Author Archives: Cody Taylor

Get Started Building Your Open Textbook

Organizational Account

If you plan on using a university-supported platform to host your textbook, the first step that you should probably consider is creating an Organizational Account for your text.  This provides your textbook its own 4×4 and email address.  Whether you’re using Wordpress via or whether you’re building a static website for which to host your book you will need one of these accounts.  In order to obtain your own organizational account visit OU IT’s website and request one.  Keep in mind that by default, if you request it, your org. account comes with 50MB of storage space. -request more if necessary.  If using it is not necessary that you request webspace associated with your org. account as space and a domain will be provided through Create.  Once your account has been created you may start building your textbook.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 3.09.07 PM




Recently OU announced that it has subscribed to an Adobe Creative Cloud site license.  This means that should you decide to build your textbook website using Dreamweaver you can obtain a license to that software through OU IT.  For more information about this, see the OU IT Adobe Creative Cloud page.

If choosing to build your site using this method you should at least be familiar with HTML and CSS or at least be willing to learn them.  That I know of, the university provides no official templates to use for this sort of thing, but you are more than welcome to download and use the Bootstrap template that I made for the Biochemical Methods Lab Manual. Although I do not know of an official template, I do know that OU Web Communications does have certain guidelines for which to follow when developing a university affiliated website.  The most basic of these requirements are to include the header and footer that can be seen in the screenshot above.  These features are included in the Bootstrap template that we have provided.  Other guidelines to make note of are those that explain precisely how to use the University’s logo, its name, and colors.  All of this information can be found at the OU Web Comm website.

Thus far we have only used static HTML webpages to publish resources that we have developed.  One reason for this is that we needed a cross-platform solution, that would display just as nicely on an Android smartphone as it would on an iPad, a desktop computer or on paper.  We considered several solutions before deciding on using static webpages as our hosting platform.  Others included Apple iBooks, EPUBs, and PDFs, but none were as openly accessible or adaptable as are webpages.  Please don’t misunderstand, if you are more comfortable using documents like PDFs or EPUBs to deliver your content through a system such as D2L by all means, please do so; however, know that because our aim is to make your content as openly accessible as possible we may also publish your content in a way that has a broader reach than does posting a PDF to D2L.



During this, the second summer of the Open Textbook Initiative, we are taking a new approach to how we develop resources.  Last summer we developed two educational resources as static webpages.  Not only was this time consuming to do, but it is also difficult to maintain.  Our goal from this point forward is to have those in our program do as much of the development of their resources as they are able.  That is, we would like to see those we work with maintain as much control of their content as possible.  Because HTML can be difficult to work with, we decided to give WordPress a shot as a publishing platform.  Using WordPress allows us to preserve all that we liked about using static webpages, but makes the creation process easier.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 10.00.27 AM


The WordPress editor should not look too foreign. It is quite similar to other WYSIWYG editors that most have used.  For most content creation, the ‘visual’ editor works very well; however, in some cases it might be necessary to dig in and edit the HTML that is being generated by the ‘visual’ editor.  This can be done in the ‘text’ editor.

Because WordPress is typically used as a blogging platform it refers to individual entries as “posts”.  In the case of a textbook, posts might take the form of a chapter or a section where each post is its own webpage.  Simple WordPress themes can be made to print very well such that sidebars are removed and page formatting is such that it would be display well on a printed page.  Modern browsers allow webpages to be saved as PDF documents from the browser’s print dialog box.  Using this technique we have met our most basic criteria of publishing with devices of all sizes and manufacturers in mind as well as the option to print.


I know I have addressed the issue several times in this blog, but it is worth noting again that we have taken great care to make sure that equations display well in the publishing solutions that we suggest.  This is nevertheless true for this WordPress as a solution.  I tested three different WordPress plugins that convert LaTeX into beautiful equations.  The reason that it took testing two plugins before I decided on a third is a topic for another post itself.  The plugin that I decided to use as that which we will support is WP QuickLaTeX.  Without too much detail, it handles certain features of LaTeX markup better than the other two plugins that I tested. It also supports TikZ markup which is capable of rendering graphs, circuit diagrams, and chemical structures to name just a few of its capabilities.

