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I made a book!

On the fifth day of #OEWeek, I have a present for you! 

a color photo of a car wrapped in gold paper with a gigantic red bow
What’s inside the Wrapped Gift Present? by daveynin

But first, a very long story about how I came to be in possession of this present.  2 years ago, I saw a demo of this amazing platform for scholarly publishing, CUNY Manifold.  And of course, I wanted to play with it right away because it looked amazing, and had really inspiring projects on it, but I hit little stumbling blocks that stopped me.  Mainly, the one thing Manifold can’t ingest is PDFs, which are the one thing the books I use in my classes come in.  Although that’s not really what stopped me- that was a relatively minor technical problem that I could have worked around, if my perpetual procrastination and permanent last-minute Sallyness  did not always have me leaving class prep until the last minute.  However, with the announcement that Openstax would be releasing Google Docs versions of their textbooks, and the switch to emergency distance learning due to COVID-19 that left me seeking ways to streamline the work for my students while increasing the possible ways for students to interact with our materials, I decided that I would finally sit down and get my POL 51 class materials set up on Manifold for the Spring 2021 semester (KCC has a very late start, which is also the reason I don’t usually plan any events for Open Education Week- it’s either the first week of classes or the last week before the first week of classes, and either way, faculty are not in the space to attend events at that time!)  

So just in time for the end of Open Education Week,  I am very proud to announce the launch of my American Government textbook on Manifold!!!  I love this project, even though it is very much a rough start.  The platform is extremely easy to use, and the documentation and help available are top-notch.  The most time-intensive work was document preparation (not Manifold’s fault at all)- I had to stitch together individual chapter segments, and copy the alt-text descriptions from the online version of the book over, as the google docs provided did not have them.  I even ended up doing the slightly-more-complicated-but-not-actually-that-hard YAML ingestion, so I could have individual chapters as links, and it really wasn’t that hard!!  (I may have rejoiced loudly when I got it to work, but that says more about my limited coding skills than the difficulty of the platform).  And now I have a very cool, streamlined, just-what-I-want book that is easy for students to access.  I can’t wait for students to start using it!  Some things I’m really excited about:  

  1. I set up a private annotation group, so my class can share marginalia and hopefully get a little asynchronous discussion going on the text itself.  This is available to anyone else who wants to use this too (even outside of CUNY)
  2. I can integrate additional resources, like the Crash Course American Government series I really like, right into the text where it is relevant.  Previously, I linked the chapter and the videos to an outline on my syllabus, but now they’re right next to each other.  (okay, so I’ve only go through Chapter 2, but it will all be finished soon!)
  3. I cut out the stuff that made the chapters seem extra long, but added them as resource cubes- Chapter Summary and Key Terms are now at the front of the chapter (which is how I tell my pressed-for-time students to use the book anyway)
  4. Manifold makes it very easy to share multiple versions of the text.  While I hope many students will read the book online and annotate in our group, I know from past research and experience that some students will face bandwidth challenges, or prefer to print out their readings, so I stitched up a pdf of all of the chapters that students can download once and read offline.  

I am extremely grateful to the nice folks at Openstax who sent me all of the chapters I requested.  I even got extra lucky when I accidentally requested one I don’t usually use (the bureaucracy) instead of one I do (domestic policy).  In going over the two chapters, I decided to keep the bureaucracy chapter, because I liked it more than I remember, and to use domestic policy as the basis for a new open pedagogy assignment/project/experiment- “Can you write a chapter in 2 sentences?” as I don’t love the way the topic is covered in the book, and I want to see what we as a class come up with.  

I feel very full-circle at this moment, since the first open education project I did (before I knew what an OER was) was a (very bad) attempt at a book for American Government (How bad was it? I wrote an article about how bad it was). This one is SOOO much better and I couldn’t be happier about how OER have developed over time or about the progress I have made as an instructor.

But none of that is a present.  The present is saving you the time of requesting and alt-texting these chapters from Openstax- download all of the word files here!  You can download the files sent by openstax (individual chapter sections, without alt-text on images) or the chapters and supplementary pieces I stitched together, renumbered, and alt-texted.  I can imagine lots of different ways to use these files- translation, editing, who knows what?  So if you do use them, drop me line or a tweet, please!  Also if you have any thoughts about my Manifold project, I’d love to hear them too- it is very much a work in progress.

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