What Pressbooks EDU means for BCcampus and Pressbooks Textbooks

Open Textbook Summit 2015

Hugh getting ready to talk Pressbooks and LibriVox at the Open Textbook Summit

A few weeks back at the Open Textbook Summit, Hugh McGuire from Pressbooks announced a new hosted Pressbooks offering aimed at institutions called Pressbooks EDU. Since that announcement, I’ve had a few emails from people asking what this might mean for BCcampus and our work with Pressbooks Textbooks.

In a nutshell, Pressbooks EDU does not change the work we at BCcampus are are doing with Pressbooks. BCcampus is still actively involved with development of the Pressbooks Textbooks platform, and will continue to contribute our code back to the core Pressbooks code base. This means that much of the work we (and by we I mean Brad) do in BC on Pressbooks Textbooks could eventually trickle down to this new hosted Pressbooks EDU instance, however individual decisions about what features and code we develop get merged back into the PB core are made by Hugh and his development team.

While we do share our work openly for the wider community to use, our primary mandated area is to serve the post-secondary institutions within British Columbia. BCcampus will continue to support faculty authoring and adapting open textbooks in Pressbooks as part of the BC Open Textbook project and, later this summer, we will be piloting a self-serve instance of Pressbooks for faculty and staff at BC post-secondary institutions to use.

Hugh’s new service now gives an option to institutions and organizations in other states and provinces who may not have the internal support or resources to set up and host their own instance of Pressbooks (and if you are from a post-sec in BC and are interested in Hugh’s hosted option, by all means contact him). Now institutions have a service provider to support them rather than have to take on the technical support of setting up an instance themselves which, of course, could happen as well as all the code is open source and institutions with the resources could set up their own instance of PB.

I see this as a great move by Pressbooks as it will likely bring some more interest to the platform in EDU now that there is a hosted option available. It will also provide Pressbooks with a source of funding to help grow Pressbooks, the business. In my opinion, a healthy business model for Pressbooks, the company, means a much healthier open source product in Pressbooks, the software.

We have worked closely with Hugh and Pressbooks in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Hugh and Pressbooks have been wonderful partners, and I am continually impressed with Hugh’s vision around what a book can be in a networked digital world, which he spoke about again recently at the Open Textbook Summit.

All in all, I see this as a wonderful development for Pressbooks in education, and for the open textbook publishing ecosystem as a whole.


Embedding Interactive Excel Spreadsheets in WordPress using OneDrive

One of the projects we are funding is the development of a number of interactive Excel documents to support an open finance textbook in our collection. These types of projects are fun to do, and they enhance an existing resource by adding interactivity to the book. This makes the book more attractive for adoption by faculty.

The author has been developing a number of interactive charts using Excel. The idea being, you change a value and the chart changes. Excel is the software of choice in business, so it makes sense to develop these activities in Excel. Now, there is nothing wrong with having students download the spreadsheets and work on them on their own computer. But the author is  looking for a way to try to enable the interactivity to happen within the browser.

After a bit of digging around I discovered that Microsoft OneDrive has the ability to embed Office documents within a webpage. The instructions on how to embed content  also say that, “readers can sort, filter, and calculate data, right there in your post”. Sounds like the ticket to me.

So, I uploaded one of the interactive Excel spreadsheets the author sent me to OneDrive, followed the embed instructions and voila…

…an interactive Excel spreadsheet embedded into a post.

I tested this in Chrome, Firefox and IE and it seems to work. Change a value in the yellow column and the chart below it updates. The other columns stay locked, which is how the faculty coded them. So, the behaviour of the sheet seems to be intact.

The embedded interface also gives students the option to download a copy of the original file (so they can retain and work on it in Excel on their desktop, if they choose), or open up the document within Excel on the web using the icons in the bottom right of the embed window.


