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Open e-Textbooks for Access to Music Education

Open e-Textbooks for Access to Music Education

This is the blog of the Open e-Textbooks for Access to Music Education project. This project is a collaboration between the Reid School of Music and Education, Design and Engagement, and is generously funded by a Student Experience Grant.

Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education Project Final Report

Sheet music with black pen lying on top.

This is the final report of the Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education Project.


Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education was a Student Experience Grant funded research and development project that ran from February to July 2021.  The project was managed by the OER Service based in Learning, Teaching and Web Services, in collaboration with Dr Nikki Moran and three student intern partners from the Reid School of Music; Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu, Ana Reina Garcia and Kari Ding.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of the project was to explore the creation of an open etextbook using existing content from the Reid School of Music’s Fundamentals of Music Theory course. This course covers the fundamentals of Western music theory, from absolute basics to more advanced concepts, and provides learners with the skills needed to read and write Western music notation, and to understand, analyse, and listen informedly. The course uses content originally created for a successful Coursera MOOC, in addition to new materials developed more recently for an on campus blended learning course, addressing global decolonisation issues around music theory and music education. These high-quality resources were ideally suited for further repurposing to create an open textbook, increasing the use of this tried-and-tested content, and making it available to teachers and learners in an accessible format ideally suited to hybrid and online learning.

The project provided us with an opportunity to evaluate a range of open textbook platforms and to gain valuable hands-on experience of the process and practicalities of creating an open textbook.  This experience is particularly valuable at a time when universities are increasingly moving from print to digital textbooks and are facing rapidly rising textbook licensing costs. Open textbooks have the potential to benefit the University by reducing textbook costs, benefit staff by providing access to easily customisable open textbooks, and benefit students by providing free, high quality digital learning materials.

The project also enabled our student partners to develop valuable digital and copyright literacy skills including an understanding of open educational resources, open licenses and open etextbooks, familiarity with current etextbook applications, and experience of working with existing digital content and educational resources across a range of platforms.

Project Structure

The project was managed by Lorna M. Cambell, with support from Charlie Farley, both from the OER Service.  Academic oversight and input was provided by Dr Nikki Moran, Reid School of Music.  Owing to the requirements of Student Experience Grant funding, it was necessary to recruit student partners prior to submitting the project proposal.  Reid School of Music students were invited to register their interest via e-mail.  Eighteen undergraduate and postgraduate students applied, indicating that there is considerable interest among Music students to engage with open education projects of this kind.  Three students were invited to join the project as partners, Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu, BMus; Ana Reina Garcia, MA; and Kari Ding, MMus Musicology.  The student partners were employed through Unitemps to work 5 hours per week for the duration of the project from March through to the end of June.

Owing to COVID-19 restrictions, the project was undertaken entirely online.  Microsoft Teams was used to facilitate project work and a project blog was set up on the University’s academic blogging platform, Blogs.Ed.  The project team met weekly on Monday mornings, to coordinate activities and encourage team working.   The interns worked flexibly for the remainder of the week and were encouraged to coordinate their work with each other.

Training about open education, OER, copyright, open licensing and academic blogging was provided at the start of the project and the interns were encouraged to take advantage of other training opportunities available to them as members of staff.

Project Outputs

Project Blog

The project blog, Open e-Textbooks for Access to Music Education, was used to disseminate the outputs of the project. Interns were also encouraged to reflect on and blog about their experience of participating in the project and attending the OERxDomains Conference.  In his final reflection on the project, Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu wrote;

“This project has got me inspired towards creating an independent OER project in music theory based on the ABRSM theory syllabus. To achieve this new goal of mine, I look forward to deploying skills developed on this project such as collaboration, research, design thinking, and other technical skills. I will dearly miss the entire team that has made this Project a possibility – Lorna, Charlie, Nikki, Kari, and Ana – and I look forward to engaging with other opportunities within and beyond the University of Edinburgh to learn and contribute meaningfully towards music education projects.”

