Micropublishing E-books for Higher Education

The usual hype about new e-toys is familiar territory with e-books. Writing in 2008, before Kindle was launched (bK), Mark Nelson was writing in Educause that ‘some experts predict 2007 – 2009 will be the transition years for the higher education e-book market’. Obviously this hasn’t happened here, but HE publishers are gearing up for whenever a changeover does happen, with the likes of Coursesmart – a platform for a consortium of education publishers.

While there is no competition with the publishing giants, I think a lot of academics have material that with some amount of work could be presented as an e-book. I am interested in the concept of e-micropublishing, and am beginning a project on how, as a practitioner, content relevant to my modules could be developed and made available to students in e-book format, at low or no charge. I plan to track the development of this project, and you can find posts relevant to it by clicking the Ebooks category.

Issues for consideration

The first thing I thought to do was to address the concerns around the area of e-books, as these will dictate the type of platform required to present and deliver the material.  The following come to mind:

  1. How will students access output – via library web/3rd party
  2. How will students read output – dedicated reader/computer/device
  3. Requirements of content – core/supplementary
  4. Nature of material – text/picture/interactive
  5. Format considerations based on nature of material
  6. Time required to prepare content
  7. Costs of production
  8. IP issues

We’ll see how these pan out. I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who has been thinking along these lines.

CourseSmart: http://www.coursesmart.com/

E-books in Higher Education: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0822.pdf

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aquistbe/


12 thoughts on “Micropublishing E-books for Higher Education

  1. I’ve been involved in writing technical documentation for a software project and have been using Sphinx.

    You create your content using a simple markup (called restructuredtext), somewhat similar to mediawiki markup. From this, you can automatically generate very nice web pages, a PDF, and an eBook. I’ve already been showing a colleague of mine how to use this to generate notes for a practical, see The Little Book of R for Biomedical Statistics for web pages and a PDF (no ebook generated this time).

    An upcoming feature of the webpages is that people can log in and leave comments on particular paragraphs. That could be quite interesting in an educational context.

  2. Hey Noel,

    Thanks for the comment and information – I will look through that in more detail. I thought I was clever even knowing what an e-book was 😉 The R-website looks great – nicely put together. Hoping you’re keeping well – nice blog by the way,


  3. I’ve never actually read an e-book myself. I prefer the paper variety, old fogey that I am. 🙂

    Thanks, and nice blog yourself (no kidding).

  4. With regard to “Format considerations based on nature of material”

    Currently, the main thing e-publication of books offers over the paper version is unlimited color figures.

    However, the main attraction of e-publication is, in my opinion, interactivity: hyperlinking, quizzes, movies, and in interactive figures.

    Currently, PDF offers the most choices in this regard. See for example this post:

    However, I don’t think PDF is the future for interactivity. Creating these figures is quite complicated and it quickly leads to huge files. More importantly, Adobe seems lukewarm at best on this line of application.

    The only other real format option (in my opinion) is epub. Henry Rzepa has made some nice e-booklets and, more important, has made a nice how-to page:
    Actually, I just use SIGIL.

    Using epub, there are two barriers to interactivity: (1) currently epub does not allow you to embed things like movies and javascript, and (2) Jmol, the prime interactive chemistry software package, doesn’t run on the iPad. Solutions to both are in the works, as I have blogged about here:

    For a glimpse of how all this may look in the future have a look at inklings biology textbook:

    If you have an iPad you can download the chapter with the DNA example for free. The format inkling uses (which is epub like) has not been released, though the promise they will on their blog.

  5. Jan – thanks a million for that information. Yes, my main goal (although maybe not in iteration 1) is to enhance interactivity, otherwise what is the point apart from saving a few trees and lightening your school bag! I’ve had a bit of fun developing interactive pdfs, but file size wasn’t something I considered. I was going to go for EPUB format, so will follow up on your links regarding that. Thanks again – you saved me a lot of reinventing the wheel!

    Noel – as a paper fan myself, I consider us not old, just more refined in our tastes…

  6. Hi again Jan

    Just to say I’ve had a chance to go over those links you sent, and they are really useful. The E-how site is a great place to get started. I think also it is interesting that ACS are incorporating this interactive functionality – hopefully that will trickle down into textbooks. The iPad videos just make me rally want an iPad – whether it is limited or not!!

    Thanks again, your blog is amazing.

  7. oops — in my previous post, I forgot to mention you have to page down to find “SavoirSoft.”


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