicated in any TeX-based resource by following the same process.

The interested instructor can access the LaTeX source code from GitHub and provide students with either a static PDF document or learn how to create and deploy the interactive version of the text online through their own institution. Ximera Calculus is an open-source project licensed under a Creative Commons license.

The appeal of this is that an instructor can use single source to provide content in multiple formats.  For many instructors who have created OER using LaTeX and/or TeX-based tools, this ability to add interactivity for students is very appealing. In this day when students want more interactive and engaging learning experiences, this is one option instructors can pursue. The advantage of Ximera is that the these interactive texts can also be integrated into a number of learning management systems.

The two issues connected to using Ximera that an instructor must consider are:

  1. Ximera requires a text written using LaTeX source
  2. Ximera use requires one to have the technical ability to install the backend server
  3. an LMS to display the interactive content for students

With these required features, Ximera can be considered to be a solution that requires high technology skills to implement. This is probably the reason why only instructors who use LaTeX and have the technical skills to install this system are among its main users.

PreTeXt

Similar to Ximera, PreTeXt seeks to create interactive textbooks that allow a student to interact with the content. The key difference here is that the interactive content is provided to students via its own webpage. Another difference is that PreTeXt uses XML to create the interactive web content.  A PDF version of the text can also be made available for those who prefer that option. Here again we see the use of a single input source file to produce multiple viewable output formats.

Once again, the use of this tool requires a high level of technical ability from the user. To use PreTeXt, one needs to convert a LaTeX document using the conversion process described on the PreTeXt page. A service for initial conversion is provided by David Farmer from the American Institute of Mathematics using file sharing through GitHub.

PreTeXt Documentation

There is a PreTeXt documentation page that includes an online and downloadable guide. The guide provides a summary of the technical details that are required to create a text in PreTeXt format. Some of the elements that can be added in a document include mathematical symbols using LaTeX, WeBWorK exercises, graphics and videos.

The source for the documentation is also available to aid understanding of the process. The usual elements needed in a book can also be included in the online book. It must be mentioned that to include WeBWorK exercises, one must have access to  a local repository of questions. Other question repositories that can also be included include Numbas and Stack questions. There is a page provided that demonstrates the use of WeBWorK exercises in a PreTeXt resource.

Installing PreTeXt on Windows

The process of installing PreTeXt on Windows contains a number of steps. These are outlined in the following video.

Video length: 12:38

Once the PreTeXt installation process is installed as in the previous video, then one can begin the process of creating an online text. The following video describes the process.

Video length: 3:01

The following video shows the PreTeXt version of  an APEX Calculus adaptation by Dr. Sean Fitzpatrick from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta Canada. APEX Calculus is an openly licensed resource originally created by faculty at  Virginia Military Institute. The source files for the original version of this open resource are available from GitHub.

Video length: 10:49

For those interested, Dr. Fitzpatrick has additional OER available on his website. These include adaptations of APEX Calculus mentioned in the video as well as other texts.

Gallery of Examples

The PreTeXt page  has a gallery of examples demonstrating how texts in different areas can be provided to students. A selection of some texts created using PreTeXt are described below.

  1. Discrete Mathematics: An Open Introduction, 3rd Edition by Oscar Levin, 2019 – This CC licensed resource is endorsed by the American Institute of Mathematics’ Open Textbook Initiative and is well reviewed on the Open Textbook Library[4]. The online homework sets are available through Edfinity or as WeBWorK sets from the author. A PDF version is provided for offline use and both PreTeXt and LaTeX source are available from GitHub. The text contains 473 exercises with 275 solutions and 109 hints.
  2. Active Calculus, 2019 Edition by Matthew Bolkins – this openly licensed resource contains 150 interactive exercises, interactive Desmos activities, interactive applets and some interactive javascript applets. A PDF version is available for offline use and the source code  can be downloaded from GitHub.
  3. Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications, 2021 Annual Edition by Tom Judson – this text is licensed using a GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). There are English and Spanish versions available for download along with PDF versions and source code for the text from GitHub. The text contains additional material created using the Sage open source computer algebra system.
  4. Understanding Linear Algebra by David Austin – this contains Sage evaluations throughout the text for some of the computations. The text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
  5. Music Theory for the 21st-Century Classroom by Robert Hutchinson – this resource is licensed under a GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). It contains audio and video elements to help the student identify specific musical elements.
  6. Engineering Statics: Open and Interactive by Danial W. Baker and William Haynes – this book can be obtained as a downloadable PDF document in addition to online access. The source files are available through GitHub. It contains interactive GeoGebra diagrams,

 


License

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Tools for Creating OER by Isaac Mulolani is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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