An eBook Adventure

Edward A. Nater
Farhad X. Anklesaria
Ann Hill Duin

It’s June 2012, and summer is just beginning. Time to reflect on this eBook adventure.

We hope that you find the stories presented in this eBook to be inspiring and motivating - they have certainly inspired and motivated us! The projects described extend our reach, enhance access, advance our pedagogies, and strive to increase student success. Most represent initiatives developed with little or no support by small teams of dedicated faculty, students, and staff, “skunkworks” projects that, in the aggregate, represent transformative change in the academy.

When we initiated this project we had little knowledge about how to develop and publish an eBook. We all learned a great deal during the course of this, our own “skunkworks” project, as the process developed and evolved. Because we found the process to be interesting and enjoyable, we thought that you, the reader, might also be interested in how it came about and what lessons we learned.

Although we were unaware of it at the time, the process that evolved shares many similarities with the concept of an “unconference” as described in a recent article by Alan Jacobs (2012, The Atlantic). He states that “an unconference is ‘un’ for this very reason: the organizers create a minimal structure, and once the participants arrive they figure out what they want to learn, what they’re able to teach, and what they’re interested in talking about. For those who crave predictability, it can be an uncomfortable scene, but for those who are willing to take some risks with their time, it can be immensely rewarding, though you never know in advance what the rewards will be.”
An unconference is less about teaching others something and more about wanting to learn something. Similarly, this eBook is less about our wanting to teach others about technology-enhanced learning and more about us wanting to learn about current efforts in that area and how they might be transforming the University of Minnesota.
Two of us (Nater and Duin) met and talked about how we might, as professors returning from years in higher education administration, learn more about what’s happening on the digital frontlines. We also wanted to learn how to create eBooks for use in our teaching, research, and outreach efforts. We decided that we might be able to do both by developing an eBook on the subject of the current state of academic technology at UMN. From attending a digital teaching workshop, Ann knew that Farhad Anklesaria is one of the most knowledgeable individuals on eBooks at UMN. The three of us met and talked about eBook options.
We decided to form a team to develop this eBook, and as a starting point, to delve into the innovation present at the recent (Spring 2012) academic technology showcase. Inspired by contributors’ posters and passion for cultivating change, we issued an invitation to many of the individuals or teams who had exhibited at the showcase, and invited other contributors as well, expecting hopefully 20 contributed chapters. To our surprise and great delight, we received over 50 positive responses in just three days! 
Because we found the process of developing an eBook to be engaging, we thought others might also be interested in learning about it. So the invitation soliciting contributed chapters also included an invitation to join in the design team: "If you want to learn more about eBook design and development, as a co-designer(s), you will receive an eBook that we are developing on how to create eBooks. You also will be invited to collaborate with us as we explore the dimensions and impact of this work.”
This invitation also received an enthusiastic response, with 10 individuals volunteering to be co-designers. We established a series of biweekly meetings with the co-design team. Approximately half the members met face-to-face in a small conference room, and the others joined in via a Google+ hangout. Right from the start the co-designers encouraged us to have a limited peer review process so that contributors could say that chapters had been “invited and reviewed.” Each person volunteered to review 5+ chapters.
Again, similar to Jacobs’ description of an unconference: “The whole scene has a delightfully Woodstocky anarcho-syndicalist feel…The standard model shared by academic and business conferences – in which people who are thought to possess authoritative knowledge speak to people who are thought to know less—just doesn’t happen… The purpose is to get people who want to know stuff in the same room with people who do know stuff and give them the opportunity.”
From the start the co-design team meetings were egalitarian and highly engaging; the energy in the room was  palpable. Through these biweekly meetings a number of principles evolved that guided most of our efforts. These included:
From these principles, a process was developed to move from conception to finished eBook. The main steps in the process were:
Those involved in this eBook development process exemplified the best qualities of shared leadership. According to Pearce et al. (2010), “Shared leadership occurs when group members actively and intentionally shift the role of leader to one another as necessitated by the environment or circumstances in which the group operates” (151). While the three editors issued the initial invitation, the co-designers who volunteered immediately jumped in to contribute knowledge and lead as necessitated by each stage of this evolving project.

