DIY Textbooks With iBooks Author

textbook screenshotA recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caught my eye. “North Hills Teachers Write a Textbook for Online Curriculum”

In eighth-grade social studies classes at North Hills Junior High School, there’s no sleeping through videos, no hiding in the back of class to avoid being called upon and no student excuses about forgetting the textbook, notes or class materials. That’s because just about everything students use for class is online, including the textbook, which was written this past summer by social studies teachers Rich Texter, Joe Welch and Larry Dorenkamp. It was edited by reading teacher Jill Brooks, who made sure it was written at the appropriate reading level. The result is the students spend their class time multitasking with technology… More

The best way to motivate our students was to get rid of traditional textbooks.

I invited the Rich Texter, one of the project teachers / textbook developers, to do a guest post on the project. He kindly supplied some screenshots and the following post. (Note: the textbook is not available on iTunes). Rich on Twitter

Textbook sidebarTwo years ago, Larry Dorenkamp was thinking about how cool it would be to teach in a classroom that enabled him to teach his students about Social Studies, and have the kids excited about learning it. In his opinion, the best way to do that would be to get rid of the traditional textbooks and jump on the technology train. So, Mr. Dorenkamp approached the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Assessment and Special Programs, Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, about the possibility of using a classroom set of MacBooks, instead of a traditional textbook. It turns out that Dr. Taylor was very intrigued by making the 8th grade social studies classroom a digital learning environment. After the initial meeting, we–the three 8th grade social studies teachers (Mr. Richard Texter, Mr. Joseph Welch, and Dorenkamp)–sat down with Dr. Taylor and the building principal, Beth Williams, for an informal discussion. We discussed our vision of how this digital classroom would look and how it would function. Dr. Taylor wanted to ensure that the learning needs of the students would be met, as well as–if not at a higher level–than in a traditional classroom. The vision was that this would allow the students to more freely explore the 8th grade curriculum, increase student engagement, enhance understanding, and critical thinking skills. Dr. Taylor had discussions with the school board about a pilot program of a Digital Based social studies classroom. The board approved the program and purchase three classroom sets of MacBooks and iPad 2’s for our classroom. The three social studies teachers collaborated, throughout the school year, to create activities that would engage students, while allowing them some options in choosing what they do. We also worked to build assessments that would allow students to do more than just measure memorizing dates, places and facts.

We can tailor our book to regional history. Plus, we can update it whenever we want.

When Apple came out with its iBook Author, we decided to write a 8th grade text that was custom-made for OUR students. We liked the idea that the book would be aligned to our curriculum at North Hills, and that it could be aligned to the state-specific standards that we need to cover, in Pennsylvania. Instead of using a book that was written to be marketable to big text book states like California and Texas, we wanted to provide the students with information that was more pertinent to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania; we wanted to engage our students.

iBook builder allows you to make your textbook interactive; students can mark up the text and add their own notes. Bold words can be touched for an instant definition. If a student is struggling to pronounce a word, the book can speak the word for the student. Interactive maps and charts can be placed in the book, in addition to videos. We placed Keynotes, in certain sections, to highlight important information from a section. Interactive checks for understanding, that give the student immediate feedback, are at the end of each section and Unit.

The iBook continues to be a work in progress for us, we will continue to update the book to meet our needs. That is our favorite part of iBooks author as we need to update the book we can do it very quickly. So instead of waiting 5 to 10 years to be on cycle for a new textbook we can edit and update ours when ever we see the need.

textbook screenshot-1

Podcast: How to Use iBooks Author in the Classroom

My second podcast with Mark Hofer and David Carpenter for their series Ed Tech Co-Op was just posted. Go to Show 27: Peter Pappas and iBook Publishing (Dec 23, 2012) via Web | iTunes.

We focused on getting started with using iBooks Author (iBA) in the classroom. Here’s a synopsis of our discussion with some time markers to guide your listening.

