WordPress: let a thousand textbooks bloom (well, hopefully)

Update: So, after testing this out, turns out it isn’t as simple as I first thought. See the update note below. If you are the person from Ryerson who did this, I’d love it if you left a comment about what happened when you imported the book.

A couple hours ago I finished uploading a copy of a Media Studies open textbook to our open textbook collection. The book was originally created as a WordPress site by the University of Otago textbook hack project I’ve written about before. A few week ago, Erika Pearson sent me a WordPress backup file of the textbook they have created. I imported that file into our PressBooks collection and, earlier today sent out a tweet saying I had just finished adding the file to our collection.

Because PressBooks is WordPress based, importing the WordPress site created by Erica’s crew was dead easy. It imported into PressBooks with a minimum of fuss – just a bit of structural reformatting to fit the PressBooks book paradigm.

Now, along with our version of the textbook, I also try to make available as many remixable file formats as I can. In this case, I also released the WXR file, which is the WordPress backup file.

Well, here it is, not even 3 hours after I sent out that original tweet saying that we have made the book available when I started getting some pingback messages.

pingbackI was curious as to what was pinging the Media Studies book back, so I followed the links and discovered that someone at Ryerson in Ontario has downloaded a copy of the WordPress backup file and installed it locally on a WordPress instance at Ryerson.

Now this kind of blows my mind in a most  awesome way. First, with very little fuss or friction, a CC licensed book has made it’s way from New Zealand, to BC to Ontario because the original was built in WordPress. Making the backup file available made it possible for someone to take the file and with very little work, have a copy of the book working on their own site, ready to be modified.

Looking at the Ryerson site, it looks like the person who installed it is just testing (the server url begins with test), but it blows me away that a resource can proliferate that quickly and with that little effort. I credit WordPress.

And this is really one of the reasons why I love using a tool that, at the core, is WordPress for this project. As a publishing platform, WordPress is now so common that this kind of fast proliferation of openly licensed content can occur. Combined with the type of speed and reach you get with social media and you have something that is lightweight, fast and easy to use.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about lightweight means of sharing the content we are creating, and the more I think about it, the more I see WordPress – the platform – as such a key piece to the sustainability of these textbooks. Once you get the book completed in PressBooks/WordPress, it becomes fairly trivial to install the “textbook” on any WordPress platform. Don’t know if you have ever tried reusing SCORM content, or even LMS content, but I can tell you from experience that it is not a trivial task.

Update 4 hours later: I’m eating crow. Until this came up today, I had been working on the untested assumption that the PressBooks to WordPress backup/restore process would work. But I had never actually tried to restore a PressBooks backup into vanilla WordPress. Seeing this example today, I thought it might have confirmed my untested hunch and got excited and fired off the original blog post. But this evening when I went to actually test it for myself, I went back and tried to install the PressBooks backup into a clean vanilla WordPress install and…well…the long and short is that it’s not working. I’m getting all kinds of import errors. So, yeah. Needs some work to make this happen in the way I hope it would happen. But this next section still remains true…

Something that is easy to copy makes it more likely that it will be copied. And if it is copied, it has more chances of living beyond it’s original life. A thousand version of something seems to me to be the ultimate sustainability plan for any piece of content.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out https://edtechfactotum.com/.


5 thoughts on “WordPress: let a thousand textbooks bloom (well, hopefully)

  1. __Hi Clint. Yes, I understand your currently experimenting with production issues and I imagine that you are, or soon will be, consulting with Faculty-Students as you go ahead with a customized/localized version for the BC educational jurisdiction. Each institution in each jurisdiction [Ryerson et al] will ultimately create their own customized versions and I expect it’s worthwhile to use copyright metadata to help keep track of the revisions to the Parent [NZ original] and each Child version that follows.

    1. Yes, I think you are correct in the value of making sure the connection between the parent resource (in this case the original NZ produced textbook) and the derivative is maintained to show proper attribution as per the CC requirements. Tracking changes is something that is a bit of an issue for us right now. All changes are tracked in PressBooks using the internal WordPress revisions feature. But there is nothing that, at the end, spits out a nicely formated version of all the changes that have been made to a book from beginning to end. We are currently manually tracking the significant changes (things like a new chapter, or addition/deletion of full topic areas) manually. At some point, it will be much more efficient for us to do that programmatically.

  2. __Thanks Clint, for sharing your experience and passion. I’m sure many of us are very interested in this opportunity to open the links and see each iteration of Media Studies 101. When you do compare each version what do you see happening to the users experience? Design differences due to technology and levels of experience. Current 3 editions of open XML code need Design Standards and leadership for each university Brand to be distinguished over thousands of university versions.The design process guides the production process, ideally staring with discussions with the potential users of material.

    1. Hi Don. I am not sure of what is happening to the user experience for each iteration. They are all slightly different, but I think we are still in the experimentation phase, especially with the Ryerson version I discovered on Friday. That is some testing happening in the open as opposed to something that is production ready for faculty & students to use. As for the NZ original source and the version we have, there are a few differences in user experience because the original is vanilla WordPress and ours is in PressBooks. PressBooks does give a more “book-like” reading experience and structure than a vanilla WordPress site does, even though PB is built on WP. As well, our version is also available in PDF, ePub and mobi formats, so students have some more flexibility in what they want to use.

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