ENGLISH 1302: Narrowed Research questions in MLA format

Local Hosting of Faculty-Created
Open Education Resources
Launching Pressbooks
Joseph Letriz

Joseph Letriz (jletriz@dbq.edu) is the Electronic Systems Librarian, University of
Dubuque. © 2022.
Rising costs of secondary education institutions, coupled with the inflated cost of textbooks, have
forced students to make decisions on whether they can afford the primary materials for their classes.
Publishers working to supply digital access codes, which limit the ability of students to copy, print, or
share the materials, or resell the textbook after the course is over, have further pushed students into
forgoing purchasing materials. In recent years, institutions have moved to support OER (Open
Education Resources) initiatives to provide students a cost-free primary text or supplement to their
materials. This allows students unfettered access to quality resources that help drive engagement in
courses, from homework to discussions. While larger institutions or in-state partnerships with
resource sharing consortiums, such as the MnPALS cooperation with the state of Minnesota, provide
access to platforms like Pressbooks, smaller institutions and private colleges don’t always have the
ability to negotiate these types of relationships. In this case study, I will cover the foundations
necessary to start a low-cost, self-hosted solution to support faculty creation of OER material and the
available resources that the University of Dubuque utilized in their development process. This
overview will briefly cover the skills and knowledge needed to support the growth of this initiative
with minimal complexity and as little jargon as possible.
At the University of Dubuque, the library installed, configured, and deployed an instance of
Pressbooks to support faculty development of Open Education Resources (OER). The University of
Dubuque is a small, private university with a total full-time enrollment (FTE) of about 2,000. Two
library personnel lead the deployment of the resource. As many universities find themselves
grappling with an increase in textbook costs and other barriers to students’ access to quality
information, libraries have emerged as a natural partner within institutions to identify, curate, and
provide access to quality OER. Okamoto points towards a variety of ways that libraries have
managed this, including the Community College Consortium for Open Education Resources
(CCCOER), which includes “150 member colleges … promot[ing] OER adoption to enhance
teaching and learning.”1 Braddlee and VanScoy state that librarians hold an important role in
“supporting faculty and students in expanding the range of OER” through a number of methods,
referencing prior research that Okamoto performed.2 From a number of interviews from similarly
sized liberal arts colleges, Schleicher et al. state that librarians leading the initiatives for OER “may
need technical skills … to assist faculty in developing OER projects.” 3 The benefits for students in
terms of cost alone show that OER supported projects, such as the launch of Pressbooks at the
University of Dubuque, has longstanding benefits for faculty, students, and the library.4
Pressbooks is an open-source book content management system, making the software free for
anyone to utilize, customize, and remix. With an open-source software as the basis for this project,
the University of Dubuque could view and change any of the underlying codebase to fit their exact
needs to provide a platform for faculty to publish and develop OER content for their classes and
students. The overlaying interface and configuration of Pressbooks is built upon a fresh
installation of the WordPress blog hosting system utilizing the multisite feature. These two
systems are free to install, configure, and deploy on a locally hosted or cloud-based network.
Larger consortiums, which can consist of state level organizations, universities, and partnerships
with businesses, may have the flexibility in spending to fund a hosted solution from the company
itself. The cost of paying for a hosted solution can vary depending on the needs of the community
served. A Pressbooks EDU single network plan, hosted by Pressbooks, can cost $7,000 a year for
the Silver plan or $14,000 a year for the Gold plan.5 At the University of Dubuque, we opted for the
low-cost solution of locally hosting our installation, which involved configuring the software
locally and providing our own support for the faculty and students utilizing it. In this case study, I
will detail how we successfully deployed the instance of Pressbooks for the University of Dubuque.
This case study will cover the documentation used, the systems and services utilized to support
the network, and the timeline from beginning the project to its successful launch.
To start the installation process, there needs to be a web server to host the Pressbooks instance.
At the University of Dubuque, we used an already configured Amazon Web Services (AWS)
account to set up the server that Pressbooks would run on. AWS offers a variety of tiers for its web
server hosting, from the smallest available configuration that can be used for free to larger, more
powerful instances for public access. At the University of Dubuque, we opted for the AWS t3a.large
instance type, which gave us access to a faster server load for processing the installation and
running the instance operations, as well as better network bandwidth.6 Once we had the instance
type selected, AWS allowed for configuration of a variety of operating system (OS) installations
that come preconfigured or an à la carte option. We chose the same OS platform that we utilize for
our digital repository, a C-Panel, CentOS 7 instance, as we already owned an educational software
license for it. C-Panel offers a reduced cost, education license available for any institutions with
a .edu domain. The application to receive an educational license for the C-Panel account takes little
time to fill out and the only cost associated with the initial application is a $30 processing fee.7
Once C-Panel activated the education license on our primary platform, the license was utilized on
the other instances without having to worry about multisite or platform license fees.
AWS launches the instance in the EC2 Services page listed under the account, which details the
instance’s setup, volumes attached to the instance that the software gets installed on (with
additional volumes available to add onto the instance if necessary), and the ability to create
snapshots of the instance for backups and restoration of the installation configuration. AWS
categorizes volumes as the primary storage devices for the installation, akin to a virtual hard
drive, while the snapshots function as a copy of that storage device.
During the configuration process, AWS provides additional information about all of the options
available in their EC2 service. As these are not directly relevant here, I will not go into detail about
them. At the University of Dubuque, we had preconfigured Security Groups and Snapshot
schedules set up that we applied to the Pressbooks instance before we installed the underlying
The primary documentation used for the platform setup before installing the platform came from
the Pressbooks documentation site.8 The documentation begins by directing users to WordPress
and their famous 5-minute install. WordPress documents are available on their website
