Have you heard about PressBooks in discussions about e-books in Open Education? PressBooks is an online authoring system for creating e-books that is low-cost and easy to use.
Here’s the whole story...
What is an e-book?
An e-book is a collection of content that is rendered into a special digital file that is displayed in an e-book reader (a software application used on computers and mobile devices). Typical e-book apps include Apple’s iBooks (found on every Apple device) and the Amazon’s Kindle. There are also free e-book reader apps for Windows computers.
A typical use case would be for students to download an e-book file from an online course shell or an open repository and then open the e-book file in their preferred device or application. E-book files are relatively small – usually less than 10MB.
Why are e-books gaining so much attention?
E-book applications do more than just display text on a screen. The e-book ecology is changing how students access instructional content and how instructors design what they need for their courses.
For one, e-books make it easier for students to access their course media using their computers and mobile devices without having to log in to their online course shell or carry around textbooks. E-book apps enable the user to highlight text and make annotations within their own copy of their e-book which are then searchable. E-books can also link out to online media in ways that standard textbooks cannot.
Of course, if the e-book is created as an OER, then there is no cost to the student. Some OER are licensed for anyone to reuse, remix, or revise at no cost under the licensing terms at Creative Commons.
For instructors, it has never been easier to create your own e-book content for your course. This gives you more control over the content and how it is presented to students, especially in terms of how the content is relevant to the narrative of your course.
E-books have become an enthusiastic favorite for students and a new way for instructors to personalize their courses.
What is PressBooks e-book authoring?
There are several applications available to author an e-book, but the one that has emerged as a favorite is PressBooks.com. The key affordances of PressBooks are:
Completely cloud-based (online) authoring system. No software to download or install.
Based on WordPress, the popular blogging platform.
Easy content writing interface that is very similar to writing in a typical email applicationor blog. Easy to update content at any time, with revisions saved in an archive.
Ability to bring in several collaborating authors, with control over what they can edit.
With one click, can generate downloadable e-book files for students to use in any e-book device or e-book reader app.
PressBooks offers a free account to get you started, though it is limited in a few ways. You are limited to 5MB of content which accommodates plenty of text but not too many images. The free account exports a limited number of file types and it includes a PressBooks watermark (though it is not very intrusive).
For $19.99 (one-time fee), you can upgrade to a Pro account which expands your limit to 25MB and unlocks other features, plus it removes the PressBooks watermark.
All PressBooks accounts can accommodate creating multiple e-books as long as you stay within your allotted space limit. You can develop an entire catalog of e-books if you like, and if you are interested in selling your works, there are integrations with popular e-book retailers.
How do I get started?
The first thing to do is to contact your institution's Instructional Design team or Library staff. You can also explore PressBooks and decide if you are ready to experiment with it on your own.
Once you have a clear sense of what you want to produce, you can partner with your institution’s e-book authoring experts and get a walkthrough of the PressBooks system.
What should you expect?
Writing an e-book requires planning and preparation – the same as planning and preparing a course. However, the first project you produce will require a lot of time spent writing/curating content, organizing it in a narrative style for instructional purposes, formatting the content so that it is more readable for e-book display (as opposed to the dense text in a typical textbook), and refining your work.
You should expect to give yourself a lot of lead time for completing an e-book to use for a course.
Fortunately, once you have completed your editing, the process of actually exporting the e-book files for use in a course is just a single click.