In order to pass this course, you should publish an ebook.

I want to try out a different way of evaluating an ebook project, but there seems to be some resistance to the idea – the idea being that they should actually publish a ebook – get it “out there” – as part of their qualification.

In this post, I try to explain my reasoning behind this idea.

About the course

I teach publishing students about publishing in the digital environment. While the course covers various aspects of e-publishing, our focus lies in ebooks. As one of their assignments, students prepare content into an EPUB document, theoretically meant for publication in the ebook marketplace. They also investigate various ebook vendors in a theoretical assignment where they act as a publisher intending to distribute its titles.

The theoretical nature of these assignments bothers me. The publishing industry is inherently a production industry. If we expect students to play a role in preparing and distributing content in the real world, they should have some experience in it.

Academic vs. vocational training

This proposal underlies the nature of evaluation methods in higher education. Universities are playing an increasing role in vocational training: that is, preparing students for the workplace. The need to offer both vocational and academic training is a balancing act between research-focused and practice-focused assignments.

Employers in South Africa need skilled workers:

“In 2009, Higher Education South Africa (HESA) released a study titled “Graduate Attributes”, which was a study on South African graduates from the perspective of employers. It highlighted a disparity between the expectations of employers and the readiness of graduates, and while expectations outstripped readiness, there was some good news as some colleges were driven towards producing graduates fully prepared for the workplace.”

One way to give my students workplace experience is to encourage them to publish an ebook. This won’t shift the outcomes of the assignments and it will encourage the kinds of teaching methods I believe are useful in both vocational and academic training: learning done through actively engaging with the subject matter.

Also, various degrees require of students a certain amount of workplace experience. What better way to have students experience the ebook industry than having them publish?