However, while it works well in the browser, the embedded spreadsheet doesn’t give me much love on my Nexus tablet or Android phone, and  the Pressbooks output formats (ePub, PDF and mobi) don’t like the embed code much, leaving big blank spaces in those outputs. So, there is still that hurdle to cross to find an elegant way to make those work. But so far, I’m pretty happy to have found this as it gives students the option to interact with the data in real time on the website version of the book, or download and keep the interactive Excel spreadsheet. All while allowing faculty to work in a tool that they feel comfortable with.


Are you analog or digital?

I left a fairly lengthy response on Tony Bates blog post about an issue he has been experiencing.

Tony used our instance of Pressbooks as the platform for his latest book, Teaching in a Digital Age. Tony noticed that the PDF version of the book had a problem with how the images were rendered. They were not in the correct flow of the text when the conversion from web to PDF happened in Pressbooks.

Pressbooks does the conversion from web to PDF better than most, but this is an issue we have been dealing with as part of our project. Images that are placed in the correct flow of a book in Pressbooks often get moved and pushed around in the PDF version of the book.

I understand the annoyance, but it illustrates beautifully the dichotomy of the borderlands we currently live in, straddling the digital and the analog worlds of publishing.

Here is my response.

Nate hits it on the head – these are the complexities involved in digital publishing as we straddle the world of print with the world of the web (and other digital formats). Digital publishing formats are fluid, and print formats are rigid. By choosing to use a publishing platform that values digital over print (and Pressbooks is designed to favour web over print), you are making a choice to value flexible over rigid.

However, as you have discovered, the two don’t play well. While Pressbooks and the PDF engine does an admirable job of creating an acceptable print ready document, you are still going to end up with having to compromise the layout of the rigid print for the flexible digital.

This is actually the biggest conceptual hurdle that most people moving from print based publishing to digital publishing have to contend with. It is often very disconcerting for those who have designed for the rigid formats of print to make the transition to the fluid world of digital. And they are often disappointed because they have to give up their pixel (or point in the print world) control and surrender to the fluid layouts of digital that put the user, not the publisher, in control of the appearance of the content.

The dilemma I have, as someone who is developing tools that attempt to straddle both worlds, is how can I satisfy the expectations of those who are accustomed and expecting rigid print, while still satisfy those who understand and expect the fluid digital. It is a heck of a challenge and someone is going to end up unhappy in the end, as you are seeing. Your book website looks great and works well. Your PDF (which I consider print, not digital as it enforces a rigid layout vs the digital flexible) is expecting rigid and cannot accommodate the digital flexible flow.

This is at the heart of why I find PDF so frustrating to work with. It appears to be digital, but is really analog hiding in a digital sheep’s clothing.

In the end, the decision is the author as to which compromise they are willing to make. Are they a digital publisher first making an analog version available out of convenience to those who still live in the analog world, in which case the PDF output would be acceptable. Or are they an analog publisher who wants to create rigid layouts (ie PDF and print) first with the web/ePub and digital publishing as the afterthought.


Pressbooks Textbook development

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about Pressbooks development, and we have a couple of new development projects in the works that you might be interested in.

First, we are working with the excellent FunnyMonkey team to develop an open source PDF output engine. Right now, outputs of PDF in PB requires a commercial PDF output engine PrinceXML. Prince does a really fantastic job of creating PDF versions of the books created in PB, but the fact that it is a commercial license is a barrier for others who may want to adopt PB.

This project has been on our ToDo list for awhile, and I am really happy to see the work that Bill, Jeff and Brad have been doing to develop an open source PDF output engine based on mPDF.

The idea with the new PDF output plugin is not to replace Prince, but to provide an alternative for those who don’t wish to purchase a Prince license. PB will work with both.  mPDF won’t quite match the feature set of Prince, but it should still provide an adequate alternative for creating PDF’s without having to dish out money for a commercial Prince license.

