Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Using iBooks for education

When iBooks author was released over a year ago, I was thrilled. I've had ideas for interactive books floating around in my head since I bought my first Kindle in 2007. I promptly opened up the new software, started three different projects, then got too busy with other side projects (like having more children, and writing a novel) and dropped all three.

Fast forward to the past school year. Some of the teachers in my Lower School have been using apps, mainly Book Creator with the assistance of Drawing Pad, to help kids design, write, and illustrate their own eBooks which can then be opened in iBooks and shared with friends and family. My own daughter absolutely loves creating these books and emailing them to me and Jos. Something about being able to "publish" your book into a shareable medium is extremely inspirational to children (and adults, for that matter! I suppose my blog falls into that category!).

The first pages of one of Micaela's books, including disclaimers.

I haven't used these apps with my own students, but I'm planning a project for the Fall where kids use the audio capability in Book Creator to create a soundtrack for their stories. More on that when it happens!

One obvious advantage of these apps over iBooks Author is that the creation process is entirely on the iPad. With students as creators, this is the least complicated option. iBooks Author, on the other hand, is a Mac-only app, and iBooks can only be read on iDevices. Right now, I see iBooks Author as the most powerful way for Mac-using teachers to create interactive iBook content for their students to use on iDevices, and in some cases, to get their content out to the wider community.* 

This year I had the perfect chance to reacquaint myself with iBooks Author–ten+ weeks of bedrest during a complicated pregnancy. I've always been one to create my own recorder materials for 3rd and 4th grade, so an interactive recorder method became my new project.

Anyone who knows how to use a word processor can quickly figure out iBooks Author. It uses a familiar drag-and-drop interface, and intuitive formatting tools. The software comes with several beautiful templates for textbooks, cookbooks, etc. There wasn't one that worked well for my purposes, though, so I created a simple one of my own. It wasn't hard, but it did take some figuring out and experimentation.

Here is what the working interface looks like:

There are a few quirks that make sense for a straight text, but are challenging for a how-to book format. For example, you can't just add a blank page in the middle of a chapter or section. Multiple times, I've had to cut and paste and perhaps swear a little to add a page of instruction in between two already-created song pages. Chapters and sections, fortunately, can be reordered. Annoyingly, I can't call my chapters "Units," which I find more appropriate to a music instruction book, but that's just a little thing.

One of the best things about iBooks Author is its implementation of widgets. Widgets are little programs that run within your book. The most common widgets in iBooks are audio and video. I can place audio widgets anywhere on a page to play an example or accompaniment. With creative use of images and layers, I can even create tools such as an interactive staff–tap on the notehead to hear the pitch. Another useful widget is the popover. Tap on an image and a little bubble pops up with more information. Here's one way I've used that:

At the end of each chapter, I've created quizzes. Apple's widget creates quizzes with several question types. Here are a couple of examples:

The author simply picks the correct answers, then the iBook can score your students.

This looks strange in the editor, but works perfectly in the book.
Other widgets include a photo gallery, embedded Keynote presentations, 3D COLLADA files, interactive images, and scrolling sidebars. Though in theory iBooks Author widgets can be created and shared by the community, I have found very few useful ones that actually work, and most are not free. I hope Apple will either simplify widget creation with a new tool, or add a larger library of widgets to iBooks Author. One widget I'd really like to use and can't find anywhere is a recording widget, which would allow students to record themselves without leaving the iBook.

One final neat feature is the glossary. Highlight any word and select "add term" in the toolbar to create a new glossary term. iBooks Author organizes a glossary which you can edit later, writing definitions and even adding media. When you come across a glossary term while reading an iBook, tap on it for a definition popover. Nifty!

I'm so pleased with how my interactive recorder method is turning out, that I may continue the experiment by publishing it in the iBookstore later this summer. In the meantime, I have a lot of accompaniments left to create in Logic Pro! I'll leave you with one more sneak peek:

*Note for those considering publishing through the iBookstore
Apple received a lot of flak when iBooks Author was first released, because many users misunderstood the user agreement, thinking that any content created in iBooks Author and distributed through the iBookstore basically belonged to Apple and could not be published elsewhere. This is NOT TRUE. Here is the truth as I understand it:
–Free iBooks can be distributed, for free, however you like, including through the iBookstore.
–Paid iBooks must be distributed through the iBookstore.
–iBooks created with iBooks Author may not be sold elsewhere, BUT, the actual CONTENT still belongs to the author.
–You can publish the CONTENT of your book, formatted with different software, wherever you like.

Therefore, novelists could easily create an iBook, a Kindle book, and a hard copy book with just a little tweaking. It is more complicated to distribute an interactive book elsewhere, unless you remove the interactive elements–simply because Apple is ahead of the game in the user's ability to create interactive books. I could, however, take my recorder book, remove all iBooks Author formatting, and publish it with an accompanying CD/DVD, or create an interactive website.
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