From Concept to ePublication: Students Explore the Lifecycle of an eBook

As the primary instructor for a semester-long credit course called Information in the Digital Age, I recently had the opportunity to facilitate an ebook project that incorporates HTML coding and file conversion alongside traditional research methods. Students worked both independently and in groups to research, write, and create ebooks on technology-related topics, such as online privacy, digital journalism, and eGaming. The broad-based assignment reflects at least two of the anchoring concepts associated with the new ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (Framework), namely Scholarship as Conversation and Information Creation as Process.

Project Scope

My colleague Elias Tzoc, from the Center for Digital Scholarship (CDS), developed the assignment in 2014 to expose students to one of the new trends in digital publishing. The new assignment was inspired after the CDS team assisted a Miami University faculty in publishing an open access ebook. Students gained experience with the information lifecycle from book conception to publication. The assignment, which spanned 1½ months, involved multiple steps of both independent and group work and also included the following deliverables:

  • an annotated bibliography,
  • a research paper that represented one book chapter,
  • a web-based version of the book chapter as an HTML file,
  • a compiled ebook, and
  • an embedded video as ebook trailer.

Our broad-based ebook assignment covered a range of skills, including research, writing, HTML coding, ebook conversion, and video creation. As mentioned, the project also included a good deal of group work. Sellitto (2010) writes that “group-work is an important educational activity that introduces students to team-orientated [sic] and collaborative practices—practices that are generally encountered in the general workplace” (p. 375).

In brief, each group of students began the ebook project by consulting with each other on how to write about their technology-related theme. The first phase of the assignment encouraged students to explore their individual interests as they divvied up subtopics and sketched out the overall structure of the book. Each student came away from the initial group meeting with a general scope for their independent research and then worked to develop an annotated bibliography as their first project deliverable.

The annotated bibliography in turn guided them in writing chapters for their ebooks. Once each student had written their stand-alone chapter, they used Dreamweaver to transfer the content into an HTML template, which was set up in advance by the instructors. To support the ebook format and functionality, the HTML template included <a href> tags so that students could link the sources in their reference list as needed and an MP4 file placeholder for embedding an ebook trailer video.

Each group then chose a “book assembler” to gather and organize their individual HTML files based on the chapter sequence in the ebook. The book assembler used an open resource called Calibre, discussed in a later section, to generate the ebook.

Reflecting the Framework

Excited by the scope of the project, I took inventory of what skills (known as “information literate abilities” in the Framework) students would be acquiring:

  • The annotated bibliography assignment supports students’ abilities to “value the process of matching an information need with an appropriate product” insofar as they identify authoritative sources that demonstrate the scope of their topics. Next, they critique as well as summarize the sources. They also discuss the relevance of these sources for the reader.
  • By adapting the annotated bibliography into the new form of a book chapter students can “accept that the creation of information may begin initially through communicating in a range of formats or modes,” not to mention the hands-on conversion of text-based documents into web-based files.
  • Working collaboratively as a group to craft dovetailing chapters, students are encouraged to “recognize that scholarly conversations take place in various venues”. In this way, students both consume the formal research of scholars writing in the field and generate their own research-oriented dialogue among peers.

Calibre, an Open Educational Resource (OER)

Students completed the final phase of the project using an open source web tool called Calibre, which includes an ebook conversion feature among other “ebook library management” capabilities. Basically, students manually converted their book chapters from text files to HTML files. A designated book assembler from each group then compiled the HTML files and used Calibre to automatically generate an ePub file that could be read online as an ebook.

According to Shank (2014), “The tremendous proliferation of online learning materials has been concurrent with the growth of open educational resources (OERs), which include all types of learning materials that are licensed to be freely available for educational, nonprofit use” (p. 5). The challenge for educators lies in creatively integrating these OERs into an information literacy curriculum. In this case, a librarian with a pedagogical bent teamed up with a technology librarian to achieve successful results!

Student Feedback

As part of the grading process, I asked students to complete a self-evaluation and an evaluation of their individual group members. Criteria were very general, gauging levels of effort and inviting open-ended comments. While a few students might have inflated the grades for their group members, the majority seemed to honestly assess their peers based on effort, organizational skills, and attitude. In reality, the project included much independent work requiring that each student pull his or her own weight.

In an anonymous survey administered at the end of the year, several students identified the multi-faceted ebook project as their favorite assignment for the course:

  • “ebook was very fun to do and create and finally see the final product.”
  • “ebook: learning how to code in HTML.”
  • “ebook and video. It showed how well a group can work together and we all did a solid job of contributing.”

A handful of students who were less thrilled with the assignment wrote the following critiques:

  • “I disliked the ebook: it was much more work than the other projects and working with HTML code is not my strong suit.”
  • “The ebook. There were just a lot of components to it, and I felt bad that I could only help the group so much because I have zero experience with video editing, etc.”

Conclusion

In addressing the student critiques listed in the previous section, I would say that the purpose of this culminating project was to provide a scenario where students would apply information literacy skills in a practical, iterative way. Students had plenty of in-class time and guidance to work on the project—one student called for more in-class work time—which really lent itself to a workshop format. Students shared their completed projects with the class and briefly addressed the instructor’s general questions about project challenges or successes; however, the project might benefit from assigning a metacognitive component where students keep a project log or diary (Sellitto, 2010, p. 383).

References

Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). (2015, February 2). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework

Sellitto, C. (2010). A reflection on educator management practices associated with university undergraduate group-work projects. International Journal Of Learning, 17(1), 375-386. Retrieved from http://proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=51264487&site=eds-live

Shank, J.D. (2014). Interactive open educational resources: A guide to finding, choosing, and using what’s out there to transform college teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 Author

Kate Lucey is education librarian at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Her professional interests include teaching with technology and instructional design. Email: luceyka@miamioh.edu

 

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