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Revolutionizing textbooks: the iPad and e-textbooks

Options:     Print Version - Revolutionizing textbooks: the iPad and e-textbooks, part 4 Print view

Creating textbooks

Apple’s other revolutionary move in the educational field is to offer (free) software that enabled instructors to own the entire publishing process from development to distribution.

Many instructors have a very personal approach to teaching, and often accumulate a considerable bank of their own teaching material.  Now with IBooks Author, they have software to create attractive digital textbooks.

IBooks Author has a number of set templates, which determine the basic page layout, and into which other media such as photographs and video can be incorporated.

The software has tools for creating charts and tables, as well as a number of widgets for importing media, and for creating animated graphics.

You can create graphics which bring up different views of an object as you mouse over a label and thumbnail, or you ones that zoom over and enlarge different parts of the image. You can also import 3D images, which you can create in Google SketchUp.

Image: Figure 3

Screenshot of iBooks author, showing the templates on offer.

There is little doubt that iBooks Author can make handsome books, but how easy is it to use? You will need to play around with it quite a bit, and there are some good tutorials on You Tube – just put iBooks Author into their search box.

Jeremy Kemp has produced a video explaining how to use the widgets (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuzMGDwY2Bs), based on his book, Kids Love Bugs.

Advice is also available from blogs (Richardson 2012):

  • IBooks Author takes up a lot of screen "real estate", so you will need to work on more than one monitor.
  • The viewing platform for iBooks Author is the iPad, so you will need this plus a connecting cable.  Every time you want to view your changes, you will need to export.
  • If you have an existing "oeuvre", you will find it easier to import one section at a time.

Another similar piece of software is BookonPublish (http://bookonpublish.com/Features.html).

BooksonPublish is also template-based, supports multimedia, including "videos, Flash animations, HTML/JavaScript animations, YouTube, narrations, music, and Web links" according to the product’s home page.

It is also device independent, a considerable advantage, as is the ability to import YouTube videos, tricky on iBooks Author.

The drawback is that it is mainly aimed at the corporate market, retailing at $10,000 for an annual licence. If you want to use this software, it’s recommended that you go to a bespoke service, such as DEC Publishing (www.decpublishing.com).

Whichever – or whatever – software you choose, despite the developers’ claims, creating material will be time-consuming.

You will need to budget in time for playing around with the software and watching the tutorials, and even then, unless you are exceptionally deft, there may still be a gap between creditable first attempts and something that is ready to publish for an audience.

It’s not for nothing that publishers often have whole teams producing multimedia textbooks.

For all that, one effect of such software is to place in the hands of universities and colleges the possibility of ownership of the means of production and distribution, as well as subject expertise.

Acknowledging that academics are already heavily overstretched, Lowney (2012) recommends that "teaching and materials creation" could be a criteria for promotion and tenure, whilst staff should be given time off from teaching if they are creating eTextbooks.

This raises the interesting possibility of universities banding together in materials creation consortia, as they already do with the purchase of journals.