Second, we are working with Hugh and the Pressbooks.com development team to develop an Open Document Type (ODT) output engine. This ODT output will also be suitable for use with MS Word (I can hear the sound of bemused puzzlement from some of you). Yeah, Word. I think that, if we are serious about making these books adaptable and editable, we need to make our content available in as many formats as possible, including formats that faculty are used to working with. And, for better or for worse, that is Word. I think that is what most faculty are used to working with, and if it means they will customize content and remix it and – ultimately – adopt it, then let’s make it available in a format that can be edited using Word.

The third bit of development revolves around the excellent work on accessibility that Amanda is doing with Tara Robertson at CAPER-BC and Sue Doner at Camosun College. We are going to be releasing an accessibility toolkit very soon that is targeted at faculty who are adapting and creation open textbooks to help them understand some of the basic design principles of accessibility. Based on some of the accessibility user testing Amanda, Tara and Sue have done, our new co-op student Ashlee from the SFU Computing Science program is working on baking some new accessibility features into PB to make the platform even more accessible for students.

Look for these to make their way into Pressbooks in the coming months.

* I updated this post after Brad informed me that these changes are not specific to Pressbooks Textbook, but will be submitted back to Pressbooks for inclusion with the core package.



How BCcampus PressBooks is different than PressBooks.com

I met with Dr. Tony Bates a few weeks back to talk about open textbook publishing. Tony is looking to self-publish an open textbook and was looking for some advice on how to technically go about publishing.

I mentioned to him that we are using PressBooks as our primary publishing platform and began to explain to him a few of the differences between our version of PressBooks and the hosted version of PressBooks.com as we have been customizing the WordPress plugin quite a bit to meet the specific needs of our project and of open textbook development.

First off, when thinking about PressBooks, you have 2 options, much like with it’s parent project WordPress. There is PressBooks.com, which is the hosted version of the software. Sign up for an account and you can start writing your book in a few minutes with a minimum of technical fuss. While you can create books for free on PressBooks.com, when you output the final PDF or ePub version, there is some PressBooks.com branding and watermarking, as you can see here in this small book I created at PressBooks.com.

And then there is the open source PressBooks plugin. Use this plugin on a vanilla install of WordPress and you have an (almost) fully functioning version of PressBooks.com. I say almost because there is a dependency that costs money (if you are an academic institution – there is a free license for Prince that inserts a Prince logo into the output) . In order to output PDF versions of your book, you will (if you are an institution) need to purchase and install a tool called Prince XML to do the output rendering into PDF format. The developers of the PressBooks plugin felt that this was a better PDF output engine than some open source alternatives to output PDF documents. And it is certainly a robust product that does a great job of turning your PressBooks powered WordPress site into a PDF document suitable for print or digital distribution. But the institutional licensing cost might be a limitation for those interested in fully open source digital publishing, and a barrier for others who wish to use the open source plugin.

That said, there is no additional charge for the ePub rendering engine in PressBooks and really, when we talk about digital publishing, ePub is the format we are really interested in. Add in that you get a very nicely formatted website version of the book (really a tricked out WordPress theme that strips away a lot of the WordPress widgets and extras and puts the focus on readability) and you have a very functional “publishing” platform for most books.

However, our needs are a bit specific as we are publishing open textbooks and those have some special needs. So, along the way we (well, very little me, a lot BCcampus developer Brad Payne) have been making modifications and adding plugins to make PressBooks work for us for the BC Open Textbook project.

Recently, we have begun pulling all of these changes together and are working on developing a second plugin that is open textbook specific. This plugin is not a replacement of the PressBooks plugin, but would work with the PressBooks plugin and hopefully make it a bit easier for someone who wants to mimic our setup do so locally (and as an aside, my head is swimming these days of what that might mean & if we should work towards getting to a distro where we could distribute not only a BCcampus-like textbook PressBooks plugin, but also an entire collection of textbooks made in PressBooks, ready to be installed locally at an institution. A repository and editing tool completely seeded with 40 open textbooks ready to be customized and edited with PressBooks. But that is still in the early thinking stages.

