How to Create Your Own Pressbooks Site for Authoring E-Textbooks

I just did this today on my lunch break. I thought I would need some time to figure it out, but it took far less time than convincing my cat to come back inside before I returned to work. While it is fresh on my mind, I want to write down the steps, as much to remind myself later as to share them with other people. If someone comes along who can benefit from this, that’s just gravy.

  1. You need a self-hosted WordPress account. You can’t do this on WordPress.com. If that’s what you are using forget about setting up your own Pressbooks site, and just go to Pressbooks.com to create an account there.
  2. You need a fresh installation of WordPress MU. You can’t refurbish on old blog into a Pressbooks site. You are going to convert the entire site from a blogging platform into an ebook authoring platform. You need to have done absolutely nothing to your new installation before you start this process.
  3. You can choose the MU (multi-user) option in WordPress 4.3.1 during the installation. It will ask if you want to create a network, and you need to click yes on that option.
  4. Once you have it installed, go to the universal dashboard, and click on Plugins and Install New.
  5. Install the Pressbooks Plugin.
  6. Install the Pressbooks Textbooks Plugin.
  7. That’s it. You’re done.
  8. Happy ebook authoring!

The advantage of installing your own own Pressbooks site over using Pressbooks.com is that you can export an unlimited number of books without having to pay extra fees. You also have no limits on file sizes (unless they are imposed by your web hosting account).

WordPress and Pressbooks are both open source, so if you already have a web-hosting account, the installations will not cost anything. If you do not have your own account, and you want to use this to create materials for your own classes or to have students create class projects, consider asking your school’s IT people to install a Pressbooks site on your school server. Just be aware of the fact that in that case there may be some question about whether the materials you create belong to your school or to you.

Pressbooks is a great tool for creating and formatting ebooks. For WordPress users, the layout and functionality will be intuitive. It offers a variety of export options, including epub, mobi, pdf, and others. In addition, it creates a website for each book so that the books can be read online and/or downloaded straight from your own website.

Pressbooks Textbooks adds extra functionality to a Pressbooks site specifically designed for textbooks. For example, it has a math equations option and an ebook annotations option. It also provides open book copyright and sharing buttons to make it super easy for educators to make their materials free to other educators.

I’ve explored a number of options for ebook authoring with textbooks in mind, and as of today, this is by far my favorite.

My book site is here: http://sgerald.net/books/

There is nothing on it yet. I said that I installed the site on my lunch break today, not that I wrote a book. I will need a few more lunch breaks to make that happen.

How to Make an E-Portfolio Using WordPress

WordPress is a great platform for the e-portfolio.  It is versatile and can be made to look very attractive.  It’s also easy to navigate and update.

There are basically two approaches to the WordPress Portfolio.  In a project portfolio or a class portfolio, you might insert all of your artifacts as posts, using categories and tags to organize them.  In that case, your last post, or the one that shows up at the top of the page, would be your portfolio introduction.

If you are making a professional or career portfolio, however, in which you might not have as many artifacts, you might consider putting your content in as pages with only one post serving as the portfolio introduction.

Of course, you could do a hybrid of the two.  Put your project artifacts in as posts and your CV, bio, and professional information in as pages.

WordPress gives you lots of options.  It’s a program you can make work for you.  It works much better, however, if you have a plan for what you want to accomplish and if you understand how to use the software to work with your plan.

Take a look at my e-portfolio produced in WordPress:  www.sgerald.net/portfolio

In it, the portfolio artifacts are all presented as pages.  There is only one post, and it serves as the portfolio introduction.

To make a portfolio like this, follow these steps:

1.  Set up a WordPress site.  You might do this by joining WordPress.com and creating a blog, or you might install WordPress via WordPress.org on your own server account as I did.
2. Upon first logging in to your site admin controls, go to settings and enter your site information.  You’ll want to give your portfolio a name, probably just your own name, and you’ll want delete the default tag line for the site that says “Just another WordPress blog.”  You might replace that with your own quote, or you might just delete it.
3.  Choose a theme.  Themes in WordPress control the site layout and design.  There are many possible themes to select, and in the WordPress.org version, you can even have a custom theme designed and installed.  Regardless of which version you are using, however, you choose a theme under “Appearance.”   When you select a theme, you’ll first be given a preview prompt.  From there, you click on the word “activate,” and your new theme is up and running.  My portfolio is done in a two-column theme, and I think the two-column layout is best for this type of site, but you can choose what works for you.
4. Go to “Pages” in your admin dashboard, click “Add New,” and start entering your information.  As you are working on the pages, it’s a good idea to hit “Save Draft” from time to time.  When you are finished with each page, hit “Publish.”
5. Go to “Posts” in your admin dashboard, click “Add New,” and write a portfolio introduction.  Just as you have done with the pages, save your post draft as you work on it, and click “Publish” when you are finished.