Gauss’s Law (LaTeX)

\phi _{net} = \int_S {E_n dA = } \frac{1}{{\varepsilon _0 }}Q_{inside} = 4\pi kQ_{inside}

MOSFET Amplifier (TikZ)

Rendered by

This summer we are supporting Dr. Eli Bridge to write a Physiology textbook.  During our initial discussions he mentioned that he would like to be able to make comments and interjections throughout his text very much like footnotes or references, but if those were listed directly beside the text they reference.  After our initial meeting I began searching for a solution for his request.  Dr. Bridge, prior to our suggestion, had already decided to write his open textbook in WordPress, so naturally I began searching for a WordPress plugin that implements what he was looking for.  What I found is a plugin called SideMatter.

SideMatter requires a theme that includes a right sidebar inside of which the references are to be placed.  To insert a reference using this plugin simply wrap the text you would like to appear in the sidebar in [ref] [/ref] tags and when the page is rendered that text will be extracted and shoved to the side of the page and vertically aligned adjacent to the text which it refers to.  We have found that links, images, and videos can be inserted into these references as well as plain text of course.



Two things to note when inserting videos is that videos will need to be resized by editing the embed code’s attributes when inserted.  Additionally you must wrap the embed code in its own division ( <div> . . . embed . . . </div> ) to make it show up at all in the sidebar.  -at least that has been my experience.

So far this summer, these are the solutions that we are working on.  There are surely more to come.  We look forward to working with those who we support and are eager to learn of the innovative features they demand of their publishing platforms.

Contributing OER to Repositories

Connexions Creating content in Connexions is quite easy when using their provided templates.  Using the templates provided by Connexions not only ensures uniformity across all material in their repository, but it also allows for an optimized experience for those who are searching for content using Connexions.  Word, OpenOffice, and LaTeX templates are provided which meansContinue Reading

Alternative textbooks and tablets in Engineering

Am just sitting in the final exam for AME 3153 Fluidmechanics with Dr. Kurt Gramoll, who is one of our Alternative Textbook Pilots for the year. He wrote a great post about his project in this blog, but it is a fascinating experience to see his project in action. Dr. Gramoll has already created open textbooks forContinue Reading

Display Math On a Webpage Using LaTeX and MathJax

Last summer we undertook a project to create a an open Thermodynamics book for Dr. Diana Bairaktarova which would be based on the open textbook, Engineering Thermodynamics  -A Graphical Approach, by Dr. Israel Urieli from the University of Ohio.  For this project we spent quite a bit of time considering the best way to publish the textbookContinue Reading

Open Access Week 2014

Open Access Week 2014

This week is Open Access Week and as such there will be related events aimed at expanding the understanding of Open Access in the library throughout the week.  Below is a schedule of events, we would for you to attend a few. Beyond Our Walls: A conversation with Kristi Jensen Monday, October 20, 3-4pm BizzellContinue Reading

Outbound Link Tracking Using Google Analytics

Earlier this year when we launched the OER collection and this blog we decided to utilize Google Analytics.  We did this with the intention of gaining a sense of which types of OER our patrons seem to be most interested in.  Google Analytics offers a simple chunk of javascript that is to be inserted into eachContinue Reading

New Open Project at OU- Civil War Manuscripts

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the OU Libraries are launching the Transcribing the Past: Civil War Manuscripts project.  The Western History Collection has a large selection of Civil War manuscripts which our Digitization Laboratory (@OULibDigitize) has been working hard to scan and make available as open resources.  As part of this project, we are asking for helpContinue Reading

Dr. Diana Bairaktarova – Alternative Textbook Grant in depth…

Dr. Diana Bairaktarova, Assistant Professor, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering is crating a custom textbook solution for her students.   AME 2213 Thermodynamics     Alternative Textbook = customized solution Previous textbook: Thermodynamics- An Engineering Approach Cost: $ 217.00 Process:  After initial meetings with the OER team (Stacy and Cody) and Dr. Bairaktarova and her team (Brian WanezekContinue Reading

Alternative Textbook Grantees – Summer 2014

Congratulations to the Summer 2014 Alternative Textbook Grant Award Winners!! For our first year of our Alternative Textbook Initiative, the OU Libraries made grantes of up to $2,500 available to ull time faculty to support the adoption of an alternative textbook. These grants are designed to help support the faculty in transitioning to open course materials.Continue Reading

Open Ed Jam

Open Ed Jam

Open Ed Jam brought together educators, computer scientists, librarians, non-profit organizers and this student, all of whom are STEM education and open advocates.  The speakers whose talks that I went to were very inspiring and provided refreshing insight to topics that were obviously important to their success.  Beatriz Busaniche is a founding member of WikimediaContinue Reading