Open Textbook Platform Evaluation

The first task undertaken by the interns was to explore a number of different open textbooks and open textbook providers and blog about their findings.

The interns then evaluated a range of open textbook platforms in order to identify a platform suitable for publishing the Fundamentals of Music Theory open textbook

Github Pages

GitHub Pages is a free service provided by GitHub that uses Jekyll to transform plain text GitHub repositories into code to create static websites.  Some knowledge of coding is required to use Github Pages, including Jekyll, HTML, CSS and JavaScript.  Content is stored and edited in the GitHub cloud, and there is a soft bandwidth limit of 100Gb per month.

GitHub is a popular hosting service, which is continually being updated and has a large community to support new users.  GitHub pages is aimed primarily at the software development community and is not specifically designed for creating and publishing open e-textbooks.  The OER Showcase already includes 3 textbooks created by staff on GitHub pages, all of which cover programming topics.


Manifold is a not-for-profit open-source platform created by the University of Minnesota to read and publish e-books in multiple formats.  This platform is also designed to engage with readers and facilitate discussion with tools such as annotation, sharing, highlighting, bookmarking, and commenting.  Manifold provides a simple user interface, the ability to include supplementary resources in the main material, unlimited ability to edit, update, and (re)export books.  It does not generate different formats so it is necessary to produce these manually before uploading them. Manifold servers can be hosted locally or textbooks can be uploaded to the University of Minnesota Press Open-Access Library.


Pressbooks is an open-source content management system based on WordPress for creating and distributing ebooks and open educational resources (OER). Pressbooks is designed for, but not limited to, educational institutions, and is also used by small publishers and individual authors. Content is generated from a single source in multiple formats including PDF, EPUB, MOBI, Webbook, and HTML. The familiarity of the WordPress interface makes the process of creating content in Pressbooks relatively straightforward. Pressbooks also offers unlimited ability to edit, update, and (re)export books through its simple interface and also has a daily backup system.  Pressbooks can be hosted locally, or users can subscribe to a hosted service for a limited cost.

Edinburgh Diamond

Edinburgh Diamond is a service provided by Edinburgh University Library that supports the publication of academic and student-led Open Access books and journals.  The service is based on Open Monograph Press, an open source software platform for managing and publishing scholarly books. Open Monograph Press manages the editorial workflow for creating and editing monographs and scholarly works through internal and external review, editing, cataloguing, production, and publication. OMP is not primarily designed for hosting open textbooks and open educational resources.  As a University of Edinburgh service, support is provided by the Library to upload and catalogue ebooks, however all the different file formats for each book must be generated manually.

Given the short duration of the project, and limited ability to get new software running on University servers at short notice and without additional resource, the project decided to publish the book on the University’s new ebook platform Edinburgh Diamond, which was under development at the time the project was underway.  Open Access Publishing Officer Rebecca Wojturska provided invaluable support throughout the project and oversaw the process of assigning ISBN and DOIs, and publishing the book to the new platform to coincide with the launch of the service in October 2021.

OERxDomains Conference Presentation

The project team presented a paper about open textbook initiative at the OERxDomains Conference in April 2021 – “The Scale of Open: Repurposing open resources for music education”. The paper was introduced by L. Campbell and presented by student interns Ifeanyichukwu, Ana and Kari.  The talk was well received, with delegates commenting on how important it was to hear students’ voices.

Fundamentals of Music Theory Open Textbook

The Fundamentals of Music Theory open textbook was published in October 2021 as the first ebook on the newly launched Edinburgh Diamond service. The textbook is currently available in four formats;  Word, PDF, ePub (flowable), ePub (fixed format) and is licensed CC BY-NC-SA.  An HTML version of the book has also been created and will be added to the platform at a later date.  In order to ensure the book is as accessible and re-purposable as possible, it can be downloaded in its entirety or as individual topics.  Tweets announcing the launch of the service and publication of the book resulted in a positive response and gathered considerable attention.