We began with some comments on my iBook Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion (screenshot above from iBook Author). (1:30) Mark noted how the book exemplified three key elements of universal design for learning – multiple representations of content, active learning strategies for students, and relevance for the learner. (5:30)

We discussed how an iBook can be designed to guide students in examining essential questions. (7:17) David noted content-curation advantages of teacher-produced iBooks over other learning management systems. (11:02) Then our discussion turned to iBA workflow specifics. (12:42) We discussed how to guide students in producing their own iBooks (17:30) and how student can find a more authentic audience beyond the classroom by sharing their book with their community and the world via iTunes. (19:32).

iBooks author projects are more than writing. They offer students the chance to create video, audio and visual content used in the iBook. (21:07) They also exemplify the best aspects of project-based learning and put a premium on preplanning and production-oriented decisions (25:40)

For tech specifics on using iBA see my collection of “how-to’s” – Publishing with iBooks Author 

My first podcast with Mark and David: Reflections on Teaching Strategies That Work.

Are iBooks Author 1.0 Files Incompatible with iBA 2.0?

Note: Since I first publishing this post, I took the leap and updated to iBA 2.0. (Of course, I had to because iTunes only accepts new books created in iBA 2.) I published three books in the new software and was also able to successfully open iBA 1.0 files in 2.0 and even copy widgets and other content from 1.0 to 2.0.

I still haven’t upgraded to iBooks Author 2.0, so I cannot verify any of these claims. But this information adds to my prior posts detailing issues with iBA 2.0.

First an excerpt (and image above) from What Apple Didn’t Say About Changes From iBooks Author Version 1 Series by Claxton Creative.

When we opened our .iba file made from the version 1.0 series (It was last opened on Aug. 23, 2012) in version 2.0 on Nov. 24, 2012, we immediately got a flag warning from the software saying that the image on page 156 was too large. Thumbing through the book also showed that iBooks Author 2.0 had messed up multiple widgets we’d laid out perfectly in version 1.0. They were compressed into a tiny size and were sitting at the left sides of pages. Several of them we’d laid out to encompass an entire page. Version 2.0 messed all that up and required us to repaginate several places in the book.

… A dialogue box appeared and said an image that worked fine up until Oct. 23, 2012, was no longer any good in our book for iPad.

… Things got even wonkier after that. There were multiple widgets in the book that got totally screwed up by iBooks Author version 2.0. …. some of them got zapped in size and then moved to the top left portion of a page, completely affecting the pagination within a chapter. More 

Next some chatter from the Apple Support Community boards:

MrBlobby1970 begins a discussion about problems with iBA 2.0 by writing ….

Upgraded to iBooks Author 2.0 and it has rendered my book file unusable. Is there a way to download iBooks Author 1.0/1.1 after you have upgraded to 2.0?

I have tried the book file with a friend’s iBooks Author 1.1 and it still works, so it’s something with 2.0 that just doesn’t like my files. More

In another Apple Support discussion Patrick-betterthanworksheets writes

Updated iBooks Author to 2.0 but can’t seem to load the iBook I was perviously working on (says cannot load document). Still loads fine on my other Mac using the pervious version of iBooks. Happen to anyone else or is this just a glitch with my file? Not a huge deal since I can use the pervious version to finish it off but just wondering. More

OK readers, its your turn – Is anyone else having compatibilty issues with iBA 2.0 and 1.0? 

Why I Haven’t Upgraded to iBooks Author 2.0

Note: Since I first publishing this post, I took the leap and updated to iBA 2.0. (Of course, I had to because iTunes only accepts new books created in iBA 2.) I published three books in the new software and was also able to successfully open iBA 1.0 files in 2.0 and even copy widgets and other content from 1.0 to 2.0.

Over the last few months I’ve been blogging regularly about my iBooks Author (iBA) learning curve and the production of my first iBook. Along the way I have come to rely on the advice of Dr. Frank Lowney Projects Coordinator, Digital Innovation Group @ Georgia College.

BTW – Frank published The Coming ePublishing Revolution in Higher Education on iTunes. It’s an insightful guide to etextbook revolution – winners, losers, and the factors that will determine the outcome. (67 pages, 20 graphics, 28 media files, 25 video files and 5 interactive widgets.) A bargain at only $0.99!

