Well, a long time has past since my last post, but over the past few weeks I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on iBooks Author, both in learning the nuances of the software and with an aim to help support colleagues create their own eBooks for Middle School.
Up until this week the only examples of interactive textbooks of which I’m thinking were the ‘Life on Earth’ and ‘The Beatles Yellow Submarine’ samples, both of which came out when iBooks Authors was first released in January this year. However, the newly supported iBookstore in New Zealand has a ‘Made with iBooks Author’ section, found in the non-fiction category, which I’ve found really useful. It’s a great thing to be able to view what others have done with this technology and internalise what we could do with it in our own contexts. Especially since the textbook category is still not supported by the NZ iBookstore.
Similarities between interactive eBooks and websites
Coming from experience in web design, I’ve noticed that a lot of the workflow and methodologies used when working with iBooks Author is very similar to that used when designing and building websites. A summary is below:
Websites use stylesheets and interactive ebooks use the layout panel.
Whatever it’s called, the result’s the same. Different page layouts, background designs and house style (for want of a better term) can be customised AND deployed from a central point. This greatly saves time in the construction of your document and any modifications to the design can be updated everywhere instantaneously. If your staff are familiar with the slide master in PowerPoint, it’s the same thing here too.
File size is an issue for web page download times and eBooks. If a school went down the route of having all digital textbooks, consideration needs to be given to the management of these documents. If students have 6 classes, each of which has it’s own ebooks distributed, and only a 16GB iPad we could have a problem.
I’ve had it said to me that we’d just teach students to manage their documents; essentially get them to transfer files to and from iTunes when needed in order to save space on their iPad. I see two immediate problems with this:
- That’s just too much for some students (you know the ones I mean…11 years old and totally disorganised whether analogue or digital…)
- It’s actually a barrier when it comes to study. Students
wantneed access to all available resources when studying for a term test or exam. Why should huge file sizes of eBooks prevent them from doing this effectively?
So where am I going with this? With the inclusion of video, audio and large images in interactive ebooks, it’s no wonder that the full version of ‘Life on Earth’ is over 1GB! Imagine if the majority of texts available to your students were that huge.
What can we do about it?
A lot, actually, especially if you’re compiling interactive ebooks in-house.
- VIDEO – embed clips from external sources instead of including within the book itself. Sure, this means that students need to be online to view the material, but you may not require all students to do this separately whilst in class anyway. Use the YouTube widget from www.bookry.com or head over to http://ibooksgenerator.com for YouTube and Vimeo options (I’ve also asked them for something similar with Educreations videos I’ve created – here’s hoping!)
- IMAGES – regardless of your source, make sure you’ve optimised them before placing in the book. Resize the image in a program like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Fireworks first. Also, like web design, you don’t need to use the best quality images for books produced in iBooks Author. Viewing images on a screen means you can remove pixels and decrease the image’s file size (without becoming pixelated) and still produce a very good result. Remember, images for print need to be the best possible, but there’s a lot more leeway for the screen…
Chunking of Content
Content is king, but the way we present that content is equally important. I’ve noticed that some of my student handouts are not as suitable for an eBook as I had originally thought they would be.
They were written for print, not the screen. Like websites therefore, the use of sub-headings, bulleted lists and short sentences are often more effective in imparting content via a screen. You can still have your explanation, but in an interactive eBook this can come in the form of an audio or video file. Same content, just different modalities of learning being used – and that can only be a good thing, right?
What I’ve found is that I’ve rewritten some sections and culled others in favour of video. I’m still largely using resources I’ve built up over the years, but I’ve realised that a straight import from Word to iBooks Author is not necessarily the best thing to do at times.
Serif style fonts, such as Times New Roman, have been around since the earliest days of printing. The little feet (‘serifs’) that flick out at the ends of letters help to create an illusion of a line. This is useful when printing on paper, but it’s not really needed when reading from the screen; hence the proliferation of sans-serif fonts such as Arial or Verdana.
Think about that when working in iBooks Author. You can always change the template in the Layouts panel…
- Use serif fonts for headings or sub-headings, if you really can’t do without them
- Use a sans-serif font for your body text
- Limit the range of fonts used to no more than three as using too many fonts can just add clutter to a page
In a number of free books made in iBooks Author that I’ve downloaded from the NZ iBookstore, I’m frustrated at times by the large number of ‘authors’ who have not made use of columns in the landscape template. In some cases I’ve switched to portrait mode, but that’s not always available.
What’s my problem you may ask?
A common trait with dyslexics is that they lose their place by the time they get to the end of a long line of text. Speaking as someone who experiences this, it does a world of difference on the iPad screen if you just allow even two columns on a landscape page. It’s enough of an issue to prevent me from continuing to read the text…
A parting word
An interactive eBook constructed in Apple’s iBooks Author is a document that is first and foremost designed for reading from a screen. It would be a shame if we didn’t consider the implications of this (exciting as these are) and simply produce a substitute for what every teacher’s already got in a Word or Pages document sitting on their hard drive right now.
Harness the potential of mixing different modalities of learning very easily in iBooks Author and remember that existing documents may need to be viewed in a more critical light and/or modified before taking the plunge into the exciting realm generated through interactive eBooks and iBooks Author.