(https://wordpress.com/support/); installation directions include prompts that guide users
through the entire setup and configuration process. Once the WordPress installation process is
complete, Pressbooks can be set up on top of the WordPress site by following the installation
directions from the Pressbooks documentation. The beginning portion of configuring the
WordPress site for Pressbooks involves editing the configuration file for WordPress to allow for
multisite setups on the single instance of WordPress. Once the Pressbooks site is installed,
Pressbooks will require additional plugins through WordPress in order for Pressbooks to function
correctly. Again, the installation documentation for Pressbooks walks through each of the
necessary plugins, providing directions on how to configure the files for the installation to work
correctly, how to start the configuration of users and appearance, and how to begin the creation of
digital materials on the site. Access to Pressbooks can be set up through the installation itself,
using plugins to link the installation to Microsoft Office accounts, Google accounts, or any others
that might be used. Once this final step is completed (which will vary institution by institution
depending on what service the institution utilizes for their primary authentication method ), the
Pressbooks site is ready to be utilized.
There are two kinds of regular maintenance needed to keep the installation up to date. The first
relates to the Pressbooks and WordPress installations and updates, changes to configurations,
additions, or deletions for the instance. Most of these software updates, configuration changes,
and plugin updates are handled through the Pressbooks interface under the Network Manager
administrator menu. Since Pressbooks is a layered software that’s built on the WordPress
platform, all of the network configuration options use the same WordPress tools and user
interface. The second kind of maintenance is done through a terminal command-line interface
(CLI) connection to the AWS instance. This includes server maintenance tasks, which can be
preconfigured through a script run on the server or handled by an administrator with sufficient
knowledge of the system. The CLI can also locate the error logs to pinpoint any errors that may
have happened during setup and configuration. This maintenance can run on a monthly schedule,
usually to ensure that web hosting software or internet access services are running correctly on
the AWS instance in addition to any server updates for the OS and installed platform.
At a smaller institution, the work on Pressbooks can be handled by a librarian or professional staff
member, as WordPress makes the procedure as simple as possible for anyone. The command-line
interface work, if an OS is installed without a user interface, can be handled by either a librarian
familiar with terminal commands or a member of the institution’s help desk or information
technology support personnel. Any additional dependencies outside of what comes with
WordPress are easily handled through the same Network Manager administrator menu. Most
installs include a number of default configuration options, such as uploading documents, printing
from a PDF, or view functionalities. At the University of Dubuque, any additional dependencies
were all installed using WordPress and configured on Pressbooks without any need to access the
server directly. For a smaller institution, this makes the process of approaching a self -hosted
solution sustainable over time, as it does not require specialized knowledge of servers to handle
Pressbooks once it is installed.
When we launched Pressbooks at the University of Dubuque (http://pressbooks.dbq.edu) and
wanted to showcase how using the platform would be advantageous, we worked with a geology
professor who had already created his own textbook for his entry level geology course. The PDF
he created was over 170 pages long and included all of the terminology, concepts, and example
questions the students would see on the quizzes.9 We worked with the professor to get the
original Word document of his textbook, complete with his own layout structure, font, and
headings, correctly formatted to import into Pressbooks. The system manages the import process
by utilizing very basic formatting of the document, identifying chapters based on the heading
types.10 Essentially, the library staff worked with the professor to sanitize the document of all
unnecessary formatting, laid out the primary chapter headings in the document using the Word
heading formats that are supported, and then processed the document through the Pressbooks
tools for importing.
With the primary example uploaded and ready to showcase to the faculty members, our library
director began fielding the requests of other faculty members at the University of Dubuque.11 The
current process for working with faculty involves sending any interested faculty the list of
required reading that Pressbooks has hosted on their website. This includes materials related to
creating the content directly in Pressbooks, importing the content from a Word document if
authors already have something they want to use, and setting up an account as an author on
Pressbooks. In addition to the geology professor mentioned above, two additional faculty
members in vastly different departments, Computer Information Science and Philosophy, used our
Pressbooks instance to curate their materials for their students. As the instance is built on a
WordPress multisite installation, library staff are able to install and configure a variety of
additional material for faculty—enabling practice quizzes, the list of glossary terms to study, and
other material—either through the native Pressbooks interface or with the assistance of open-
source plugins such as H5P, a plugin that allows community-created videos, presentations,
quizzes, and interactive content to be created, shared, and reused. All of these additional
configuration options, including adding the additional tools for faculty, are handled through the
Network Manager administrator menu. Faculty with questions or needs for assistance can reach
out to library personnel directly through email or by setting up a Teams or Zoom call to walk
through the problem they might have or express a need that they can assist with.
Throughout the process, the University of Dubuque’s work came to fruition through the efforts of
one librarian focused on the application and server side management and a library worker who
was familiar with MySQL query language and data management. This partnership proved
invaluable in working with the nuances of configuring the SQL database to the necessary
specifications. For any institution looking to have an uncustomized database, the WordPress
installation configuration options work without any additional knowledge or customization
necessary. The library’s access to the AWS instance from the campus needed involvement by the
campus Information Technology department’s help desk to approve the IP address on file for the
DNS configuration. In simpler terms, once the library set up the AWS instance with an elastic IP
address (the term Amazon uses on AWS to refer to their ranges of IP addresses) and configured
the domain information on Pressbooks through the installation, the library provided that
information to the help desk and they updated the necessary documents and certificates. The last


