10 Making an Engineering Pressbook of Your Own

Why Pressbooks for Engineering?

I’ve been looking for good ways to get useful resources for students onto the web since the original of this page went up in the mid 1990’s. It still turns up first in a Google search for losses in pipes. In the mean time I’ve gone from raw html through various platforms and LMS content systems chasing ease of formatting and student accessibility. Pressbooks is my current preferred option. It has been adopted as a standard for open text books in multiple jurisdictions, yet it still has multiple flaws.

Still, I’m quite excited about a platform that makes it this easy to provide text, latex equations, YouTube video, links to PDFs and to GitHub source code for a Jupyter Notebook in a format that’s well organized for students. The best way to understand what’s possible is to start building something of your own!

Multimeters 101 is another eCampus Ontario Pressbook providing an example of some of the features.

Getting Access

There’s a wealth of general guidance available from the organizations hosting Pressbooks sites, and I will not try to duplicate it. My notes will be sparse, providing reminders for me and a head start for you on getting an engineering book up and running. This chapter will get you started. The next one will cover my problem solving notes and various things I have found weird along the way.

This book is hosted by eCampus Ontario at https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/ where you can get free access to create an open textbook for use in Ontario. They gave me this one to play with in the spring of 2019 because I’m a faculty member at an Ontario university and followed their links.

The same seems to be possible in British Columbia https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/. Their resources at https://opentextbc.ca/pressbooks/ provide really useful information for creating open textbooks specifically with their instance, and is widely applicable.

The Rebus Community https://www.rebus.community/ is an alternative for global collaboration in creating OER Pressbooks.

Before I was aware of these options I started with a book at https://pressbooks.com/,  with materials students would need to know for one of our projects. https://apsc100tinyhouse.pressbooks.com/  Anybody can write books at the pressbooks.com site, but you will need to pay US$20 or more to make them publicly available on the web. That shouldn’t be an obstacle to creating your own book, even if you can’t get free hosting from your provincial educational authority, or if you worry that your province might decide to cut services.

Configuration Checklist

This list will help with getting started. It includes my personal biases towards books that include equations and Preformatted source code in an engineering setting.

  1. Create your book by selecting My Catalog/Create a New Book from the top left of the Pressbooks window.
  2. Fill out the Book Info (left sidebar), including a title, publication date and licensing information.
  3. Pick a theme (Appearance/Themes) for your book and set the theme options (Appearance/Theme Options)
    • McLuhan is the default, but has a mismatch between the preformatted and regular text sizes. It also has weird baselines for numerals in the title fonts.
    • Bradbury seems to be better on the preformatted/regular ratio in different font sizes and numbers in title fonts look sensible. Use 22pt for LaTeX.
    • Andreesen has the prefomatted/regular ratio problem
    • Activate 2 level table of contents in the “Global Options” tab to make navigation easier. Contents then provides part / chapter / major heading expandable/compressible browsing for topics. Make good use of parts to create meta-chapters for better browsing.
    • Under “Web Options” choose “Wide” for a better layout with big equations.
  1. Go to Plugins and activate WP QuickLaTeX and add Powered by QuickLaTeX to your Acknowledgements or Introduction. Under Settings/QuickLaTeX:
    • under Basic Settings, set the font size to work with your book theme – you may need to experiment. Check with large and small fonts by zooming the preview in your browser window. 22 pt works well with Bradbury.
    • under Advanced, choose Use LaTeX Syntax Sitewide so you don’t need at the top of each chapter with equations (I can’t imagine an engineering book without equations.)
    • leave Exclude $ turned off for easy inclusion of math in text – you will need a backslash to get $ (actual dollar signs). If weird things start happening in your previews, search your text for dollar signs without the backslash that are accidentally switching you into math mode.
    • add or copy any of your own custom LaTeX commands to the preamble
  2. Go to Settings/Hypothesis and enable annotation in portions of the book where you want to enable student markup.

Getting Content into your Pressbook

Typing works, including headings and latex equations.

Copying and pasting from a page in another pressbook works, preserving external links, even if you are moving from one platform to another, e.g. from pressbooks.com to ecampusontario.

Video: Use Add Media and select from a URL to insert a YouTube video into the editor so the video becomes an embedded part of the book. Simply copy the YouTube URL from the address bar of your browser, and use Add Media to avoid problems with broken links. There can be complications if you try to embed freshly uploaded videos. It seems YouTube takes a while to process and prepare all the hooks.

Images: Upload your own images as jpegs of minimum size to make best use of available storage. Choose the Add Media button from the menu bar. It is possible to include images from other pressbooks without adding them to your media library.

Apparently you can also import data from another pressbook.

Use these tips from the 2020-02 CEEA/ACEG Newsletter for finding images:

Use GitHub for Technical Content

Pressbooks is limited in the file types permitted in media, and in the space permitted for storage. Make source code, data sets, etc. available using GitHub. This book has a corresponding repository https://github.com/sellensr/RWS-Notes with source code for some of the exercises. One advantage is the formatting provided for files like this Jupyter notebook, making it easier to browse and read as well as to download and execute. Simply copy the GitHub link from the address bar of your browser and create a hyperlink to it in the Pressbooks editor. Another advantage of GitHub over e.g. Google Drive is moderately readable hyperlinks like https://github.com/sellensr/RWS-Notes/blob/master/Code%20-%20Python/Learning%20Sequence/1.6%20Plotting%20Functions%20and%20Histograms.ipynb instead of https://drive.google.com/open?id=12NhAGOgKeyM6TtRRPNyCDyxFcW0-VkyGi4DnbA1WDmY.

Integrate with your LMS

Pressbooks will not replace an LMS for tracking students performance and personal information. It will allow you to make the essential content of your course available in a format similar to a textbook, updated from year to year, but maintaining the access and familiarity that your students will need in order to refer back to it. Keep the elements that pertain to a particular offering of a course, like quizzes, assignments, lab schedules, etc. on the LMS. Put links in the weekly schedule on the LMS to point students to the Pressbooks content.

Queen’s OER Resources

Check Getting Started with OERs for a very brief guide. For more detailed guidance, including checklists etc: https://guides.library.queensu.ca/oer/about


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