Lessons Learned

The project successfully demonstrated that it is possible to re-purpose content from an existing MOOC and on campus course to create a new open textbook, the first of its kind produced by the University.  As a result, the OER Service gained considerable insight into the process and practicalities of producing ebooks and open textbooks from legacy content.

The project has also spurred on further development and improvement of the Coursera Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC, with the production of new, revised video material and additional content.  The MOOC will be relaunched with this new content in the New Year.  Edinburgh students have already benefited from the new video material in this year’s on-campus Level 7 Fundamentals of Music Theory course.  Dr Nikki Moran commented:

“In terms of the quality of teaching and learning that these students have received, I believe that they’ve had great benefit from the reflective cycle behind this eTextbook project, where the student interns’ input and development of my original teaching materials has brought about further T&L enhancement.  I also expect this eTextbook to be an important asset in the future for on-site students.”

Having the input of a senior academic and subject specialist was critical to the success of this project.  Dr Nikki Moran worked with the student interns to oversee the development and editing of the book content.  Nikki’s input was invaluable in the latter stages of the project when she was responsible for undertaking the final proofread of the book, prior to the OER Service generating the individual book files.

Having multiple editors working on different sections on the textbook enabled the project to produce the book content rapidly, however despite using a set template, formatting inconsistencies crept in as the interns were using different versions of Word on their personal laptops.  Although minor formatting inconsistencies had little visible impact on Word and PDF files, they often had a significant impact when generating ePub and HTML files. These issues could be mitigated by all editors using the same online version of Word, and by a single editor managing the golden copy once all content has been assembled.

As the book content was assembled from legacy materials produced by different authors over a number of years, the formatting and resolution of graphics was inconsistent.  This meant that our student interns had to recreated some of the lower resolution images, so they were of sufficient quality for publication.  Ideally all graphics should have been recreated from scratch using musical notation software to ensure consistency and clarity, however it was not possible to do this within the time frame of the project.

While it is relatively simple to create basic ePub files from Word and PDF documents using Adobe InDesign, more complex formatting, typesetting and graphic design requires some knowledge of the programme and the ability to work with templates.  If the OER Service is going to produce more open textbooks in the future, it may be beneficial to commission the design of a basic InDesign template with appropriate University of Edinburgh branding.

Opting to publish our open textbook through the Library’s Edinburgh Diamond service meant that we benefited from the support and expertise of Library colleagues.  This was particularly important in terms of allocating ISBN and DOIs and uploading the book files to the publishing platform. The book also provided a useful proof of concept for the service to launch with.  However because Open Monograph Press is primarily designed for publishing scholarly works and managing editorial workflows, it does not automatically generate the individual book files from a golden copy.  As a result, all the different file formats have to be generated and managed manually for each section of the book; a total of 53 files in total, plus associated stylesheets and graphics.   In addition, the platform workflow, particularly around the allocation of DOIs, is better suited to scholarly works than open educational resources, however the experience gained from this proof of concept project means that it should be possible to amend the production process for future open textbooks.


The Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education project has fulfilled its aim of exploring the creation of an open etextbook using existing open licensed content.  The project has enabled us to explore and evaluate different open textbook platforms, learn about the logistics and practical process of creating open textbooks from legacy content, and assess the feasibility of whether it will be possible to extend this to further open textbook projects.  We hope that the publication of Fundamentals of Music Theory will be a valuable first step in enabling the University to shift towards the use of open textbooks across a number of undergraduate courses.  This would benefit the University by reducing textbook costs, benefit staff by providing them with access to easily customisable open textbooks, and benefit students by providing them with free, high quality digital learning materials.


Project Contributors

Lorna M. Campbell, OER Service

Kari Ding, Reid School of Music

Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu, Reid School of Music

Stephanie Farley, OER Service

Ana Reina Garcia, Reid School of Music

Ashleigh Mazouji, Unitemps

Dr Nikki Moran, Reid School of Music

Rebecca Wojturska, Library & University Collections


Header image: Free to use image from Pixabay by HeungSoon.

(Royalty free image on Pixabay by HeungSoon.)

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