The title for this post might be a little premature, but the fact is that I am now viewing a proof-of-concept version of my open textbook on my Kindle.
There were two main questions that I considered as I worked through this experiment. One question was technology related: what is the best way to build and distribute the textbook? The other question was design related: what content should go into the book, and how should it be presented?
The technological question was the easier of the two to answer. I decided to take Booktype for a test drive. This tool is free to download and use… if you have a server. Otherwise it is $16 a month. Booktype has a nice interface, and I think its two main strengths are the ease with which it can convert a document to different electronic formats (especially those for e-readers), and the tools for collaboration. I published my book to the following formats: pdf, mobi (for Kindle), and epub (good for just about any reading device other than a Kindle).
The best results came from the epub format when viewed from Mac’s iBook reader. The pdf didn’t work as well due to technical difficulties, but the problems weren’t anything I couldn’t fix if I generated my own pdf files directly out of Word. Those files could then be distributed via Google Drive. I’d need to do some “market research” to determine whether it would make sense to stay with pdfs (good for Mac devices, PCs, and Kindles), or whether there would be a lot of demand for the epub format.
The design question was more difficult to answer. I experimented with the idea of using course design principles. I came to the conclusion that this is probably the angle the publishers are using—for example, every introductory geology textbook on my shelf starts each chapter with a list of learning objectives, and ends each chapter with discussion questions. I can do that too, but I can’t compete with the publishers’ ability to design and incorporate multimedia learning tools, or online self-assessment tools. Here’s the thing, though—if the course is merely a textbook wrapper, then these things matter. On the other hand, if the course is well designed then maybe it is ok for the textbook to be just a textbook. Whether my course is well designed or not is another matter, but given that I will have to teach it, I think my time is better spent working on course design than on writing algorithms for dynamic assessment tools.
I will keep working on my textbook. I’m going to focus on what I need it to be, and fill the gaps left by the other textbooks available to me. Despite all of the bells and whistles that come with textbooks these days, there are indeed gaps. It may be a while before I can rely entirely on my own book, but each bit of progress will improve what I can offer to my students.