piece of the process, inviting users to utilize installation, required the most patience and is an
ongoing process.
In setting up the accounts locally, for more restricted access, Pressbooks provides only temporary
account status to any created user accounts. This means if a faculty member has an account
created for them by the institution in July but doesn’t attempt to sign in to the account until
September, Pressbooks will not hold onto that information in the SQL database. After a default
period of three days, which is customizable through the WordPress configuration options, the
username is not retained by the system and the new account creation process has to begin again.
There are options to link the installation to a single sign-on system, such as Microsoft’s ADFS or a
program such as Shibboleth or Google Apps. Directions for setting up this configuration option are
also available as part of Pressbooks documentation on their website.
At the University of Dubuque, having a small FTE allows for more time to work closely with a
faculty member throughout the OER creation process, as the faculty are more flexible with their
time. The current process of creating accounts as needed, on an individual basis, wor ks well when
handling limited requests. Larger institutions that would utilize this method of configuration
might find it easier to streamline the request through a single sign-on system, an authentication
method that is automated through an administrator or Pressbooks or another program.
After the rollout of the Pressbooks site to the campus community, we encountered additional
needs for our instance that weren’t configured as part of the base installation of the site. For
faculty members registered for an account on the site, Pressbooks would allow their account to
have basic user access to the features necessary to start creating their OER. However, this did not
allow for the usage of a majority of the features that Pressbooks offers. Part of this disconnect
stemmed from the way the accounts were created on our multisite instance. Accounts created
need to be manually added and confirmed as an existing account on the Pressbooks site as an
author in order to allow access to the full suite of options available for the OER creation.
The other hang-up in access for faculty came from the way Pressbooks handles email for new
registration, password change information, or any type of communication. Prior to June 2020,
developers were able to simply connect a WordPress site, or other sites, to Gmail using a simple
authentication of their account using their username and password. In June 2020, Google required
users who want to utilize Gmail to send emails from a new site, or in this case a locally created
instance of a WordPress multisite for Pressbooks, to authenticate their account information by
authorizing the site through a Google Developer API, paying for access to the plugin that would
allow for configuration of Gmail, Outlook, or other email providers, or rely on the site maintainers
to configure their own email services through the server itself.12 If it is built into the budget of the
university to purchase and subscribe to a service provided by a plugin owner, that option works
without additional server configuration. Our institution, however, was limited in its payment
options and was unable to utilize standard forms of payment required by the plugin providers. As
such, we are manually reviewing the registration requests for the site and creating accounts on
Pressbooks on an as-needed basis.
The University of Dubuque’s initial introduction to Pressbooks came from attending the Library
Technical Conference 2019, held at Macalester College in Minnesota. While there, representatives
from the MnPals consortium walked through the work done between the University of Minnesota
and the state library system to integrate their instance of Pressbooks throughout public library
systems and university systems.13 The work done at our institution is at a significantly smaller
scale, only being utilized by faculty members at the university and members of the university
community, including adjunct professors and professional staff. While work on a consortium level
can proceed quickly, as there are multiple parties involved in the creation of the resource, we at
the University of Dubuque had a small number of people immediately working on the project. The
discussion between the two personnel in the library handling the system work and the director of
the library took the longest amount of time, followed by a couple of months between contact with
Pressbooks about pricing, hosting through them, and conversations at the state level attempting to
gauge interest from additional parties to partner with. Initial conversations at local state
conferences, with the larger public institution librarians participating in discussions, didn’t evolve
into an actionable plan. From there, the planning for the setup of the AWS instance to install
WordPress and Pressbooks took a month to set up. Another two weeks were spent working with
the MySQL database to customize it to the university’s needs and upload the instructor book used
as the pilot upload. From start to finish, seven months passed to the launch and rollout of the
product. Since the launch of the platform, work has started on identifying faculty who would
benefit from using Pressbooks, with surveys across the institution to glean insight into what
faculty are currently doing, how they and their students can benefit from this, and all the steps
With the work done at the University of Dubuque, operating as a private, smaller university
allowed for more flexibility in our adoption of technology, a more focused approach to introducing
new systems to the university at large, and a less bureaucratic approach to seeking approval. In
the library, we recognized that we were in a unique position to begin this development and
implementation rapidly for the university and took advantage of that.