We cannot thank the co-designers enough; this project could not have been done without them. All were fully engaged; as Pearce et al. (2008) note, “Shared leadership involves a process where all members of a team are fully engaged in the leadership of the team... and entails a simultaneous, ongoing, mutual influence process involving the serial emergence of official as well as unofficial leaders” (353). It is “a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or organizational goals or both” (Pearce & Conger, 2003, 1).

Indeed, one of the hallmarks of shared leadership is that leaders emerge when needed and as their experience and abilities fit the situation at hand. Everyone volunteered for numerous tasks based on a combination of what they knew (e.g., Jude Higdon and Tom Fletcher each were in the process of doing their own eBooks, Abram Anders is extremely knowledgeable regarding social media) and what they wanted to learn (everyone wanted to learn more about what was happening with academic technology at UMN as well as how to create highly accessible eBooks). Lisa Johnston in her role with the University Libraries provided incredible help on copyright, licensing, and distribution of open source publications; Joel Dickinson and Christina Clarkson developed the logo, cover and flyer design and distribution plan; Anne Minenko contributed a clear focus on academic technology pedagogy; Francis Harvey brought an understanding of U-wide consortia and how to engage faculty in this endeavor; and Joe Moses drafted the initial press release. Of note: this particular interdisciplinary group would have never come together from a traditional formal publication process, yet this interdisciplinary, innovative group was exactly what this non-standard “book” project needed.
Decisions regarding the design, distribution, copyright, and numerous other aspects of the eBook and its development process were reached by consensus of the co-design team. In keeping with the principle of free and open access, we decided that a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license would be desirable, one that allowed end users to utilize materials in the eBook as long as the materials were attributed to the authors, keeping with the egalitarian spirit of the co-design team. To our surprise, all 50+ authors readily agreed to this license without objection.
Likewise, the co-design team decided that the eBook should be readable on as many platforms as possible, including iPad, Kindle, Nook, Android-based tablets, and others by basing it on the ePub open format. One of the consequences of this decision is that video and audio cannot be embedded directly in the eBook. As Farhad explained to one of the contributors: "We are trying to keep the eBook compatible with the largest possible number of different devices (not just iPads). ... Audio/video are not currently sanctioned components of ePub.  We could forcibly embed them ... and it would work on iPads, but likely not on many other devices.  ...  We think that for now perhaps the best middle road is to include a link (url) to your video, and host it somewhere." The author agreed with this direction.
Drawing from Jacobs’ unconference summary points, to sum up our eBook adventure, here’s what to do:
For us, this experience has been transformative. It’s shared leadership in action. And we look forward to the next one. Let us know if you’d like to join in the adventure!

First and foremost, we thank the authors who developed so many novel and interesting projects and who contributed chapters to this eBook. Your work is inspiring and your dedication to students and their success is the very heart of this great institution and the Land Grant Mission that helped found it.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the members of the co-design team. Their energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, skills, and especially their willingness to share made this eBook happen; it would simply not have been possible without them. Thank you!

Jacobs, A. (2012). What I Learned at Digital Summer Camp. The Atlantic

Pearce, C.L. & Conger, C. (Eds.). (2003). Shared Leadership: Reframing the Hows and Whys of Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Pearce, C.L., Hoch, J. E., Jeppe Jeppesen, H., & Wegge, J. (2010). New Forms of Management: Shared and Distributed Leadership in Organizations. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 9(4): 151-153.

Pearce, C.L., Manz, C.C., & Sims, H.P. Jr. (2008). The roles of vertical and shared leadership in the enactment of executive corruption: Implications for research and practice. The Leadership Quarterly 19(3): 353-359.


Edward A. Nater <>
Ed is a Professor in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, where he teaches courses in environmental science and soil science.  He has a long-standing interest in instructional technology and scientific visualization.
Farhad Xerxes Anklesaria <>
Farhad is in Academic Technology at the Office of Information Technology.  Since the days of the fledgling Internet to our now pervasive network and ubiquitous mobile devices, he has worked to bring new applications of digital technologies to Higher Education.
Ann Hill Duin <>
Ann Hill Duin is a professor in the Department of Writing Studies where her research focuses on shared leadership and the impact of digital technologies on communication and collaboration. Having pioneered the University’s first online course, she continues to teach hybrid and online courses on information design and plans to develop a MOOC.