PUB310: Publishing in the digital environment

In 2006, our department needed someone with a background in multimedia/digital media to teach our publishing students, so I took up the challenge. I started teaching this course the year Amazon released its first Kindle – and what a ride it’s been!

Here’s an overview of the course, aimed at people who want to contribute to it. We plan to restructure the course for 2012 (since we’re resurrecting a postgraduate version in 2012, too), so this is based on the 2011 curriculum.

Please read the following if you’re here to help: [1][2][3]

In this overview, I deliberately keep some things in that need to change in order to demonstrate the challenges of curriculating a course in such a rapidly changing industry. I also have some [ideas about changing the way we teach the course, which aren’t necessarily part of the curriculum yet].

Scope (who’s taking it and how it fits in with the rest of my work):

  • Final-year students of the undergraduate publishing studies programme at the University of Pretoria.
  • Class size is between 20 and 30 each year.
  • A growing focus on e-production [publishers need technically skilled graduates more than anything].
  • Students have little or no experience with web development technologies (e.g. HTML, CSS, XML, digital file formats & encoding); however, [this is a course in the School of IT, so they should have].


1 – An overview of publishing in the digital environment

  • How and why certain digital technologies have been adopted within the various publishing fields
  • The impact of the digital revolution on print publications
  • How journals/scholarly articles/magazines/newspapers & newsletters are published digitally.
  • How the book publishing industry utilises digital methods [this industry is the fastest-changing one]
  • Important terms such as RSS, PDF and XML
  • Hardware that may be used to deliver and consume digital copy
  • The integration of print and electronic formats

2 – Ebooks in business and practise

  • Create an e-book in any of the well-established e-book authoring environments
    • Ebook conversion (not to be confused with creation)
    • Ebook creation
      • Hand-crafting (what’s the best text editor for newbies?)
      • With Pressbooks (I hope)
      • With InDesign (also used in other courses such as PUB220 and PUB321)
      • With ArborText (introductory only, advanced ArborText during postgrad.)
  • Electronic reading: it’s about the platform, not the device. E-book devices and software
    • For instance, demonstrate how Kindle books can be read pretty much anywhere
    • The relevance of “books in browsers” (permission to share #bib2011 videos?)
  • E-books in business and industry
    • Amazon, Apple, Google, Smashwords, O’Reilly, etc.
  • Technologies related to electronic reading  e-books, e-book reading devices and delivery platforms.
    • E-ink, CRT / LCD / OLED / Mirasol / Pixel Qi, etc.

3 – How to mark up content for use in the digital environment

This is the part where people sometimes get scared. At this juncture, I remind our students (something I wish I’d done the first year presenting the course):

  • We know you’re not programmers; however, you don’t need to be a programmer to learn this stuff
  • We’re passionate about electronic reading, but understand if you’re not (yet!)
  • We know you can’t necessarily afford an ereader or media tablet; you don’t need one (yet!)


  • Theme 3.1. What is markup?
  • Theme 3.2. HTML (5!), CSS and XML
  • Theme 3.3. EPUB and Kindle (and other formats if we have time)

4 – How to structure and manage content for use in the digital environment

  • Show how the digital publishing process impacts on traditional publishing models
  • More about XML / DTDs / web development technologies in the digital production process
  • Content management systems (ArborText or Pressbooks as examples?)
  • How publishing workflow has been adapted (in terms of everyday workflow and e-production)

5 – Accessibility

  • Justify why accessibility concerns are important for digital publishers publications
  • Suggest ways in which to address problems created by the digital divide
  • Define terms such as Open Access and the Creative Commons
  • Defend or argue against the adoption of Open Access practise

6 – Delivery formats platforms

  • Digital printing technologies vs. traditional printing technologies
  • Opportunities for sales in digital book publishing
  • Inclusion of multimedia content in published material
    • Delivery platforms for multimedia copy
    • Terms such as end user license agreement (EULA)
    • How literature may change through the availability of multimedia
  • What a digital marketing strategy is
    • What technologies may aid in a digital marketing strategy
    • The elements of digital marketing
    • Digital/online advertising techniques
    • The Long Tail Theory

Practical work:

In 2012,  we want this practical “stream” to feature from day one, not only during themes 2 and 3. We do expose students to these (and new) concepts in theory, but we want them to truly engage with these things next year (disclaimer: [these ideas] are mine and don’t necessarily reflect the University of Pretoria’s corporate… stuff).

Since we hadn’t been using our tutors’ time properly (mostly during themes 2 & 3, which were the ‘technical’ themes), this change is pretty important.

1. Converting ebooks e-publications

[Use fan fiction as source content – also implies a literary and legal understanding of the genre]

2. Creating e-publications.

[Help staff (or help them learn how to] edit the HTML of their own web content (see what I did with mine)]

3. Distributing e-publications (new)

[Possible course reading materials: a) Twitter feed, b) this blog, c) Google+. Limitation: internet access]

4. Understanding e-publication platforms (new)

[We don’t HAVE to use Adobe products. Let’s see if we can save the department money, and teach the same essential skills? Counter to this is the claim that Adobe products are industry standards.]

5. Understanding new ways of reading (new)

[Introduce Instapaper to students . This encourages them to save things to ‘read later’.] 

[Every tweet you make is worth XP (or something similar). Assuming we can apply game concepts to the course; it’s still being hotly debated]

6. Understanding digital media (new, and not necessarily for this course only)

[Exploring music: not a production, nor a music theory workshop – but investigating sound as a medium on its own (could LEAD to production, e.g. “Hey, lets make a binaural recording!”)]

[See how connected we can get in terms of information propagation: e.g. if I tweet a question, the first to answer it gets a cookie.]


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