OpenMoments: The Stories

5 Migrating from Traditional Textbook Publishing to OER eBooks

Richard’s Project

The first OER e-textbook that Richard Adams wrote with coauthor Ahmed Sagarwala replaced a 2 kilogram, 2 centimetre thick, $100 (used) paperback book on web design with a free open-source e-book that anyone can access. The Creative Commons CC-BY license enables other instructors to customize the book by adding and deleting chapters by just acknowledging the source.

So far, Richard, who teaches in the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University, has authored two books through Ryerson University, with more on the way. Richard had previous experience in both print publishing and in creating multi-media online textbooks — his Web Design Primer was originally published as an Apple iBook. The primer, now published in Pressbooks and hosted by the Ryerson Library, is designed to be readable by a large variety of audiences, from students to the general public. The second book is Digital Photography for Graphic Communications. This book was a digital adaptation of Digital Photography for Print, a paperback that Richard wrote with a team of colleagues from Graphic Communications Management. 

Coming to Open

Richard’s career began in botany, where he was involved in publishing technical papers and popular articles and needed to learn as much as possible about print media. He developed a passion for the creativity of publishing and the academic rigour of the materials. Richard enrolled in the Masters in Printing Technology program at Rochester Institute of Technology, a 1.5-year program for people from outside of the graphic arts industry. He has been teaching web design at Ryerson since 2006, and believes strongly that the Internet has opened up new opportunities and models for publishing. 

While working on the 2009 print book Digital Photography for Print, Richard wrote the content, took photos, and designed illustrations, and the publisher designed and laid out the book. Since then, he noticed that a lot has changed in terms of the material as well as the formats that are available in which to publish. Together with the publisher, it was decided to update the print book to an e-book. By generating a new book based off an old print book, the process of writing the e-book became streamlined. Each of the original authors still had their original files, and they went in and updated each chapter, placing it in the e-book format.

The paperback textbook Richard and colleagues used for teaching web design was not only expensive, but also thick and heavy and the class only needed perhaps a quarter of the material covered. These factors presented a barrier to many of the students, who did not buy the book or read it. The original Web Design Primer (2014) was published on Apple’s iBooks store and was written with the iBooks Author app. The advantage of the iBooks platform is that it supports a wide variety of interactive media, including videos, animations, brief quizzes, and interactive “widgets,” all of which can be useful in illustrating points. The iBook was interactive and had clickable components, which engaged the reader and provided in-depth understanding of digital media. Increasing interaction with the book helped students become more engaged with the material. A disadvantage of that platform was that the book could not be read on the web, instead requiring a MacOS computer or iOS tablet to read.  

A principle of openness is to remove all barriers to education, for the benefit of students, instructors, and eventually employers and the graphic arts industry. By streamlining the book and only including relevant material, the students are more easily able to focus on the important learning goals of the course, and recognize the importance of the materials presented.The students enjoy working with the open e-book because it is easy to access and free.“The motivation to create these resources has to encourage students to utilize the available relevant information.”

Students tend to search for exactly the resources they need, but can’t always find appropriate, relevant and reputable resources. Adaptability is important because students need up to date information that addresses exactly what they want to know as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Students are not able to discern what makes a good resource, and this is a process they will learn throughout their education. However, in order for students to learn to evaluate resources, instructors must provide access to good resources and thoughtfully explain the differences between good and bad resources. Providing students with accurate and useful textbooks will help them learn how to discern these types of resources.

Learning from Open

There is a new generation of publishing and production in the academy. Creating digital resources encourages student engagement by including interactive components. Rich believes it’s important to create quality resources that are easily accessible, searchable, and relevant to student need. To remove barriers, we need to meet students in the mediums they are comfortable with and help them learn how to sift through material find what they are looking for. It reduces the time they spend wasted on finding bad resources, which frees up their time for more important learning.

Digital resources provide new avenue of publishing, but there are still a lack of avenues to determine or demonstrate the reputability of books among faculty members. For instance, when a book is published by Springer, it is reviewed, and there is a level of reputation that comes with the publisher. When faculty members are publishing privately and electronically, that quality assurance is not as easy to find. However, there are ways to create the same level of academic rigour within the OER community, and  these avenues for reputation and peer review need to be encouraged.

The idea of student success is very important. When we lose a student, they are not replaceable — they have a unique perspective and have already gained skills from the program. We want to foster success, not enforce deadlines and rules. When students are busy and struggling to work and study, being able to help them find the right resource quickly and easily helps them.   “We want students to be successful, to get the information quickly, efficiently, and at a low cost.”

Another benefit to the digital textbooks is that it is easy to have a variety of collaborators. That means each component of the book can be completed by an expert in the field. Digital resources have this big advantage that it is possible to find the right people for the right projects. The Internet and the digital nature of these projects makes collaboration with people from around the world very easy. Not only can the best people collaborate, but the books can be written and created with diverse perspectives.

Advice for Other Faculty

  • Librarians can help create reputability and endorsements of digital books, and can continue to assist both faculty and students find the best resources for their needs
  • Learn as much as you can before taking on a project, and take advantage of all the resources the university has to offer
  • Keep student success at your focus and support it any way you can along the journey


From Rich: The Library’s OER textbook program certainly meets an objective of the Academic Plan by introducing innovation into the classroom. In class it’s rewarding to see students reading our online textbook, knowing it’s easy for them to access and they don’t have to pay for it or carry it around. The succinct content makes it easy for them to get the information they need for class and provides further motivation for them to read the book.

Credits: code by Yo! Baba from the Noun Project, CC-BY.




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Ryerson Open Moments by Erin Meger, Wendy Freeman, Michelle Schwartz, Ann Ludbrook, Maureen Glynn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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