Increasing Student Commitment By Making a Print-On-Demand Book as a Class Project

Increasing Student Commitment By Making a Print-On-Demand Book as a Class Project
Marc Becker, Truman State University
January 2009

When I was in college, a classmate of mine complained that he put an extensive amount of work into his senior seminar project only to have it sit in a professor’s drawer where it would do no earthly good and where no one else would ever see it. His comments have always hung with me, and now as an educator lead me to look for ways to design projects that could have a life beyond the confines of the class. Previously, for example, I have had students design group webpages on various themes in a class. Although it is fun to watch students light up with excitement with the sense of empowerment that comes with making a webpage, a lack of technical support and a culture of being consumers rather than innovators of web design made that an increasingly frustrating experience.

The summer of 2007 I participated on a Task Force on the Americas delegation to Oaxaca, Mexico. A fellow delegation member, Gwen Meyer, teaches photography classes in California, and as a class project publishes the best student photographs in a print-on-demand book. She was planning to publish a similar book with her photographs from Oaxaca, and this led to a collaborative project in which I wrote text to accompany her photos. The result was a short book A Particular Resistance: A Solidarity Delegation Report Back on Social Justice Movements in Oaxaca (

This experience led me to ponder creating a similar book for one of my own classes. I decided to try to craft such a work for my JINS 338 class. This course, Race, Class, and Gender in Latin America, was a good test for this project because we were already conducting an experimental service learning project in Milan, Missouri. The project was to interview recent immigrants and longer term members in the community. Publishing their voices so we would have something to return to the community seemed to be a natural fit.

The project as a whole was an entirely collaborative class undertaking. The students designed questions and applied for IRB approval. Vista Corps volunteer Kelsey Aurand who already had contacts in Milan set up our interviews. For three weeks we traveled to Milan to interview people, and then the students transcribed the interviews. They then identified and grouped comments from the interviews into themes. They then organized the themes into a draft of the book manuscript. Smaller groups drafted text for an introduction and conclusion, and edited the text. One student took photographs for inclusion in the book, and another laid out the book in Pagemaker.

The result was a short book Voices of Milan ( We presented the book to a very engaged Global Issues Colloquium, and returned copies to the people whom we interviewed in Milan.

To my knowledge, there are two main print-on-demand businesses, Lulu (http:/// and Blurb ( Lulu tends to be somewhat cheaper, while Blurb tends to have nicer books and be more user friendly. Blurb has a tool that facilities a layout of the book, but it is a proprietary instrument that requires users to return to Blurb for copies of the book. On the other hand, Lulu requires that books be laid out in a word processor (like Microsoft Word) or page layout program (Pagemaker, QuarkXpress). We used Pagemaker simply because it was a program that I have and with which I have extensive experience in a previous life designing newsletters. Once the book is laid out, it can be easily exported to a PDF that can be emailed, posted on a website (ours is at, and printed out for free.

Lulu provides only a minimum of assistance, and previous knowledge of graphic design and a page layout program is a great help in designing a book. Unfortunately, the books tend to be on the expensive side (these are businesses, after all, and charging for them is how Lulu and Blurb make their money). But in the end, the books do look quite nice and can acquire a life that extends beyond that of the class–my original purpose in designing such an assignment.

My goal with this type of assignment also is that students will take it more seriously. Although the book is not a peer reviewed publication, it does require a certain amount of accountability. If the work is plagiarized, there is a greater chance that someone will find out and challenge the students. The students could also be embarrassed if the quality is substandard. This leads to a certain amount of motivation to produce a work that hopefully is of somewhat higher quality that what one might otherwise do for a class.

In my mind, though, the ultimate reward and satisfaction is to have produced something that has a life and social purpose that extends beyond the class. A print-on-demand book project is something that could be easily implemented in almost any class. Books can have anything–from only artwork, to both graphics and text (as with ours), or only straight text. Compiling senior seminar papers, for example, into a book would be relatively easy. Following instructions from Lulu, the margins and headers can easily be reset in Word to create a 6×9 book roughly the dimensions of a novel. In a sense, it would give the students a "publication." And this is exactly what we did in my Fall 2008 senior seminar (see If there is a desire, the class could apply for an ISBN and even sell the book on Amazon.