Cloud-Based Authoring Using Inkling Habitat

Thankfully, the system by which textbook authors author content is changing. For this author, this change can’t come fast enough.

Luckily for me, I did not have to work with tear sheets – pages that were torn from old textbooks and then marked up by handwritten notes or short typed clips of changes.  But I  distinctly do remember shipping printed pages, sometimes printed using dot-matrix printers, off to my editors using UPS and FedEx.  This gave way to file exchange systems, in which I logged into a central location, downloaded a file, edited it, and then submitted it back to my editors for review. Thankfully, all of these systems are effectively dead with the invention of cloud-based publishing platforms.

So what was the problem with these earlier systems? After all, they contributed to the creation of countless textbooks and the education of millions of students. The problem was time. None of these systems addressed the real need of education publishing – the ability to create content that rapidly adapts to the changing world that we live in. Increasingly, teaching is about making content relevant to the current environment in which we live, and nowhere is this more important than in content generation for the sciences.


Last year, I was selected to work on the pilot of the McGraw-Hill – Inkling Habitat partnership. The text that we chose for this was the latest edition of the Mader/Windelspecht Human Biology text (14th edition).


Normally, the revision of a text in its 14th edition should be a relatively simple process. Update content, verify statistics, and generate a few new readings that address some of the more current topics covered by the text. But for this text, our team decided to test the system. Not only did we generate new content, but we reorganized the chapter content within the text, revised the assessment pieces at the end of each chapter, and expanded our use of media integration. In other words, we took Habitat for a test drive.

How did it perform?  As an instructor, I would give it a grade nothing short of excellent. Oh, there were a few problems initially, but the support from the Inkling group and the production team at McGraw-Hill was superb, and we never experienced any issues that delayed the production process. And I should add that these type of delays were common in earlier systems.

So, what then are the benefits of cloud-based authoring over traditional file-exchange systems?

  1. Ease of Use.  While I am definitely a tech-geek, and actually enjoy playing around with new programs, this was an unbelievably simply platform to use. I was up and running generating content within a few minutes. The use of patterns, which predefined the format of everything from video placement to special text boxes, reduced the learning curve significantly.
  2. Collaboration Potential.  For multi-author teams, file transfer programs present real problems in authoring, since only one person may work on the file at a time, and there is always the danger of overwriting content. This is not an issue with a cloud-based authoring system.
  3. Media Integration. The popularity of content delivery using video (for example, Bozeman  Biology and our own Ricochet Science YouTube channel) demonstrates the fact that multimedia delivery of content is important.  The Habitat platform allows for the seamless integration of most media formats into the platform using a simple drag and drop format. The need for technical expertise in media integration is minimal.

But the most important opportunity that cloud-based authoring system present is that we are rapidly approaching the point by which we can generate a continuously-updated textbook. This will be the game-changing event in the content-generation world. Imagine a world where the content of a text, and all of its supporting assessment materials (Connect and LearnSmart), is updated on a regular basis, and perhaps instantly. Instructors will no longer need to search for relevancy material in their classes, and students can be confident that what they are learning is the most up-to-date content in their field.

I have heard that the textbook is dead. While it is true that the traditional printed text may be heading for extinction, the truth is that a continuously-updated text represents the next evolutionary step in the delivery of content in higher education, and that cloud-based publishing platforms, such as Habitat, are making this possible.

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