So, what have we been doing to our local version of PressBooks that makes it different than PressBooks.com. Specifically, here are the changes we have made, and the plugins we are using.


  • The Creative Commons Configurator, which adds a CC license to the bottom of each webpage in the HTML version of the book and adds in CC metadata to each webpage so that it can be correctly indexed by search engines as CC content (it also enables tools like OpenAttribute to work). Brad has actually been working on customizing this plugin to allow us to input & display information when the content is a derivative and based on someone elses work.
  • Relevansi, a search engine plugin for the website version of the book, reducing the need to generate a traditional index.
  • LaTex for WordPress allows us to use this popular science & math markup language Actually, not what we are using anymore. We’re using a modified version of WP Latex, which has been committed to PressBooks core
  • MCE Table Buttons to add tables because, you know, textbooks have tables.
  • Brad also built another MCE plugin called MCE Textbook Buttons which adds 3 new buttons to the TinyMCE toolbar that create styled fields for Learning Outcomes, Key Terms, and Exercises. These buttons add some visual styling and create coloured boxes for al the different output types. There isn’t any special metadata associated with the boxes that the buttons create that might define them as Learning Outcomes, Key Terms, etc. It is simply a visual style difference.

Code Changes

  • We’ve altered the theme to flips the table of contents and description fields on the book homepage so that the ToC appears above the description. For most users of the book (students) the ToC will be more important than the description as they will have probably be sent directly to the site by their instructor.
  • Added in the Relevansi search box. (Brad noted that Relevansi is still not fully incorporated into the new plugin. The search box is there, but the Relevansi plugin integration is still being worked on).
  • We’ve disabled comments. This is a tough one, and one we had to make a decision about based on logistics. Ideally, these books would be used by students. Faculty using the book would send them to the book. But these books have no instructor “owner” per se. There is no subject matter expert ready to respond to potential questions a student may have about the content they are reading. In other words, there is no one watching the comment shop. So, you can imagine a scenario where a student comes to a page, has a question about the content, posts their question in the comment field and then…..gets no response because no one see their question. Discouraging and not very useful. So, we’ve disabled comments on the site. But this is one that we may fire up again in the future. I just don’t know if the potential benefit is worth the potential risk just yet. If there was a dedicated instructor monitoring the resource, then great. But I worry about the instructor who uses the book getting slammed by their student for not answering their question because they didn’t even know that the student asked the question.
  • Added a footer line to the PDF and ePub outputs that says “This book is available for free from open.bccampus.ca” This is a tip I picked up from David Harris & the OpenStax project as a way to combat the selling of the textbook by third parties. Not that it is wrong to sell the books released with a full CC-BY license, but if someone does buy the book, they should know that there is and always will be a free version of that book available from the open site. It’s not perfect and discovery would happen after the fact, but maybe someone who buys the book might use the information to contact us and tell us that someone is selling copies of the book so at least we know.
  • In the admin area, we’ve also changed the Feedback link that floats to the right of the admin screen to send us at the project a message asking for help. In vanilla PB the Feedback remarks go to PB.

There are also a number of customizations that Brad has made that have been contributed back to the PB project, including Brad’s import engine, which imports Word, ODT and ePub files into PressBooks. This is our preferred method of changing the plugin – contribute back bits to PressBooks first and let the project decide if they want to merge the code into vanilla PressBooks. But there are some bits that might be of no interest to the PB developers that we would like to have, hence our own custom development.

Our goal is to have the infrastructure in place to begin recruiting other developers to participate in the development of more open textbook specific features by April. We have a couple of events happening, including the Open Textbook Summit and the annual BCNet conference where we want to talk in more detail about the project and our changes to PB. So, if you have some WP chops and are looking for an open source open ed project, consider yourself invited to come & contribute. Especially if you have some knowledge of ePub3 as getting ePub3 output is a big goal in the near future (see https://github.com/unit29868/pressbooks)

Here are a few screenshots of the differences.