Frank’s been most generous with his time and advice on technical aspects of formatting videos for use in iBooks Author. Recently he contacted me about some troubling features in the new iBA 2.0 which I summarized in a post – Read This Before You Upgrade to iBooks Author 2.0. As a result of that post, I was contacted by Jay Welshofer (Apple’s Senior Product Manager for iBooks Author and Keynote) who has been working with Frank to better understand the video encoding issues with iBA 2.0.

Rather than expose my veneer of understanding of video technology, let me quote some of my correspondence with Frank so that others can benefit.

I begin with three questions I posed to Frank about iBA 2.0 video optimizer ~ Frank’s replies:
1. Does it do an acceptable job on quality? (a bit of a change from your earlier appraisal)
~ Yes, the quality is quite good if the source is good. I haven’t yet done a lot of testing with lower quality source but that’s on the todo list.

2. Does it increase file size ?
~ Absolutely. The bloat is up to three times the size of what Handbrake outputs with no appreciable difference in video quality.

3. Does it wipe out subtitle tracks
~ Every time. Alternate audio tracks and chapter tracks too. Of course, chapter tracks are not relevant to iOS video except in the which has an interface for chapters that is separate from playback. Older versions of quicktime presented chapters as a drop down menu in the controller which lends itself to all kinds of neat pedagogical uses.

To reinforce his point Frank ran a test video conversion comparing iBA 2.0 and Handbrake and supplied a video sample of each. He writes:

Dear Peter and Jay,
I have been unable to reliably replicate my initial report where video quality was significantly lessened by the IBA media optimizer. Actually, this optimizer does a pretty good job of maintaining video quality no matter what you throw at it.

However, there is still the problem of file size bloat that started this whole line of investigation back in the IBA v1 days. As you’ll recall, IBA would reject many videos and recommend re-encoding in QuickTime Player and that would create files 2-3 times larger. This was a concern to many IBA users due to the 2 GB limit on iBooks in the iBookstore.

Back then, the workaround was to tweak the output of more efficient systems such as Handbrake such that IBA wouldn’t reject them. Now, with IBA v2, the use of QuickTime is no longer optional and the file size bloat issue is with us again. The new workaround is to use the video replacement surgery tactic that I described earlier. It’s a bit more daunting than the earlier workaround because you could break the whole iBook just by getting the name of one video file wrong, a typo for example.

As promised, I’ve constructed a hardball case documenting this issue as follows. An executive summary in the form of a screencast comparing the iBooks Author encode to the Handbrake encode will have more general interest. Here it is:

The source file came from a “pro” level HD DV camera and was provided to us as a ~16 GB DVCPRO HD file at 720p. As you can see from the video, iBooks Author encoded this as a 1.5 GB file (causing a warning about the 2 GB limit) whereas Handbrake 0.98 (Apple TV 3 preset) produced a 532 MB file, a third of what IBA produced. Also evident in the video should be the fact that there is no discernible difference in size or quality.

BTW, I used QuickTime Player 7.6 for this demo because it can play two or more videos sychronously allowing much better qualitative analysis. QuickTime X Player cannot do this.

Read This Before You Upgrade to iBooks Author 2.0

Note: Since I first publishing this post, I took the leap and updated to iBA 2.0. (Of course, I had to because iTunes only accepts new books created in iBA 2.) I published three books in the new software and was also able to successfully open iBA 1.0 files in 2.0 and even copy widgets and other content from 1.0 to 2.0.

I recently published my first iBook Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion.
It features over a dozen historic propaganda videos. I used iBooks Author 1.0 (iBA) to create the iBook, and with lots of advice from experts, I managed to create good quality videos of manageable file size.

Before I upgraded to iBA 2.0, I thought I’d do some research.
I’m glad I did, because it appears that the new iBA 2.0 “Media Optimization” feature has mixed reviews in video management. That early analysis comes from Dr. Frank Lowney, Projects Coordinator, Digital Innovation Group @ Georgia College. Frank spent many hours online answering my questions about importing videos into iBA 1.0 and I owe him a big thanks.

