A Pressbooks Story with Robin DeRosa

Robin DeRosaIn January, the Teaching & Learning on the Open Web learning community had the opportunity to spend an hour with Robin DeRosa, the Director of the Open Learning and Teaching Collaborative at Plymouth State University. 

Robin shared the story of her Open Education Anthology of Earlier American Literature Pressbook, an edited anthology produced by her students. We had asked her about the process of discovering Pressbooks and how her work as a faculty evolved as a result of the experience. She told a compelling and marvelous story.   

Along with her story about the inspiration and continuing evolution of the Earlier American Lit book, she shared several other Pressbook resources  and articles with us. Here are a few.

Cluster Learning at Plymouth State: A Community-Based Approach to Pedagogy

A Learning Community at Plymouth State University, “the CPLC is a dynamic and emergent initiative designed to support current pedagogy-related university projects, align campus efforts to innovate around curriculum and instruction, and refocus institutional efforts on teaching and learning.”

Student-Created Open “Textbooks” as Course Communities

An article about Robin’s story with the Early American texts. It includes some amazing links to other open education articles and examples. 

What is Open Pedagogy?

A Pressbook titled, “Interdisciplinary Studies: A Connected Learning Approach.” This is one of the chapters in the text that Robin co-authored. 

Zoom window with Learning Commmunity participants and Robin DeRosa.

Below are a few comments from our community members in reflection on the hour we spent with Robin. 

Becca Price – Our conversations create knowledge and contain discovery. We want to invite more folks into the conversation, and, after talking to Robin DeRosa, we realized that we could write about our meetings and open the conversation to include more scholars. Robin showed us how doable this is. It’s inspirational, and a welcome kick in the butt for us to start this written project. We’ve now doubled the number of times we’re meeting–one week to meet with a guest, and the next week to write about that meeting. 

I am thinking about how to support students building their own textbooks/content for future students in the class. I’m also wondering about the difference between students building pressbooks and students building websites. What’s helpful about the pressbook format? If the logistics of actually building the pressbook are cumbersome–I believe Robin and/or only a few of her students copy and paste the material into the pressbook–what does this mean for how students feel about ownership of the project?

Sue McNabb – I like the idea of using pressbooks and websites as research tools (active learning), building community (students working together toward a common goal) and continuity (can students improve on past work: does it need revision or do I have a new idea to contribute?). I am starting to see more possibilities and the potential for scaffolding.

Like the course I’m teaching right now: BIO/BISSTS Genes, Genomes and Heredity. It is a Biology and Society course with no prerequisites. One important goal is to get biologists and non-biologists to talk to each other. We do a lot of active work in groups to practice literacy and exchange perspectives, but these tend to be fairly short in-class exercises. A longer-term project like a pressbook could be a good way of going deeper.

Ko Niitsu – I honestly didn’t know anything about PressBook, but now I understand the great potential benefits for the students! Not only for the financial benefits by using information from the public domain (and therefore no need to buy a textbook) but also the innovative pedagogy for students to work together for a shared goal (i.e., create a book) was truly inspiring. I’ve found the conversation about copyright (e.g. use of Google Image) very intriguing, too, and I’d love to learn more about these issues. Thank you so much for talking to us and inspiring us, Robin!

Todd Conaway – There were so many beautiful sentences that I wish I had captured! One I did get was, “Student work should make ripples.” Absolutely. Giving students the agency to create meaningful and useful demonstrations of learning is giving them the opportunity to learn how to be participants. How to contribute. How to be involved. Too much work done by students never sees the light of day. It is hidden deep in an LMS or only viewed by a faculty. 

I enjoyed her focus on the process, and the progress of content is really helpful. That “materials” can improve, and should improve over time and that the students, in addition to the textbook authors, can be the ones who are doing that improvement.  The evolution of the Early American textbook is really something. From a simple small class project to it being adopted and adapted by so many over time is really inspiring to me.  

Sarita Shukla – There were so many nuggets of knowledge that Robin shared. One thing that particularly stood to me was the emphasis on good citation practices. Citations matter especially on the open web! While citing materials is important, what makes this task helpful to the user reading your Pressbook is the almighty hyperlink! 

Robin shared several advantages that piqued my interest in Pressbooks. For instance; one thing that makes creating pressbooks more appealing is the potential for reduced costs to students. The Pressbook could have a creative commons license and be made freely and publicly available. This may replace course texts. Robin also demystified the hardship involved with learning how to create a text using Pressbooks. Pressbooks is open source software  and designed for end user experience. Additionally, Pressbooks uses the same platform that WordPress does and so may be a relatively easier learning curve if you know how to use WordPress.

Robin also shared several caveats and suggested that we think carefully about the tool and the  purpose it serves. Pressbooks might not be better than creating a website if the content that students want to share is graphic. Pressbooks might be a better choice if the content is linear. On the other hand, WordPress plugins might work better if a student wants to put a gallery of works they created. Thus considering what outcomes we might be working towards might be a good starting point. 

Robin did dive into some of the  questions listed below  but I would love a deeper dive into these questions!

  • How do we create a project with students across multiple quarters that unfolds over time?
  • How much editing of previous work goes in the Pressbook?
  • What are some ways in which we curate work that goes in the pressbook?

It was a wonderful hour and we have altered our LC meetings as a result.We are going to have guests join us each month to share stories about various elements of teaching and learning on the open web. We also added a second meeting each month to debrief and workshop some of the ideas shared because there is just so much good information and we need time to reflect and to create. 

Thank you Robin for sharing your time and giving us not just some great ideas about Pressbooks, but reshaping how we as a community work together.


  1. I loved reading about this conversation. I’ve followed Robin for years and deeply appreciate the work she’s doing and her generosity in sharing what she’s learning along the way. Your individual comments add so much to thinking about the ongoing possibilities.

    You all rock.

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