Happy Birthday Open Textbook Project/My Adventures Adapting a Chemistry Textbook

This is probably a very long overdue blog post, but as I am currently procrastinating from/avoiding the giant pile of marking on my desk I thought I should put it out there in the blog-o-verse.

 

Today is the second birthday of the BC campus open textbook project (http://bccampus.ca/2014/10/16/open-textbook-project-2012-2014/), and I have been involved with this project in a few different capacities. Avid readers of this blog may remember seeing a post about my experience reviewing an organic chemistry open textbook (http://wordpress.viu.ca/key2chem/2014/01/14/some-thoughts-on-textbooks-open-textbooks-and-reviewing-for-bc-campus/). There I made some points about what a great thing open textbooks could be for students, and then subsequently complained of the quality of the open text I reviewed. Some issues with spelling/editing, diagram/figure quality and lack of instructor resources were among my main complaints. Naturally, while reviewing this text I was always thinking to myself “If I wrote the textbook, I would include this… or make sure my diagram had that…”

 

Earlier in 2014, the opportunity to adapt an introductory chemistry textbook into a general chemistry textbook (as part of the open textbook project) arose and I got the chance to put my thoughts into practice. At first I was a little overwhelmed at the scope of the project, and the short amount of time I was given to perform the adaptation. The introductory textbook was set at a relatively low level (the US liberal arts college “non-major” level, or perhaps an upgrading/basic education course).The reviews from other faculty across BC were accurate and detailed, pointing out many of the major deficiencies found in the original text. For this book  to be actually used by instructors in BC, I figured it needed two additional chapters written from scratch, a glossary, expansion of the appendix materials, almost all chemical structures in the organic chapter needed redrawing in proper bond-line format, and several chapter sections were needed in a couple other chapters. I also chose to add six of my existing video tutorials into the textbook, available for viewing directly in the electronic version or with a QR code link in the print copy.

 

After discussion with my BCcampus project manager Amanda, a schedule was set and I had myself a significant summer project. To accomplish these goals, I approached the problem in the following series of steps:

 

  1. For each chapter section/chapter I looked at 3-4 existing textbooks and identified what I thought were the common important concepts discussed.
  2. In Microsoft word I wrote up drafts of each chapter section, then pasted this into the PressBooks platform.
  3. Equations were typed out and put into PressBooks. This was the most problematic step! PressBooks uses a programming language known as LaTex to display mathematical equations, but I am no programmer. I ended up using a converter software to go from Microsoft word equations into LaTex, then imputing those into PressBooks with the help of Amanda. Let’s just say that the converter and PressBooks did not always play nice together, and both Amanda and I spent hours tweaking bits of code here and there.

 

  1. Figures and diagrams were either generated by myself using various softwares (from Microsoft paint, to ChemDraw Pro 13.0) or I scoured through creative commons image repositories (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page) for decent images I could use.

 

  1. I proofread my chapter sections, and they were then sent away for professional editing. Several weeks later I would receive an email from the editor, via the project manager, noting occasional mistakes and asking me to double check or correct them. As with most publications, it seemed formatting (particularly with the equations) was the most common mistake.

 

The finished product is now available for adoption, and can be found here (http://opentextbc.ca/introductorychemistry/). I still feel there is room for improvement in many of the chapters which were untouched, and also additional resources like more end of chapter questions/a testbank, and an instructors powerpoint slide series would greatly help adoption of this resource. However, I feel I did the best I could to bring this text up to the level of a first year university general chemistry course with the time and resources available.

 

I am currently working with the BCcampus team as a Faculty Fellow (http://bccampus.ca/2014/10/09/improving-adoption-of-open-textbooks-through-faculty-advocates/), to advise, promote and research open textbooks and open resources. I was really impressed with the rest of the Faculty Fellows, and look forward to working with them over the next year.

2 Comments

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2 Responses to Happy Birthday Open Textbook Project/My Adventures Adapting a Chemistry Textbook

  1. Great post, Jessie. Hearing stories from faculty who have “been there & done that” is really useful for others who may go down the same path. Thanks for taking the time to write this up. And, yeah, that LaTeX thing….did you use that GrindEQ Word plugin to do the original conversion from Word to LaTeX?

    • Jessie Key

      Hi Clint,

      Yes, we used the GrindEQ converter plugin to convert from Word to LaTeX. It did an OK job, but there would be some things, like a “\” or extra spaces or “$”, we needed to delete or modify for each equation to make it play nicely with PressBooks. For anyone interested in finding it, here is the link: http://www.grindeq.com/index.php?p=download

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