As an instructor I am constantly seeking strategies that will allow me to deliver content to a diverse population, support student-directed learning, and facilitate ongoing communication exchange between instructor and students. It was during one of my searches that I realized the potential benefits of online books. First, the reader is engaged with the text through their computer, smartphone, iPad, etc. (Kelly, 2016). Instructors can include chunks of material followed by video examples and interactive exercises. An online book is not a separate text, but an interactive tool specifically aligned with the course. Second, when a course instructor builds their own online book, they are building the content with their learners in mind (Gende, 2012). As a content expert myself, that has taught management courses for many years, I understand potential student content translation pitfalls. The online book can be created anticipating students' needs and preemptively adding key content to support ease and facilitate learner growth.
With these benefits in mind, I developed two online books for my courses: Human Relations Organizational, Social, Inter and Intra Personal
and Becoming a Self-Directed Learner: Experience, Logic, Application, and Innovation.
Both books are a self-contained learning module, not requiring that they be embedded within a learning management system. They can be accessed from a desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or e-reader.
If you decide you would like to publish an online textbook, selecting a publisher is a very important first step. I have worked with and enjoy the publisher Great River Learning (GRL). GRL is a higher education publishing company focused on developing engaging publications. GRL offers great author support and helps with distribution. However, if you prefer a more “do it yourself” publishing approach, there are eBook publishing companies like Lulu, Smashwords, and CreateSpace. First, Lulu allows authors to create their own books, with a specific branch, Glasstree, for creating academic books. Lulu's distribution options include Kindle Bookstore on Amazon.com. Smashwords, listed as the world's largest eBook distributor of self-published authors, offers a publishing process that is fast, free, and simple. Smashwords will distribute books to Apple iBookstore and Barnes & Noble. The CreateSpace platform offers helpful instructions that allow authors to “publish your words, your way.” CreateSpace can distribute to Amazon.com, Kindle, and Amazon Europe to name a few. Regardless of the publisher you select, there are consistencies that remain when publishing. Make sure the final product offers a professional presentation, seek peer feedback prior to publishing, know your research, and know your audience.
Another important consideration is the currency of the content. Print textbook content often becomes out-of-date after a few years, or even by the time the book is published. The online book can be updated every semester, every week, or even daily if needed. In my own case, I find that the theories I cover stay constant over time, but I update the examples with the most current events. Thus, I have designed the book with a mind towards conceptually separating sections into what remains constant and what will be updated. This allows me to easily make updates without rewriting the whole work.
Finally, the power of online books is in their ability to be interactive, and so the instructor should make use of interaction whenever possible. For instance, each in-chapter exercise has questions that facilitate student reflection and response. The response is sent to the instructor's email and, if needed to support learning, the instructor can engage in discussion on each individual student's in-chapter reading exercises. Each chapter also contains quizzes that allow the students to reflect on course readings. These quizzes are graded immediately upon completion by the computer and students receive rapid feedback. Finally, all the chapters include videos and exercises that provide an expert dimension and practical application of content.
Online books align with the needs of the online learner for content that can be accessed from a variety of devices, and provide the interactivity that is missing from traditional print textbooks. These can be a valuable addition to any online course.
Gende, D. (January, 2012). How to create your own textbook- With or without Apple. Mindshift.
Retrieved from: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/01/25/how-to-create-your-own-textbook-with-or-without-apple/
Kelly, J. (March, 2016). The benefits of using eBooks by students. Teacherswithapps.
Jillian R. Yarbrough is a clinical assistant professor of management at West Texas A&M University.