Is the future of textbooks apparently now?
December 21, 2010 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Looking for suggestions for software platforms to use to design an interactive online textbook for college literature courses. Thanks!

For a while now, I've been working on a plan to collect together in one "place" all of the lessons, handouts, and various other information I've developed over the years in the teaching of my college literature courses. I'm not talking as much about the readings themselves as all of the other handbook materials like literary terms and background information I've had to write. I imagine that it could become something like a "textbook" from which I can assign readings and activities outside of class. So I'm wondering what would be the best software platform to use to begin organizing it. I know that in a lot of ways the medium will determine the organization, but here 's my wish list of characteristic features:

It will be built using some kind of hypermedia like a wiki that allows for multiple paths through the material. It will also allow me to create paths in something like "chapters" depending on the course I'm teaching. I want to be able to continually upload information to it as I develop it for my courses. It's not especially important to me that students can add to it, but that's a possible feature.

It will accommodate texts in a variety of visual, aural, and written-text media, including, maybe, an iconic set of flash animations I create. (I have a kind set of drawings that I use in class to illustrate concepts that I would like to animate as a central image in the "book.") In any case, I'm thinking it will be very visual, but it will also include pages that are written-text-heavy that pop up or change size scale.

It will be interactive. It might eventually incorporate some literary readings with interactive notes. It might contain a capacity to build in lessons with quizzes that not only branch depending on response but that churn out responses in something like a graded report. It might play nice with Moodle.

I can call it up for presentations. It would be really cool if I can incorporate some of the classroom response mechanisms like my clicker questions into it.

(A lot of what I'm describing I've been picturing in a Prezi presentation, but this seems more three-dimensional and complicated. I really like the Prezi navigation and visual/iconic aspect.)
posted by Ozarkian to Education (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, setting aside the fancy multimedia stuff, Anthologize is a plug-in for WordPress that lets you organize blog posts as one or more dynamically-generated eBooks your students can download to read more portably instead of having to be online. That covers creating multiple paths with chapter organization very nicely. For your multimedia, I would recommend just linking to your Youtube or Vimeo channel. For quizzes, your school probably has an LMS like Moodle, Blackboard, or Sakai that your students are familiar with--all three require you to bite any number of bullets with respect to format lock-in and UI infelicities, but it's probably worth it to use what your students already use. But if you mean to open that up to the world, I think just getting the content up is >80% of the value of the site, and LMS-like interactivity would be >80% of the work.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:39 AM on December 22, 2010

This would be a great grant project! That's assuming, of course, that you want to turn this into a grant project.

In terms of incorporating all the interactivity and multimedia that you want, I'm not 100% sure there's e-book software out there that does. (I hope someone who knows more drops in to verify that.)

Omeka is open-source software that lets you design online exhibits. One of the publishing suggestions in its about page is "digital dissertations". It's got some traction in the library and museum world. I've never installed it or even seen the back end, but your comments on having multimedia and different sorts of documents (rather than flat text) made me think of it.
posted by lillygog at 4:41 AM on December 22, 2010
posted by PickeringPete at 5:05 AM on December 22, 2010

The fancy multimedia stuff is going to be a lot of work and tough to do without rolling your own custom setup. If you just want to have dynamic books then you might want to check out Booki. It will let you create an editable wiki-like text book with chapters, links and dynamic navigation. It also supports images and some nice typographic features. Then there's the added bonus that you can create a PDF or publish a real printed edition using Print-on-Demand (POD) services.

Note, I am biased as the booki guys are friends and I work on the project once in a while.
posted by mr.ersatz at 9:42 AM on December 22, 2010

Booki sounds pretty cool actually!

One of my professors made an online textbook, that has things similar to what you want: chapters, animations, quizzes. It's basically a fun, but not-too-difficult-to-create website. He used it for an online communications course and I thought it was awfully nifty and useful for understanding the course concepts: Will Conjugate for Food!
posted by lovelygirl at 12:16 PM on December 22, 2010

Oops... the textbook part is under "The Audience Will" in left hand side under Navigation. Prof's writing licensed under Creative Commons.
posted by lovelygirl at 12:18 PM on December 22, 2010

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