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Publishing a Textbook with Instructional Design in Mind: Getting Quality Matters Certification for an OER Course

Published onDec 15, 2023
Publishing a Textbook with Instructional Design in Mind: Getting Quality Matters Certification for an OER Course


Dress, Appearance, and Diversity in U.S. Society is an open textbook which was recognized for its accessibility, visual appeal, and content as part of its associated course’s Quality Matters review process. Kelly Reddy-Best, the lead author and instructor for the course, worked with staff in the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching and the Iowa State University Library to collaboratively develop the textbook by repurposing content that she had previously created for her course. We customized this content to align with the course’s learning objectives and to help learners connect more meaningfully to its core concepts. Learner engagement is particularly important for this course since it covers topics such as identity, social justice, and diversity in ways that might be new to some audiences.


open educational resources; open textbooks; instructional design; library publishing partnerships

Project Link

Project Takeaways

  1. External reviews like those provided by Quality Matters help validate open educational resources (OER) as publications and instructional materials.

    • Like peer review, this feedback leads to further material improvement through critical feedback and comments given by the peers.

  2. OER are both publications and teaching materials, and they are significantly improved when developed with instructional design as core to the approach.

    • As part of course content development, authors should continually evaluate their project’s alignment with their course’s learning objectives, assessments, and learning activities.

  3. Instructional materials that are developed as OER can reach a broader audience by providing access to both their base content and additional exercises. Doing this supports not only instructors at other institutions but also the general audiences interested in the topics that the book covers.

  4. When collaborating closely on a publication’s development, prioritize tasks for instructors, instructional designers, and librarians—the three must collaborate, communicate effectively, and work independently.

Project Background

The Iowa State University Digital Press is the open access publishing program of the Iowa State University Library. Launched in 2019, it publishes journals, conference proceedings, books, and textbooks in disciplinary areas reflected in Iowa State’s curricular and research programs. The Digital Press publishes textbooks primarily through Pressbooks, an online book publishing platform based on WordPress. Janeway’s books plugin is used to catalog all books published by the Digital Press and to provide access to select books that are produced for publication as static files, such as PDFs.

The Team

A team of four handled the bulk of the work on this project. Kelly Reddy-Best, an associate professor who teaches the course in which the textbook was used, developed the content. She worked collaboratively with everyone on the team to align, enhance, and review her existing course materials for publication.

Lesya Hassall, the Senior Manager for Course Design and Quality, provided course design guidance. Course Design and Quality is a unit in Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching which partners with educators to advance student-centered learning. In addition to supporting instructors during course development, Lesya is a Quality Matters (QM) institutional coordinator who conducts internal reviews of courses that intend to undergo external reviews by trained QM experts for meeting the QM standards of course design quality.

Harrison W. Inefuku, the Scholarly Publishing Services Librarian, supported the initial setup of the Pressbooks site for Dr. Reddy-Best’s textbook, as well as the finishing work designing the textbook’s cover, assigning its DOI, and getting the book listed on the Digital Press’ Janeway catalog.

Abbey K. Elder, the Open Access & Scholarly Communication Librarian, trained Dr. Reddy-Best on accessibility and content design and supported her as she integrated content into her textbook’s Pressbooks site. Abbey leads the Open Education program at Iowa State University and provides point-of-need support for instructors interested in exploring open educational resources (OER) and related practices for their courses.

Communication Between Team Members

The staff who supported this project’s development took turns communicating with the author as she was developing and refining her materials. First, the author worked with Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) staff to assess the scope and content of her materials. Then, staff from the University Library supported the author as she worked to integrate her materials into their publishing platform and make final edits and design updates. This process of passing the project down the line allowed each of the offices supporting the author to take their time providing feedback without having to worry about conflicting with the other staff’s recommendations.

