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Write a Micro-Textbook

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Write a complete first draft of a micro-textbook on a subject of your choice. Sharpen your own understanding, and distill your expertise into something you can publish, teach, or sell.


What is a micro-textbook?

A micro-textbook is a substantial work of didactic writing. It's bigger than a tutorial, but much smaller than an actual textbook. On the low end, it could be about 2000 words, and on the high end could get up to about 20,000. Here are a few examples of writings that I think qualify as micro-textbooks:

This course will help you produce a micro-textbook consisting of:

  • Three chapters, each designed to supplement something like a 90-minute lesson.
  • A glossary.
  • Cheatsheets, templates, checklists, or other additional resources.

What will I do in this course?

  • Write a first draft of a micro-textbook on a topic of your choice.
  • Sharpen your understanding of your topic by developing a set of conceptual frameworks for it.
  • Learn repeatable processes for designing effective explanations, exercises, and reference material.

Length & time commitment

  • 5 weeks + 1 day. The first week focuses on planning and outlining; the middle three weeks focus on writing the main chapters; the last week focuses on editing and creating additional reference materials.
  • ~10 hours of work per week. I recommend that you plan for this to be your primary side project throughout the duration of the course.
  • 6 group calls, once per week, 90 minutes each.

How will this course help me write a micro-textbook?

  • By improving your understanding of pedagogy and writing strategies.
  • By giving you a series of milestones that you will hit alongside a group.
  • By offering you feedback along the way, and on your finished product.
  • By providing templates and frameworks for efficiently creating effective explanations and exercises.

What will be expected of me?

  • Attend the weekly group calls.
  • Share frequent updates on your work with the group.
  • Devote approximately 50 hours of your time, spread evenly across five weeks.
  • Offer light but regular feedback and encouragement to other participants.

Who is the facilitator?

Hi! I'm David Laing. I am a data scientist who specializes in learning analytics and game-based cognitive assessments. I teach communication and argumentation in the Master of Data Science program at the University of British Columbia, and have also taught technical writing at Niagara College. I love to explore ideas at the intersection of writing, education, and the internet.


Week 1: Planning & Outlining

  • Day 1: Kick-off call, introductions, & discussion of general pedagogy (1.5 hours)
  • Days 2: Create learner profiles (1.5 hours)
  • Days 3-4: Draft a summative assessment (3 hours)
  • Days 5-6: Draft an outline (3 hours)
  • Day 7: Feedback & reflection (1 hour)

Week 2: Writing Chapter 1

  • Day 8: Check-in call & discussion of lesson design (1.5 hours)
  • Days 9-10: Create exercises / formative assessments for chapter 1 (3 hours)
  • Days 11-13: Write chapter 1 (5 hours)
  • Day 14: Feedback & reflection (1 hour)

Week 3: Writing Chapter 2

  • Day 15: Check-in call & discussion of assessment design (1.5 hours)
  • Days 16-17: Create exercises / formative assessments for chapter 2 (3 hours)
  • Days 18-10: Write chapter 2 (5 hours)
  • Day 21: Feedback & reflection (1 hour)

Week 4: Writing Chapter 3

  • Day 22: Check-in call & discussion of writing strategies (1.5 hours)
  • Day 23-24: Create exercises / formative assessments for chapter 3 (3 hours)
  • Days 25-27: Write chapter 3 (5 hours)
  • Day 28: Feedback & reflection (1 hour)

Week 5: Polishing

  • Day 29: Check-in call & discussion of editing & feedback strategies (1.5 hours)
  • Days 30: Give feedback to a peer in the course (2 hours)
  • Days 31-33: Editing & rewriting (5 hours)
  • Days 34-35: Create a glossary and additional reference material (2 hours)

Week 6

  • Day 36: Final call & retrospective (1.5 hours)

Who is this course for?

This course is for people like these:

  • Michaela leads the web analytics team for canada.ca. She has been learning how to do data analysis in R for the past year, and wants to sharpen her understanding by creating a resource to help her colleagues transition to R from Excel.
  • Brendan has been blogging for several years about the art of curating, organizing, and appraising books and other written works. He has developed a set of tacit principles, and wants to codify them by writing a definitive guide that will help people enjoy and learn more from the books they read.
  • Shelby is an undergraduate physics student who has been running her own tutoring business for the past two years. She now has more interested customers than she can handle, and wants to start scaling her business by writing a micro-textbook that she can sell through her website.
  • Sam teaches university courses on the philosophy of aesthetics. They are a strong writer and lecturer, but they were never formally trained as a teacher, so their pedagogical practice is mainly informed by taste and experience. They want to create instructional materials that enable their students to learn more actively.

They have a variety of backgrounds in writing and teaching, but none have formal training in pedagogy or have published anything like a micro-textbook before. They plan to write for teens or adults. They have limited time. They are at least competent practitioners, and possibly even experts, in the subjects they want to write about.

I expect them to use their micro-textbooks like so:

  • Michaela will distribute it to her colleagues.
  • Brendan will publish it on his blog.
  • Shelby will sell it through her website.
  • Sam will share it with their students.


  • Can I use this course as an opportunity to learn about a topic I don't yet understand?
    • I recommend that you choose a subject you already do understand. The course will focus on helping you figure out how to teach that subject through writing, which is a substantial challenge on its own. (Throughout the process, you may discover that you don't currently understand your topic quite as well as you think you do!)
  • Are there word count requirements?
    • No. The goal of this course is simply to help you complete a project that is more ambitious than what you could achieve on your own.
  • Can I collaborate on my micro-textbook with another person?
    • Yes. In fact, this would be a great way to get direct feedback on the content of your writing from someone who knows your subject roughly as well as you do.
  • Does my micro-textbook need to include novel or original ideas?
    • No. It should just be valuable to its intended audience.
  • Will you give me feedback on my work?
    • Yes. Depending on your topic and how accessible it is to a general audience, I will of course be limited in what I can comment on authoritatively. But I will give feedback that draws on my knowledge of writing and pedagogy.
  • Will this course cover how to market or sell my work?
    • No. But it will help you think about how to make your writing as valuable as possible to a specific audience.
6 weeks

You have an idea for a topic you want to write about, and you are fairly confident in your knowledge of that topic.

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