Pressbooks plugin developed by BCcampus enables truly open textbook publishing

BCcampus has around 70 open textbooks in its collection, and more are being added each day. Once more textbooks are added (following the next phase of the project: 20 skills and trades textbooks), the sustainability of the collection will become more important. That means building technology that allows for the “Five Rs” of openness: reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, and retain.


Brad Payne, BCcampus technical analyst and web developer, has used those five Rs as the basis for a plugin he has created: the Pressbooks Textbook plugin. The BCcampus collection is available through a WordPress site, but the textbooks themselves are created using PressBooks, an open source authoring tool. It gives BCcampus authors the ability to create a textbook and publish in a number of different formats, be it a website, an ePub document, or a PDF document. PressBooks allows authors to create content once and then publish in a number of different formats. More than that, the BCcampus-created plugin allows users to interact with textbooks in new ways.

The significance of API

“One of the most exciting elements for me is, we’re giving each of our textbooks an API [Application Programming Interface],” said Mr. Payne. “If we’re focusing on the ‘remix’ aspect of openness in the next version of the plugin, we have to build the technology to interact with a book in varied, defined ways. We can extend the functionality of the electronic textbook and make it something bigger and more appealing for users.”

The BCcampus Pressbooks Textbook plugin allows for the 5 Rs in the following ways:

  • Re-use – an author can attach a Creative Commons license to the textbook created in Pressbooks.
  • Revise – Pressbooks itself is an application that allows for authoring, publishing, and revising textbooks.
  • Remix – the plugin should enable an instructor to take different elements of various textbooks (using an API) and combine them into a customized resource.
  • Redistribute – Pressbooks allows for output in alternate formats like ePub, PDF, MOBI, HPUB, ICML, XHTML
  • Retain – the plugin allows for downloading of the entire collection.

How it works

Using the Pressbooks Textbook plugin, an instructor can search the BCcampus collection for a keyword or subject. Because the BCcampus textbooks have been created with an API built in, the search/import feature of the plugin uses the API within each book in order to return results. For example: if there are chapters from more than one textbook that mention the search term, an instructor can preview each chapter, and import only the relevant ones into a remixed resource for students.

Mr. Payne first presented the plugin to the BCcampus Open Textbook summit last spring, and then to the annual BCNet conference. Next, he’ll be presenting, along with Clint Lalonde, to the international Open Education conference in Washington, DC, in November.

To use the plugin for the BCcampus collection, users with an email address from a post-secondary institution can contact the Open Textbook team for access. All the work that Mr. Payne is doing is being released on GitHub with an open source license and can be downloaded, used or contributed to by anyone.

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