Example of the Key Takeaway & Exercises callout boxes


What our book homepage looks like. Slightly different than vanilla PB in that it flips the Book Description with the Table of Contents at the bottom of the page. It also removes the default PB branding.


Example of a book search results page from the Relevansi search engine. Notice the search box in the top right, which we have added to each book.


Learning from others: Textbook sprinting in New Zealand

I’m picking up steam on researching and planning a possible textbook sprint here in BC as part of the open textbook project. While I am still in the research stages of how this thing might work, I’m feeling more confident that with the right people involved we can pull off a textbook sprint.

Just before Christmas I had a chance to speak with Erika Pearson at Otago University in New Zealand. In November, Erika ran a textbook hack to create a first year Media Studies textbook and during the course of our chat I got a better understanding of some of the logistics involved in pulling it together. I am appreciative of her time and willingness to share, and look forward to the cookbook they are planning on releasing later this spring on how to organize a textbook sprint. Here are my notes from our convo.

  • Timeline for the entire project was about 3 months (project plan and a more detailed timeline are posted).
  • There were about 10 participants involved in the Otago sprint. Surprsing to me, most of them were distributed, so communication was virtual done through Google Hangouts.
  • Most of the authors were actually grad students which turned the activity into a powerful authentic learning experience (she’s talking my language here).
  • Authors had a dual role – writing & peer reviewing what other wrote.
  • Erika stressed the important role of designating an OER librarian to help source and attribute resources needed on the fly. A strong CC bg with knowledge of CC & educational repositories.
  • Prior to the sprint, the authors met virtually & came up with a rough outline of the book, including topics and chapters. This was based on course outlines shared by faculty. In retrospect, Erika said she wished that there would have been a bit more pre-work done ahead of time and that everyone came to the sprint with draft chapters that could then be honed and worked on over the actual sprint. Note to self: do as much work ahead of time. By the time we all get together face to face, a good bulk of work might already be done.
  • Write in sprints. Erika’s project broke their day into 90 minute writing chunks, followed by a period of peer review. Iterative development. Note to self: if we use PressBooks (which I want to do if this goes ahead) what kind of workflowing tools do we have/can we add to facilitate a review process?
  • There were a number of virtual lurkers in the hangout. Note to self: make external participation possible (video, chat, event hashtag)
  • Have a note taker to record what needs to be done as it comes up. They kept a spreadsheet of tasks that got added to as the sprint progressed.
  • A fact checker would be a good role to have. Someone to research as problems/disputes/questions of content arise so that authors don’t get bogged down in surfing for answers to questions.

Erika’s project was supported by Creative Commons.

I am also hoping to speak to Siyavula and Adam Hyde of Book Sprints to get some bg on how their events work. But right now I am thinking along these lines:

  • Sprint is a bit of a misnomer as I think most of the work will be done ahead of time in the weeks/months leading up to the actual sprint. Therefore, trying to find a time where faculty have at least a few weeks leading up to the actual event to work on the project will be important. Perhaps early June might be a good time?
  • We’ll need a few pre-event virtual sessions of participants, including some technical training on the platform, setting up the structure, and draft writing. Perhaps 3 seperate pre-event synchronous sessions?
  • The actual sprint itself. If we can get most of the authoring work done ahead of time, 2, maybe 3 days would be what we would need together. Anything longer than that might be a tough f2f commitment for some to make. And, if the actual days are as intense as I think they might be, any longer risks burnout.
  • Subject area. I have one in mind and I have contacted the head of the provincial articulation committee for that area to get his input & feedback. It is an area that currently has no existing open textbook available, but (I suspect) quite a few open resources available. And the subject area is perfect to create something very Canada-specific, which may not get created otherwise by some of the more U.S.-centric projects.
  • A synchronous PressBooks code sprint. This is something Brad Payne and I have been discussing. Alongside the book sprint it might be useful to have running parallel a PressBooks code sprint. There are a number of enhancements that could be made to PressBooks to make it a better tool for collaborative textbook authoring, and having the input of users at the time they are actually using the tool might be invaluable. And it could be a real catalyst to improving participation rates among developers for the project. If we can find some WordPress developers interested in working with us on improving PressBooks, this could be a very useful exercise as it would be great to see more developers participate from higher ed.