WordPress has lots of other capabilities, but these few steps are really all you need to do to create a professional portfolio.  With the right theme and the right content, you can create a very impressive portfolio in WordPress.

What’s the Point of an E-Portfolio?

If we are now living in a world in which “the MFA is the New MBA” as Daniel Pink has claimed, it’s inevitable that portfolios would come as part of the package.  Writers and artists have long been familiar with the concept of portfolio-based job searches.  Now that many, many employers from all areas are looking for people who can produce in a digital environment, the portfolio is a natural expectation.

An artist’s portfolio is a collection of that artist’s best work.  An e-portfolio is a collection of a person’s best work in electronic form.  E-portfolios come in many shapes and sizes.  They might be compiled for a class or a project, but the kind we are talking about is the professional portfolio, one that has been put together to show off the career accomplishments of an individual.

The professional e-portfolio is most often presented in the form of a website.  People have made them in PowerPoints and pdfs and all sorts of electronic formats, but the website is what most expect when the term e-portfolio comes into play.  Thus, we can start there in defining the e-portfolio.  It’s a website that showcases a person’s best work.

As with most definitions, this hardly tells the whole story.  Let’s look at some characteristics and goals:

1. The e-portfolio is comprised of a series of artifacts or items that serve to demonstrate a person’s skills, professional interests, and accomplishments.  Those artifacts might include writing, art or design work, presentations, and any number of other tangible products that can be loaded and linked digitally in order to serve as evidence of accomplishment.

2. The e-portfolio also includes facts about a person’s education and experience in the manner of a CV.  The business model and the artists’ model have merged in the new professional portfolio.  No matter how impressive your collection of presentations might be, you still need to provide the kind of factual information a company needs to know before hiring.

3. The e-portfolio often includes biographical information that goes beyond what would have ever been included in the traditional CV.  Your portfolio site is an introduction to you, to the whole you, not just pieces of you.  Of course the biographical information should remain professional enough so as not to be an embarrassment, but it should also be personable.  It should make people think they might want to have you around.

4. The design of the e-portfolio is nearly as important as the content.  It should be easy to navigate and aesthetically appealing.  It should show some personality without being overly funky, flashy, or distracting.  It needs to be interesting yet professional in both style and content.

The e-portfolio is the new CV.  Everyone hoping to establish a professional career needs one.  But what if you already have a job and aren’t looking for another?  Why would a well-established teacher need an e-portfolio?

As it turns out, there are several good reasons:

1. Networking.  The e-portfolio is not only the new CV; it’s also the new business card.  If you want people you meet at workshops, conferences, and random Barnes & Noble encounters to remember who you are and what you do, point them to your portfolio.

2. PR.  Faculty portfolios make schools look good.  They provide a way to showcase what the faculty do best.  They give people a reason to support the school.  They also help keep administrators and other powers that be informed on what the faculty really do.

3. Modeling.  No, not that kind of modeling.  Put photos of yourself on you portfolio site if you want, but glamor shots probably won’t help your professional image.  Portfolios from teachers as models of what students should accomplish in portfolios are extremely important, however.  Maybe you aren’t ever going to look for a job, but presumably your students will.  Help them create the professional image they need to project by showing them how it’s done.

4. Professional development.  Portfolios are in themselves acts of professional development, but they are also places to catalog PD.  Keeping your e-portfolio current is the best way to have evidence on the spot of how current your scholarship, specialized training, community involvement, and other instances of professional development are.  If someone wants to nominate you for a teaching award, for example, it can be done without much trouble when all of your professional information is readily available through your portfolio site.   You never know how the portfolio might pay off.

About ten years ago we were told at work that all instructors needed a “web presence.”  Somewhere along the way that buzzword morphed into “web-centered classroom,” and still we struggled to go about this.  In the first phase, we all made static html pages from a template.  This was awkward, not terribly attractive, and only a few people ever updated the pages.

