Abram Anders

Research, Media, Flows

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 8)

I created this exploration of the challenges of writing in the UMN Digital Storytelling Workshop this last week in the Twin Cities. Thanks to Cristina Lopez and Steven Cisneros for leading such a great workshop!

Creating and Publishing an eBook or eJournal Issue

As a web-editor, designer, and contributor to a recent open source eBook project, Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012,” I have been asked on a couple occasions about resources for producing eBooks. I thought I would put together some notes and suggestions here.

The first question to ask is: do you really want to create an eBook? There are lots of hybrid formats available for web-publishing. Choosing the right one means considering your audience, whether you want an ongoing conversation, and the level of technical challenges you are able to handle. In many cases, a well designed PDF distributed via email and through links on social media can be a simple but very effective approach.

Web and eBook Publishing Services

PressBooks is a currently free web-service (for individuals and small publishers) that allows you to “easily create ebooks, typeset PDFs, and webbooks.” The service provides and interface entering your article or chapter information and body text, then a one button publishing method with several themes for the various outputs including distribution via Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.

Booktype Pro (also available as a self installed open source package Booktype) is service that offers a collaborative platform for creating, editing, and distributing eBooks to all the standard outlets. 1 small project with up to 10 users is free; additional volume, user and services for paid accounts.

Lulu provides both eBook and Book distribution and selling services. You upload a predesigned book in PDF or ePub format.

Issuu is a digital publishing platform. It provides a sleek reading interface for pre-created magazines, journals, and eBooks which are uploaded to the service as PDFs. Creating the PDF would be done with a desktop application.

Scribd is a document hosting services that provides an interface for sharing and embedding documents like PDFs.

Avatist is platform currently used to create and publish multimedia stories by a number of major media companies. A consumer service is currently in beta-testing and may prove a promising option in the future.

Blog-based Publishing

A blog like Blogger or WordPress can be a great way of publishing for multiple authors. It can also foster dialogue around the pieces and easy sharing on external social media sites.

Ebook Glue is a free web-based tool that turns any blog feed into a ePub or Mobi format eBook.

Anthologize is a plugin for WordPress that can take an existing WordPress site of blog posts and publish them as an eBook. This is a free service, but it can only be installed and run on a self-hosted WordPress site.

eBook Creation Tools

Calibre is desktop application for ebook management, conversion, and syncing tools for reader devices.

Sigil is a free and open source multi-platform EPUB ebook editor.

Document and Desktop Publishing Tools

Word-processing Applications can be used to create relatively sophisticated documents and designs: see Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Libre Office, Open Office

LaTex is a typesetting system used for technical and scientific documentation. It is a high learning curve, but is a powerful free software that integrates with many other tools, services, and extensions.

See also examples of professional Desktop Publishing Software

PLNs for the FFP Crowd

Learning in the Information Age

Variously figured as “knowledge work” or “distributed work,” contemporary professional activities are often characterized by “coordinative, polytextual, crossdisciplinary work that splices together divergent work activities” (Spinuzzi, 2007). Professionals require vertical expertise for their position, but also horizontal expertise that  characterized by “learning across boundaries, including organizations, activities, disciplines, fields, trades, and settings” (Ibid).

Complementarily, connectivist learning theory argues that the primacy of three values for learning:

  • Capacity to know; rather than content known
  • Diversity promotes fruitful commerce and growth
  • Connectivity is the engine of learning and knowledge-production

Connectivism suggests that learning is best supported by a robust social network of peers, mentors, and professionals that provide diverse perspectives and promote spontaneous connections in support of the lifelong development of professional capacities and learning. For an extended treatment see Alec Couros’s, “Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning,” 2010.


Distributed learning facilitates disruptive innovation and leverages collective intelligence to fulfill the promise: “Chance favors the connected mind.” It means overcoming knowledge silos and fostering meaningful interdisciplinarity; it means the cross-pollination of ideas, connecting markets and solutions, and catalyzing fortuitous opportunities. Technological innovation is no longer just about efficiency and convenience, it is about social innovation and modes of collective intelligence that allow the work we already do to become more productive and available for more uses.

Personal Learning Networks

Alec Couros offers this basic definition: “Personal learning networks are the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment.”

Personal learning networks are as unique and diverse as individual learners. The concept suggests a combination of essential tools (technical networks) and networking strategies and resources (social networks). There are a range of philosophies of relevant to the practice of networked learning (connectivism, situated learning, participatory culture, open education, social pedagogies, etc.). Regardless of our inspiration the primary challenge is sustaining and integrating PLN activities into our already busy professional lives.

Distributed Learning is …

  • Virtual: anywhere, anytime, anyone
  • Social: curation, filtering, situated perspectives
  • Networked: aggregative and connective


Getting Started with PLNs

Getting Things Done with PLNs

  • Sustainable Engagement (Time Management)
  • Iterate, Integrate, Curate
  • Networking and Branding

Each of these activities has supporting examples and explanation. We could do all or some of these. Some could be “in-session” activities; others could be suggested as opportunities for ongoing engagement with the workshop group. (Ex. Participant could be asked to contribute to a running curated list of great people, ideas, resources they encounter during the conference, etc.).

Collaborative Notes/Discussion in an Open Google Doc

1) Skill Share
Choose a tool, service, or strategy for TEL

  • Share a review: compare several options/alternatives
  • Share a use-case for a new tool or a novel use for an old one: inspire, demonstrate value
  • Share a how-to: help us get started

We could do this as a rapid fire 1-2 min per presentation F2F activity; or, asynchronously by posting to blog site or the the listserv

2) Curated Resources
Generate a crowd-sourced list of tools, people, and resources worth knowing

  • Social: Thought-leaders, mavens, laisons, gatekeepers, etc.
    • by Institutional, Disciplinary, Public
    • by Areas of Expertise and Interest
  • Technical: Tools, Resources, Etc.

This is a simple activity. We could create a Google Form and request 2-3 submission from each participant; could also be supported by a social-bookmarking tool like Diigo. Criteria for submission and “tags” could be negotiated and flexible. The activity would result in a public spreadsheet. Social lists would be translated into a subscribable Twitter list (contacts) and RSS feed list (blogs).

3) PLN Mapping
Choose a perspective and/or approach and create a concept map

  • Map your Personal Learning Environment — Technical Contexts: Tools, Apps/Services, Workflows; Uses and Taxonomies
  • Map your Social Learning Network — Social Contexts: People, Teams, Societies, Organizations; Information Sources, Events
  • Map your strategy: Planning/Visioning — Development Contexts: Knowledge, Skills, Areas of Interest; Vertical/Horizontal Expertise, Needs Assessment/SWOT

We could do this as a brainstorming and reflective exercise; it could be recorded on paper, in a google doc, or using a collaborative whiteboard like mural.ly, or with a mind-mapping software like text2mindmap (see example below). In a F2F exercise, we could iterate through the perspectives or ask participants to choose their own approach. Alternatively, we this could be an optional asynchronous activity.


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