PressBooks, XAMPP and bad paths call for help.

(update Oct 2, 2013 at the bottom of the page. I haven’t found a solution, yet)

I’m looking for a bit of help from any XAMPP, WordPress or PressBooks folks.

I’ve been trying to get a development version of PressBooks running on my Windows laptop and have run into an annoying little problem. I am not sure if this is a PressBooks thing or a XAMPP thing (although I’ve brought it up with PB and they believe it is a XAMPP/Apache issue), but I can’t figure it out & am hoping that there might be someone out there who can help.

The problem has to do with the path to the PressBooks themes.

I’ve installed WordPress, setup a multi-site instance and activated the PressBooks plugin as per the install instructions. I’ve done this a few times on hosted servers & the install is fairly straightforward to get working.

Not so with XAMPP on my Windows laptop. When I activate the PressBooks plugin I see an unstyled PressBooks homepage that looks like this:


Instead of the default theme that should look like this:


When I use Firebug and take a look at the code, I can see right away that the paths are wonky to the theme stylesheet.


That path should begin with http://localhost/pressbooks and not with c:\xampp\htdocs etc etc.

What is confusing is that some of the paths are being rewritten correctly. It just appears to be the style and favicon link that isn’t correct.

It looks to me like there is an issue between Unix & Windows file paths getting mixed together. When I brought this up with PressBooks, they didn’t think it was a problem with their code, which has me heading down the XAMPP path.

Now, I’ve installed many software packages locally using XAMPP before, including numerous WordPress installs and haven’t had  a problem. But this has been frustrating me as I can’t quite figure out why the path is being rewritten to be incorrect.

Could it be an htaccess issue?

If you have an idea where I might start looking to solve this path issue, I’d appreciate it if you could pop a note into the comments.

Update October 2, 2013

Spent the morning looking into this.  Short story, it is still broken. Here’s what I’ve done so far and where I’ve looked (in case Google brings you here with the same problem).

The file that is generating the link to the stylesheet in the PressBooks default theme is called header.php and is located in the pressbooks\themes-root folder. I open the header.php file. These are the 2 suspect lines of code that seems to be returning the wrong code to both the stylesheet and favicon (lines 13 & 14)

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="<?php bloginfo('stylesheet_url'); echo '?' . filemtime( get_stylesheet_directory() . '/style.css'); ?>" media="screen" />

<link rel="shortcut icon" href="<?php bloginfo('stylesheet_directory'); ?>/favicon.ico" />

It’s the bloginfo function that looks like it is returning the wrong path. So I test out and in the body of the document I write:

<?php echo bloginfo('stylesheet_url'); ?>

and sure enough, it returns the incorrect path


This blog post suggests using a different WP function other than bloginfo to find paths, so I try to use the get_stylesheet_directory() to see if it returns a different path, but it returns the same C:\xampp… path

The WP codex suggests yet another function: get_stylesheet_uri()

Same result.

So I dig deeper.

Where is the code to the bloginfo function? WP codex says it is in the file wp-includes/general-template.php. So I open that file up in Aptana and start digging. Turns out, the function is actually called get_bloginfo(). The code snippet I am interested is on line 483:

case 'stylesheet_url':
 $output = get_stylesheet_uri();

Look, there is that get_stylesheet_uri() function again.

So, now I am seeing that a number of functions are returning the wrong path, but still not sure why or where to turn to next. My wafer thin coding skills are showing.. So, I have posted to the WordPress forums and hope I can find some help. Problem is, I don’t know if this is a WP problem, PressBooks problem, or a XAMPP problem.