In the next phase, we moved everything into Blackboard.  Day classes and online classes alike had their own course shells.  This somewhat responded to the call for “web-centered classrooms,” depending of course on what was done with those course shells.  At the same time, however, it took away some of the great things about individual faculty pages–like having a way for prospective students to look up prospective teachers.

Available technologies have come a long way since those first html templates, and we’d be fools not to take advantage of that fact.  Attractive, effective e-portfolios can now be created and updated much easier than those simple static pages.  You don’t have to purchase software or set up ftp accounts.  WordPress, Google Sites, VisualCV, and many other platforms can be used for free.

I’ll write about how to make e-portfolios with some of those particular tools in another article.  For now, think about creating an e-portfolio if you don’t already have one.  You need one, whether you know it or not.  And take a look at my portfolio for just one idea of what they can do.

Why WordPress?

This site is run on WordPress, and it was chosen for very particular reasons.  WordPress is blogging software, which means it is easy to update and maintain.  It’s a whole lot more than that, though.  It can be used to create any kind of website you want.

When I first started blogging in 2005 on Blogger, I would have given very different explanations of what blogging software was capable of than I would give now.  That’s because a whole lot has changed in four years.  Blogs have generally been by definition organized chronologically with the most recent posts showing up first and everything else showing up in reverse chronological order from there.  That’s still true, but what’s also true is that WordPress and other blogging platforms have since developed the capacity to create navigable websites.  This is huge.

It’s huge, and it’s worth discussion.   A blog that’s only organized chronologically is a temporal creation.  It only matters if it is updated often because few site visitors will browse through a calendar until they stumble across information pertinant to their own interests.   The addition of pages, categories, and tags to the blog site, however, give it enormous navigable potential.   And ease of navigation means that people can find and use information no matter how recent it is.  It means more than the most recent posts matter.  Everything on the site is content that can be easily accessed within a couple of clicks.

I’ll talk more about that in another post, but for now I want to get back to the idea that WordPress can be used to make any kind of website.  It’s also free.  These are important considerations for teachers.

You can use WordPress for class blogs, certainly.  You can also use it for student or teacher portfolio sites or for class information sites.  Create a kind of class textbook out of it by using categories as unit headings.   Or consider using it like a wiki for group projects.  By setting up pages with multiple authors, this is easily accomplished.

The keyword is versatility.  It can be used for anything, and it is very user friendly.  You don’t have to know code to customize it.  You just have to be able to follow directions.

WordPress is available in three versions that I know of.

One you will find at www.wordpress.com.  This is a free site where anyone can register.  Your WordPress creation is then hosted there.  This is a good option for teachers and students because no installation is required.  You just register and start building your blog, page, site, group project, or whatever.  There are lots of themes to choose from in order to customize the appearance, and many of the themes allow for adding sidebar widgets or small chunks of html.  You can’t create your own themes or do a lot to edit the css there, though.  It’s a WordPress for beginners site, but sometimes that’s all you need to make a powerful site.

The other most commonly used version of WordPress, and the one running this site, is the downloadable version at WordPress.org.   This one requires that you have your own hosting service.   It’s good if you want more control over your site’s appearance and functionality, or if you want to play with code in order to make your own theme or tweak some of the hundreds of free themes available to download and install.  You don’t have to know how to manipulate css to use this version, but you do need either a degree of tech savvy or some tech support.  It does have to be installed on a server, and any theme used for site design also has to be installed.  Still, it’s great for teachers in schools that do have available server space and tech support.

Last, there is WordPress MU or multi-user.  This is for large sites and web developers.  The difference in it and the other downloadable version of WordPress is that many blogs can be created from a single installation of MU, whereas only one per installation can be created from regular old WordPress.  I don’t know how much more complicated it is to install because I haven’t tried it, but it would be the solution for a school that wanted to go campus-wide with blogs and individual websites.  It might even be the solution for a teacher who wanted to assign class blogs.  However, without good tech support, most teachers would probably be better off just sending students to www.wordpress.com to register for their own free sites.

In a nutshell, WordPress is easy, versatile, and powerful.  Anyone can learn to make something from it.  Only a little savvy can make it much more functional for multiple purposes.  And developers or coders can make it do anything they want.

I count myself in the “little savvy” camp.  I’ve tried just about every blogging platform out there, and WordPress is without question my favorite.