Working with Faculty as They Develop Open Educational Resources: The OER Journey of Programming for Problem Solving

For the past year, I have had the opportunity to work with SUNY Albany’s OER fellows. One of those faculty members is Lenore Horowitz, a professor in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity. She has put together an original open textbook Programming for Problem Solving.

Horowitz’ book focuses on teaching computer programming using the Python programming language as a tool to solve problems. While this book represents an incredible amount of work on her part, I’m going to focus on the support roles of formatting, conversion into multiple formats, and creating a professionally printed book.

Using Pressbooks as the publication and distribution method.

Pressbooks has become the way to do OER best. The original draft of the book was written in Microsoft Word, and when the author was ready, we started the import process. This whole experience was a learn by doing event, but I’m going to put this under the “lessons learned” category, and my bit of advice for future projects. Get the project into Pressbooks as soon as possible. In Microsoft Word the author used text boxes to separate content and to visually identify where there was a string of Python code. 

Wherever those textboxes were used, we had to manually go in, delete that image file, copy the original text, and reformat it. Because some of the textboxes were “floating” in the word document the text appeared in seemingly random positions, sometimes paragraphs away from where it was supposed to be. All of the images that had captions needed to have the captions cut and paste then reassociated with the images.

Despite those initial challenges, having it in that Pressbooks format gives us so much versatility for how we will share it in the future. In addition to the web version of the textbook, we have a print-ready PDF version, an ePub3 format for iPads and other ereaders, MOBI format for Kindles, and the ability to embed directly in the Learning Management System with LTI. Pressbooks has made accessibility one of their cornerstone philosophies, and the developers of Pressbooks have invited accessibility groups to do an evaluation of the platform. The development team is actively making changes to make the platform keeping it intuitive, simple, and accessible for students. This mindset by the developers makes me feel confident that the effort that we put into getting it into this platform was time well spent.

While the platform is itself very accessible, the author needs to input the content in an accessible manner. This author had a great background and awareness of accessibility, and had already used headings appropriately in the text, the had the images all captioned. This was my second big takeaway from this project, was to make sure that an author has the needed background on both accessibility and licensing before and during the writing process. You don’t want to get to the publishing stage just to find out that the faculty member had used text or images where the licensing isn’t compatible.

Using Pressbooks also lets our book join the OER community the fastest and the easiest. What I say about Pressbooks is that the technology matches the open license. Books shared on Pressbooks with an open license can be easily and instantly cloned from server to server meaning that the next OER adopter can start to Revise, Remix, Reuse, Redistribute and Retain immediately. 


Using as our print on demand publisher

Once we had a high-quality, print ready PDF from Pressbooks, we were ready to try to print our book. We really wanted to have a professional looking paperback. We used which is an easy to use self publishing platform.

Because we used Pressbooks, we already had a half title page, title page, copyright page, table of contents, page numbers, and blank pages in the appropriate places. We generated a 9″ x 6″ PDF for our project, but we could generate a variety of sizes matching traditional publishing sizes.

For the cover, we used Lulu’s cover generator to create a nice looking cover from an image that the author had already chosen. 

Working with these self publishing platform does present one challenge, in that we have to be careful not to generate revenue. Working with the local bookstore, we are sharing a account so that they order the book at cost, and avoid generating author revenue.


What comes next?

I look forward to being able to use SUNY Press instead of a self publishing platform like or Amazon Createspace. As SUNY OER Services ramps up this service to the campuses it will be one less thing to worry about on the local level.

I was able to locate several bugs in the PDF export process with Pressbooks, and I was able to open issues on github for issues with space underneath images, footnotes on headings, and pagenumbers. Part of being part of an open source community means helping find those bugs and reporting them to the developers.

Dr. Horowitz is considering this semester her pilot with the book, and plans to engage the students in improving and continuing development of the book. She hopes they will help her find issues or areas for further ellaboration, create interactives, and make problem sets.


Ed Beck is an Instructional Designer at SUNY Oneonta.

This was my first time getting an OER book professionally printed. I have a proof copy for a second project on the way, and three more projects in earlier stages of development. I’m excited for the faculty that they will have these great looking resources for their students after all the effort they put into the content creation of these materials.

I’ve enjoyed working with the open-source team of Pressbooks as I continue to work on the OER project. You can now find me in the shoutouts of the readme file for the Pressbooks LTI Provider for helping them troubleshoot LTI in Blackboard.


One response to “Working with Faculty as They Develop Open Educational Resources: The OER Journey of Programming for Problem Solving”

  1. […] my last post about Lenore Horowitz’ publishing journey for Programming for Problem Solving, I wrote about how made for a great publishing experience, so it won’t surprise […]

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