In the meantime, I have hardcoded the path to the stylsheet into the header.php file and that is working. But what a hack. I am loath to do this without knowing the root of the problem because there could be other incorrect paths that could screw things up. But until I can find a willing soul who can help give me some leads as to why this is happening, I need to do this and get on with the tasks I have at hand.

Technology. Bah!


I really need to write some posts about PressBooks

This thought has run thru my head almost daily for the past few months, ever since I arrived at BCcampus and started playing with PressBooks as part of the open textbook project .  I need to take a page from CogDog’s book and get better at documenting process and practice, like he does with posts like this on building TRU’s rMOOC site.

So, here we go. The first of what I hope will be a few posts about PressBooks.

First off, PressBooks is a WordPress plugin designed for creating ebooks. The brainchild of Hugh McGuire, PressBooks was released as an open source project earlier this year (there is also a hosted version at PressBooks.com).

Interest in PressBooks as a platform for creating open textbooks began last year with my predecessor Scott Leslie. Last year, BCcampus supported the creation of a couple of small scale open textbook projects using the hosted PressBooks service (earlier this summer we migrated the books to our own self-hosted PressBooks server, which we are still configuring and customizing). You can see the books Database Design and Project Management, created by Adrienne Watt.

Over the summer, one of our developers, Brad Payne, has been active with the PressBooks development community, writing code to extend the plugin, concentrating on adding more input formats to PressBooks so we can import existing open textbooks and use the platform as a textbook remix tool. Brad’s excellent coding on Open Document Type and ePub importers were accepted into core PressBooks this summer, meaning that we can now import existing open textbooks that are in those formats into PressBooks. Brad is currently working on a Word importer. Last week I imported and ePub version of an existing Philosophy open textbook into PressBooks and was quite happy with the results here (a blog post about this process is coming).

So, why are we so interested in PressBooks?  As you would expect with this project, we had a number of requirements, both core and optional. And we looked at a number of authoring/remix platforms (and continue to do so, watching closely the development work that both Connexions and OERPub are doing in this space). But for now, we have decided to focus on PressBooks.

For one, the authoring platform is built on WordPress which has proven time and again to be both powerful and flexible as exemplified by solid edu projects like ds106, edublogs and UBC blogs. The PressBooks UI authoring experience for faculty should not be a big hurdle, especially if they have worked in WordPress before.

PressBooks allows us to create a well structured website for each book, as well as publish that same content to ePub, PDF and mobi (Amazon Kindle) formats. Create once, publish many times using transformations gives students and faculty maximum flexibility as to how they want their textbook content delivered. A caveat about PDF publishing. It does require additional software that is not open source – Prince XML – to produce the PDF outputs.

However, other than Prince, the project is open source. We felt this was particularly important considering that this is an open textbook project. Not only philosophically, but because it enables us to become part of a development community and contribute to the development of the plugin.

The web version produces a very nice, mobile and tablet friendly user experience. Not a lot of flash here, but very useable on a number of platforms.

It is web-based, meaning that there is no software download & install for authors.

Those are some of the reasons why we are working with PressBooks. But, as with all software, there are challenges. Perhaps the biggest is that it is a platform designed for ebooks and not etextbooks, and there is a difference. ebooks (particularly works of fiction) are written to be read in a linear fashion and a great deal of emphasis is placed on the written word. Textbooks, on the other hand, don’t always have the same linear narrative and often include additional pedagogically oriented content types like sidebars, indexes, q&a’s and other such material to hep students really understand the content.

There is also no search feature for the website versions of the book (you do get search capabilities if you use the ePub or PDF versions of the book as search is baked into both ePub and PDF reading software). But the website version of the book does not have a search engine, which we think is important for electronic resources that are often used as reference resources by students.

There are more pros and cons, which I will get into more detail in the future. But for now I wanted to get the “I’ve got to blog about PressBooks” monkey off my back and start the conversation as I know there is interest in BC about the platform.