It was several years ago at a conference (VSTE in Virginia Beach) that I talked about eBooks, and specifically about them in the context of textbooks. The best format at the time was ePub, which still is decent as a cross-platform format.
Today I finished work on a small eBook in Apple’s iBooks format. The files are created in a Mac OS X-only program called iBooks Author, and can only be viewed on an iPad or a Mac with the OS X Mavericks operating system. The benefit of these books is that they can be media-rich and typically more interactive than PDFs or ePubs.
Next Friday we will release this book to the public. It’s not a book, per se, in the typical sense; it’s a publication. It’s our district’s strategic plan. We already published a PDF version of the executive summary, but this new version of the plan has a few benefits, as would any document you wanted to “upgrade” with Apple’s tools, that were primarily developed to create textbooks:
- they are searchable,
- you can highlight the text (as with a highlighter),
- you can tap and define words,
- you can tap and have the device say the text,
- you can create notes and flashcards,
As the author, you can embed:
- photos that can be pinched and zoomed full-screen,
- interactive “widgets”,
- call-out style, interactive diagrams,
- 3D objects,
The creation of the text wasn’t hard; you start with a template and then fill out as many pages as you need. These books do not allow you to change font size as the end-user, but that and changing the color (inverted white text on black) are about the only limitations.
We used several hyperlinks to take folks back to our website, and we opened the book with an introductory video that helps sell our division. Because of the high-quality video, the book is 170MB, but once you download that, you really don’t need the internet unless you’re tapping on those hyperlinks.
The real reason I decided to write about this is because there are several options to get this book on your iPad.
- Export to the iTunes Bookstore via iTunes Producer. I found this whole process had a learning curve to it. Why you can’t do all of this within one application is beyond me, but it requires first singing up with an account, the downloading the software, then preparing your book for publication. This is a requirement if you want to actually sell the book, and can also be done for free books.
- Export the iBooks file format to your computer. You can then distribute this file by putting it on a web server, or else putting it on the server and listing it in an RSS feed. The feed, you’d hope, would be attached to an iTunes U feed and you could distribute the book either “freestyle” this way, or else embed it in a course (which creates the feed). This is a self-publishing method.
- Preview the book. By connecting an iPad to the computer with iTunes, you can send a preview of the book to be viewed on the iPad. This is simply for testing it out.
- Export as another format, such as PDF. You can also forgo the fancy stuff and simply export your work as a PDF. This is an alternative for those without the iPad.
Benefits? The Apple ecosystem has some benefits, at least on iBooks Author.
- The application is free with OS X 10.8 and 10.9.
- It’s super simple to use, really, especially if you’ve used Pages.
- The program produces some books that are highly interactive, compared with the competition.
The downsides include:
- The books are stuck on a single platform.
- The templates might be found limiting, by some, although the customizations I did worked.
Of course, in context of education, it begs to ask the question about textbooks in general. I get the feeling there are no huge fans of textbooks in schools. I think higher education still is holding on tight, but it frankly surprised me when Jobs announced this new tool when he was still alive. Yes, you can create some aesthetically pleasing books. But how important are books today for innovative teachers? I think the hangup, perhaps, is calling these a book. My example is such a case: I have a very nice looking format for communicating an otherwise short document. It’s clearly not a Word file, but made to be consumed, watched, pinched, and tapped.