The Publication Process

Reviewing and Revising Existing Content

At the beginning of this project, Dr. Reddy-Best’s materials were scattered throughout Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. The first step was to compile this content and complete an initial round of organization. Dr. Reddy-Best then worked with CELT staff to edit the materials as part of a course redevelopment process. Lesya Hassall, who supported Dr. Reddy-Best’s course during this time, implemented the Quality Matters (QM) rubric of course design standards to ensure that the assessments, activities, content, and technologies being developed for Dr. Reddy-Best’s open textbook were aligned with her course learning objectives.

To achieve this alignment, backwards course design was applied. The team first focused on the essential questions that captured the core concerns within the course’s discipline. Next, they created measurable, valuable, and precise learning objectives which described specific skills and knowledge that students should master at the end of their course experience. This backwards course design approach was not always linear and straightforward, either. While it guided the development of the open textbook, sometimes the changes being implemented in the emerging text required that the course learning objectives be adjusted in response.

During this stage, a tension developed between the need to cover enough content while providing ample opportunities for students to engage with and practice new concepts. As this textbook would support an introductory course where students are confronted with difficult and sensitive concepts, they needed to be given time to embrace and reflect upon what they learned. The team realized that there was a lot of content to cover, so they focused on core concepts and meaningful practice opportunities for students. This allowed students to properly digest the information provided and make it part of their learning. Case studies that asked students to actively reflect on the concepts of diversity, justice, identity, and fashion were developed to assess their learning as well, and the text was further adapted to support students’ successful performance in these case study assessments.

Preparing Content for Publication

Following the review and editing of her course’s core content, Dr. Reddy-Best worked with staff from the University Library to import her content into their publishing platform, Pressbooks. This was handled through an initial chapter outline and formatting discussion, after which the major contents of the book were compiled. Dr. Reddy-Best supplied the content as Word files which had been formatted according to a template from the Digital Press team. Additional materials—such as images, presentation slides, and exercises—were shared as separate files for integration into the book as needed.

Adding Interactive and Design Elements

To build upon the work that Dr. Reddy-Best had completed with CELT to ensure that her textbook was both engaging and interesting for readers, Abbey K. Elder collaborated with the instructor on the development and integration of additional interactive and design elements throughout the textbook, such as images, callout boxes, and exercises (see Self-Check Exercise below).

Self-Check Exercise: Closures

Integrating these elements was done to help bring some of the concepts introduced by the book into focus for readers. Adding inclusive images and videos, many of which were produced by and spoke to the course’s student population, ensured that Dr. Reddy-Best’s textbook reflected her course’s focus on diversity and representation. During this development process, Elder also assisted with minor edits to the text for clarity and consistency.

Integrating opportunities for interaction into Dr. Reddy-Best’s textbook also supported the wider community of external readers who would have access to the open textbook upon its publication. Since its publication, most of the book’s readers have come from internet search engines directly, showing an interest in the book’s content outside of typical educational contexts. Having all of the context, exercises, and additional information necessary to interface with the book’s content within the text means that readers won’t need to have access to Dr. Kelly Reddy-best’s course in Canvas to fully appreciate her course’s content. As of September 2023, the website for Dress, Appearance, and Diversity in U.S. Society has received over 270,000 views from around the world, including the United States, the Philippines, India, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Pakistan, and others.

Finishing Work

Once the textbook was appropriately edited in Pressbooks, Dr. Reddy-Best asked two of her undergraduate teaching assistants for the course, as part of their paid responsibilities, to review the materials from a student perspective. Dr. Reddy-Best also worked with Harrison W. Inefuku, the lead of the Digital Press, who designed the book’s cover (Figure 1).

The cover art for the textbook, a collage of people engaging in various forms of dress and fashion with the title of the book and author over the image.
Figure 1

Finally, Dr. Reddy-Best used some of her professional development funds to hire a copy editor, who was provided access to the publishing platform and made edits directly in the book. While this process is described in a linear fashion, there was much back and forth between these individuals. Each team member was instrumental in making the various aspects of the book enhanced for students.

