Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
O'Reilly bridges print and onscreen gap
O'Reilly Media is offering a beta version of a new academic publishing effort called SafariU. It allows instructors of higher education computer science courses to assemble textbooks using material culled from a couple of thousand books by several publishers, add their own syllabus, presentations, or supplemental material, and then make the text book available to students. The book has the instructor's name on the cover and can be browsed by enrolled students online, sold at the local campus bookstore, or simply accessed online via the O'Reilly Safari electronic bookshelf.
This seems like a great way to improve the often sloppy classroom handouts that many instructors are forced to use because they're pulling the best materials from so many different sources. By offering a printed solution, SafariU brings the security of "dead trees" edition for the course, for those who haven't fully converted to onscreen reading. And, for those who have adapted to electronic texts, students get access to the original source material too, so they can explore further.
It's an innovative and interesting idea, and if it catches on I wonder if O'Reilly will make it available to non-academic customers. As the publisher of many end-user computer books, including the Missing Manual series, serious users could assemble their own books for their favorite applications. Additionally, SafariU allows instructors to share materials they've written, and it also draws from the online articles at the O'Reilly Network, so users could potentially create manuals with materials that aren't available in print from any source.
(Note: I'm an O'Reilly author, but I am not affiliated with SafariU.)