1 Karen Okamoto, “Making Higher Education More Affordable, One Course Reading at a Time:
Academic Libraries as Key Advocates for Open Access Textbooks and Educational Resources ,”
Public Services Quarterly 9, no. 4 (2013): 4.
2 Dr. Braddlee and Amy VanScoy, “Bridging the Chasm: Faculty Support Roles for Academic
Librarians in the Adoption of Open Educational Resources,” College & Research Libraries (May
2019): 429.
3 Caitlin A. Schleicher, Christopher A. Barnes, and Ronald A. Joslin, “OER Initiatives at Liberal Arts
Colleges: Building Support at Three Small, Private Institutions,” Journal of Librarianship and
Scholarly Communication 8 (2020): 16.
4 Jennifer Snoek-Brown, Dale Coleman, and Candice Watkins, “From Spark to Flame, Lighting the
Way for Sustainable Student OER Advocacy Framework at a Community College,” Scholarly
Communication 82, no. 8 (2021): 2.


5 PressbooksEDU, PressbooksEDU Plans Q3 2019, received July 26, 2019, Adobe PDF.
6 “Amazon EC2 T3 Instances”, Amazon, last modified September 14, 2021,
7“Educational License Application”, cPanel, accessed March 14, 2022,
8 “Installation.”, Pressbooks Documentation, Pressbooks, last modified February 23, 2022,
9 Dale Easley, “The Story of the Earth.” Dale Easley, September 1, 2021,
10 “Import from a Word Document.”, Pressbooks User Guide, Accessed March 14, 2022,

Bring Your Content Into Pressbooks

11 Dale Easley, The Story of Earth (Dubuque: University of Dubuque Pressbooks),
12 “How to Upgrade to OAuth2 Security for Existing Google/Gmail Accounts.”, Postbox, Accessed
September 1, 2021, https://support.postbox-inc.com/hc/en-us/articles/218446767-How-to-
13 “About the Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project.”, Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project,
Accessed September 1, 2021, https://mlpp.pressbooks.pub/about-the-minnesota-library-

Bring Your Content Into Pressbooks

Bring Your Content Into Pressbooks



About the Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project

About the Minnesota Libraries Publishing Project

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