The Quality Matters Review Process

After Dr. Reddy-Best’s book was published and her course development was complete, it underwent a review and certification process managed by Quality Matters (QM). This process involves three trained reviewers external to the institution, who are asked to evaluate the quality of a course’s design using the seventh edition of the QM rubric consisting of 42 Course Design Standards. These design standards are broken into eight categories of General Standards, including:

  1. Course Overview and Introduction

  2. Learning Objectives (Competencies)

  3. Assessment and Measurement

  4. Instructional Materials

  5. Learning Activities and Learner Interaction

  6. Course Technology

  7. Learner Support

  8. Accessibility and Usability

In July 2023, the rubric was updated to incorporate guidance on inclusion and belonging via course design.

General Standard 4 in the QM rubric explicitly examines the quality of instructional materials. As part of the QM review process, the reviewers must have access to all of a course’s materials in order to assess the materials’ direct link to their associated course’s learning objectives, assessments, and activities, and their relevance to the course’s subject matter. By developing an open textbook for her course, Dr. Reddy-Best was able to provide easy access to her materials for the QM reviewers.

The QM reviewers for Dr. Reddy-Best’s course found her textbook to be highly engaging, relevant, and representing up-to-date theory and practice in the discipline. The open textbook was praised for its visual appeal, simple organization, and viable representation of the human fashion experiences in the contemporary United States. This validation was particularly notable because of the makeup of the reviewers that QM uses: one of the reviewers is an expert in the discipline, one acts as an advocate for student experience, and one serves as a Master reviewer. The QM Master reviewer is responsible for ensuring the rigor and consistency in the peer review process, so the instructor receives valuable feedback and helpful recommendations for improvement.

All reviewers noted that the textbook was directly aligned with the course’s learning objectives, and its structure supported course modularization–a strategy that allows to chunk up the course into digestible pieces of information to help students build a comprehensive understanding of the discipline. Other aspects of the textbook that received praise were associated with the content germane to the discipline, accessible language, and interactive practice opportunities.

The reviewers also provided constructive criticism and pointed to the potential text improvements. For example, the reviewers indicated that the open textbook should model academic integrity by providing a uniform way of citing sources and providing permissions for included instructional materials. While all permissions were proactively obtained for materials included within the textbook, a uniform citation style was adopted during final edits to address these comments.

After gaining QM certification, the course was included in the institutional list of QM-certified courses, which highlighted the quality of materials that could be created and shared as OER. This process helped to validate the work that Dr. Reddy-Best put into her course and the support that she had received from CELT and the Digital Press during her content’s review and development.

Other Reviews

As Dr. Reddy-Best has recounted, the new open textbook has made teaching her course much easier and more efficient. The course has 350 students enrolled each semester, on average. After implementing this open textbook, Dr. Reddy-Best has found that students ask significantly fewer logistical questions. Furthermore, students more frequently mention that they love how engaging and visually appealing their textbook is in the end-of-semester teaching evaluations. They also comment on how organized the course is and that the work they complete feels intentional, rather than seeming like “busy work.”

When initially creating the textbook, Dr. Reddy-Best mostly focused on how it would serve her students. She wanted to create an open educational resource so that her students did not have to pay for a textbook. While Dr. Reddy-Best knew that many universities and colleges across the United States taught a similar course in their fashion programs, she was pleasantly surprised to learn that they found the textbook useful in their curriculum. Since its publication, the course textbook has seen significant adoption by other institutions, and many faculty have emailed Dr. Reddy-Best thanking her for publishing her open textbook. These emails, along with student feedback, helped confirm that the work put into the text was worthwhile.

Final Reflection

What makes this example unique is not just that it underwent review through Quality Matters, but that the open textbook was published after extensive internal review and alignment with its associated course. During this publication process, the materials that Dr. Reddy-Best developed were continually assessed and refined so that students engaging with the work would be able to focus on the concepts core to the course. This process helped to illuminate what was missing from previous versions of the course and what aspects of the course were no longer needed. Previously, students had to download numerous documents in various formats. Now, the course has one spot for students to find their course materials, making it much easier to navigate. The process of reviewing, refining, and updating materials led to a final product which meets the needs of students and instructors alike, and this was only possible thanks to the collaboration and expertise brought to the project by the author and the staff from CELT and the University Library.

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