General information

Developing An OER Platform: Tips And Lessons Learned

Most campuses are knee-deep in OER efforts, whether this means managing stipend programs, passing OER policies or simply advocating for faculty awareness. OSU is no different, and we were lucky to be able to start our pilot OER program thanks to a generous donor. To date, we have 7 courses represented as part of our program and they are each in different stages of completion. More information about the program itself is available here:

We were surprised to learn that most of the faculty were interested in writing a text from scratch, which meant that we would have to develop a way for us to take their manuscripts written in Word and publish them. While this may sound simple, we suddenly found ourselves acting as copyeditors, “typesetters”, and publishers in one fell swoop. We had to very quickly develop workflows and determine how we would host and present each text so that these materials would look and feel like true open access books, similar to those found in OpenStax and other platforms.

This is how we addressed each issue we encountered:

We looked at various hosting options and landed on utilizing Adobe InDesign to develop a PDF as well as an e-pub version of each text. We also developed our own template for formatting each chapter and our own logo so that we could brand each text. We also had to develop a website where we are featuring information about each author, overall information about our program, as well as access to both versions of the textbook including the level of Creative Commons licensing information to be set for each work.

Developing materials for the web brings with its own unique set of issues, as we quickly realized that we had overlooked the important element of accessibility. We worked with our campus coordinator for accessibility and tried to retroactively add some elements where we could as well as work with authors still developing their text to ensure they integrated things like alternative text for images, font types and sizes, and appropriate color choices into their manuscripts prior to our formatting them.

We are currently working with our bookstore to develop on-demand printing so that students who wish to print and bind their own textbook can do so for a nominal fee. This entails them receiving a ticket from the bookstore that they can use to purchase the textbook they need. The printing information is linked from the campus FedEx site where they can pick and choose what binding and style they would like which then automatically calculates the cost of the printed copy.

While we are still working our way through these issues, it’s important to realize the level of commitment and technical expertise you will need if you plan to do something similar. While the work in Adobe InDesign is not difficult per se, it is time consuming and you need to ensure you have enough flexibility to make changes to templates and processes to accommodate unexpected changes in content or format. Most importantly, having a plan ahead of time and ensuring that all of your authors are clear about what’s expected of them and what they are responsible for versus your portion will hopefully go a long way towards streamlining your efforts. The British Columbia Open Textbook project has recently developed a great guide for this purpose: as it lays out all of this information in an easy to navigate document.

Finally, working with such organizations as the Open Textbook Network will allow us to continue sharing and developing best practices and talk with other institutions who are working on similar projects.