Public Group active 4 years ago
The University of the Highlands and Islands covers a very large area with 14 campuses and 70 local learning centres, and utilises high technology to link with students and staff for learning, teaching and research. As such, the role of the university as the creator and publisher of e-textbooks and networked resources is a natural imperative. Through a Jisc-funded project conducted by the UHI and Edinburgh Napier University, two e-textbooks are being produced, and their use evaluated to investigate the role of the institution as an e-textbook publisher. The e-textbooks have companion websites with a range of open educational resources providing supplementary guidance. The process of the e-textbook development is being documented and will be available open-access online. The project rationale is that the e-textbooks should give clear, quick guidance on generic subjects so that they will not date quickly. The two e-textbook topics selected were “How to write a research dissertation” and “How to get started on research”. Both books are published on Amazon Kindle for a nominal price, with the companion OER websites hosted by the university, allowing easy updating. The project team have experimented with ways of utilising both the intellectual capital and a variety of software tools in editing and production, in order to assess different models for the institution. Our research has also contrasted uptake of the e-textbooks when offered low-cost and open access. Some specific challenges have been identified during the project. Within limitations, the pre-production processes of e-textbooks and printed books are similar. Both formats need to be carefully written, reviewed, proofread, and formatted for the intended readership. The university, unless it has an in-house publishing arm, does not generally deal with these tasks at an institutional level, yet they are crucial to ensure a quality product. The main difference between print and e-textbooks is at the distribution stage. Both formats might have the same content, but their use, marketing, distribution, impact, storage, and reward is very different. A key challenge is to ensure that the academic authors and the institution get recognition for making these digital resources available, as both can benefit from an enhanced profile and reputation gained from browsers and readers. It is also beneficial that e-textbooks and other digital resources can often be produced as “extra” products on the back of work which is taking place for other reasons, such as the preparation of a talk, journal paper, or set of lecture notes. While there is a cost in generating the initial resource, the extra product can often be gained at minimal cost, and once generated, the cost of reproducing digital artefacts tends towards zero over time. Other forms of scholarly works are now being considered for publication as e-textbooks, e.g. monographs, research dissertations, even extended essays. Many of these may not have commercial value, but their non-monetary value may be worth a considerable amount to the author(s), the student(s), and the institution. Other opportunities include networking OER with the global academy and piloting the “print on demand” sector.
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