Here’s some of what Frank wrote about iBA 2.0 in his comment to a recent MacWorld review.

IBAv1 was terribly finicky about video. It rejected videos that played perfectly well in the on iPad. The current optimization routine is an apparently a well intentioned correction of that finickiness.

… If you are writing a textbook or any kind of book containing video that requires providing soft subtitle tracks to address accessibility and other important goals or alternate audio tracks to reach a wider, multi-lingual audience, be aware that this optimizer will strip out those valuable assets without notice. Of concern to a wider group of authors is the violence done to certain videos by this “optimization” routine. Although it works quickly and does a reasonably good job on video that is already close to optimal, it wreaks havoc on video that is not. 

…The worst part is that you cannot revert to the old regime.

For more a detailed analysis see this thread in the Apple Support Communities Preventing iBooks Author Media Optimization where Frank comments: 

The optimization routine in iBooks Author 2.0 is well intentioned but the execution of those intentions is quite poor. In addition to bloating the size of your videos and, hence, your iBook, it can also degrade visual quality in dramatic fashion.
… With iBooks Author 1.x, I had figured out how to create very efficient and highly capable video that IBA will accept. This “feature” throws me and a lot of other capable people into a ditch.

I asked Frank if I can use his comments and he agreed, while noting he hasn’t had time “to do full range of tests and documentation that I prefer to do.” But his early reviews suggest that I’ll wait to upgrade. Who needs bloated files, lost subtitled tracks and poor video quality?

Read Nov 30th update

Nov 9 Update from Frank Lowney:


As you’ll recall, the caveat was that my findings re video in IBA 2 were preliminary and, therefore, subject to revision as I conduct more rigorous tests. I may well have to eat some of those earlier words. I’m still nowhere near a definitive opinion but I did manage to do a comparison between videos submitted to IBA and what they looked like after the “optimizer” got through with them.

The way to do that is to change the suffix of an *.ibooks file to zip and then use something like the free Stuffit Expander to expand the archive and reveal its folder structure and enable examining the contents. Video files are all in /OPS/assets/media/.

So I created five new videos for my iBook, loaded them into IBA, let the optimizer have at them and then compared the file size of the originals with what I found inside the *.ibooks file. I was surprised and pleased to find that four out of five were pretty much the same as the originals in both file size and quality. The odd one was 7.6 MB in the original and 8.2 MB in the *.ibooks file which is not huge. IBA apparently jacked up the data rate a little.

Of course this was a “soft ball” since the source came out of the recently released ScreenFlow 4 using a custom settings designed to be optimal for iPad (a multi-pass encode at 1024×768 using H.264 in a MOV container). Except for changing the container from .mov to .m4v, everything was the same in the *.ibooks file: bit-rate, frame rate, height, width, etc. So if you give IBA something that it expects and respects, it does no harm.

I’ll start throwing hard balls in the coming days and we’ll see what happens.

I’m sticking to what I said about soft subtitle tracks and alternate audio tracks. These are incredibly important in an educational environment in terms of Section 508 and 504 compliance. As well, being able to offer multi-lingual access is critical to the success of on-line learning. What IBA’s “optimizer” does to them is indefensible. There seems to be a contingent at Apple who think that Closed Captions, a throwback to analog TV broadcasting, is sufficient but they are dead wrong. It relies on a binary format that can only be created by expensive and difficult to use software (go ahead and price MacCaptioner) as contrasted with SRT, ASS, etc. that anyone can create with a simple text editor.

So, for people who aren’t concerned about subtitles and alternate audio tracks, the upgrade to IBA 2.0 appears to me to be a good move. The new widgets are awesome, especially the scrolling sidebar which looks a lot like what I described in an enhancement request that I submitted. The only people for whom this is a show stopper are the folks that are prepping video for iBooks and working for institutions and corporations that simply must address these accessibility issues. Indies like you and I can ignore these issues for the time being. The stuff I do at work is another story altogether.

More later and thanks for being a great sounding board.

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