Cultivating open pedagogy through book builders

In 2015, faculty members, Stephen Ross and Matt Huculak at the University of Victoria created the Open Modernisms Anthology Builder (OpenMods), through grant funding by the B.C. Open Textbook Project to produce an openly licensed teaching resource. OpenMods is an online platform which enables instructors to build their own literary anthologies for the1850–1950 period.

Open Modernisms Anthology Builder

A year after its inception, we’ve caught up with Stephen Ross and his team at UVic to find out how the project is going, what the response from the community has been like, and which other institutions are adapting the software for similar platforms in the not-too-distant future. Here’s what he had to say:

What is the modernist book builder?

It’s a site featuring a library of out copyright modernist materials that are in the public domain, including whole novels but also essays, poems, manifestoes, criticism, etc. from which users can select the particular items or excerpts they want to include in a custom anthology, course pack, or set of readings. Users can arrange the order of the items they select, add their own notes and introductory materials, and then output the whole thing as a set of PDFs for use either digitally or in print. Users can create, save, and modify their own anthologies, or they can start by cloning an existing anthology that someone else has made and modify it for their own purposes.

What are some famous works that are from the modernist time that are included in the book builder?

Roughly speaking, “modernism” in the West refers to an explosive period of experimentation and avant-garde innovation across the arts from roughly 1890-1940. Key figures include James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Pablo Picasso, Kasimir Malevich, Gustav Mahler, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein.

Open Modernist

Where do you find the source material for the Modernist book builder?

Users can upload material that they have scanned themselves, or they can pull content from other, much larger repositories online such as the Hathi Trust, Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive.

Who contributes resources to the book builder?

The bulk of our contributions thus far has been provided by undergraduate students working in intense situations we call “anthology jams.” These “jams” feature coffee or pizza as a means of attracting students to participate, and a clear easy workflow that lets them create documents in short order. David N. Wright at Douglas College has been the quarterback on this part of things, and he and his students have produced an enormous amount of material in a very short time. We intend to open the entire thing up to the public right away, and ask the larger community of scholars and students to consider adding items to flesh out the library.

“The anthology jams are an excellent example of open pedagogy in practice. Bringing together students and faculty to co-create material for the library is such a profound teaching and learning experience.” – Amanda Coolidge, BCcampus

What has the response from the modernist community been to the project?

So far it’s been amazing. I know of at least one press that abandoned plans for a print anthology when they heard about it. In fact, the project came out of a listserv discussion in which people were expressing their frustration with existing print anthologies. When we announced our plan, there was tremendous uptake, and since we’ve launched people have been uniformly happy with the results.

How do people access the book builder?

Anyone at all can access it at You can browse either the library or existing anthologies right away, and after you obtain a user ID, you can get to work creating your own anthologies or uploading new material to the library. It’s an entirely open site, so anyone at all is welcome to use it.

What institutions and organizations collaborated on creating the book builder?

We had initial seed funding from the Modernist Studies Association, and received a nice boost of support from Douglas College as well. Compute Canada has provided the server space and hosting free of cost (thank you!). Our biggest funder, of course, was the B.C. Open Textbook Project — we would not have been able to get things off the ground without Clint Lalonde agreeing to take a chance on our slightly unusual idea: we requested funds not to write a textbook, as is usual under the B.C. Open Textbook Project, but to create capacity for teachers and students to create their own textbooks.

Technically, how did you build the book builder? What tools or software are you using? Is the code available for others to use to build their own book builders?

The Book Builder comprises two Drupal modules, the first basic install coming from Islandora/DiscoveryGarden, and the second custom install coming from Agile Humanities Agency. It uses a Fedora Commons back end to store the materials, and a Drupal interface.

The code is freely available in the B.C Open Textbook Collection and via Github.

SFU announces its first OER grant recipients

The OpenMods software that BCcampus funded last year as part of the B.C. Open Textbook Project is going to be reused for an OER project at SFU. OER grant recipients, Michelle Levy and Colette Colligan will use their funding to develop a similar platform for the Romantic period (OpenRoms), which will extend from 1750 to 1850.

“We are thrilled that others have seen the potential in this site, and that Drs. Colligan and Levy are basing their site on ours. It’s entirely true that the architecture can be adapted to any set of texts or materials that are out of copyright, meaning that any field of study whose materials date from earlier than mid-twentieth-century could create a similar resource.” – Stephen Ross, UVic


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