Textbooks Are Dead – Here’s 3 Reasons to Write Your Own

For years progressive educators have known the textbook was dead. Apple’s latest iPad Mini / iBooks Author event (October 23, 2012) suggests we are closing in on the tipping point that should hasten its demise.

I’ll let others critique the viability of the iPad as a textbook replacement in this era of shrinking budgets. Instead I’ll focus on how teaming iBooks Author (iBA) with the iPad can turn students from passive consumers of information, into active researchers, thinkers, designers and writers.

Since it’s release this spring, I’ve been working with iBA and networking with other educators doing the same. I’ve seen great examples of student-produced work such as this iBook by 5th graders.
I just published my first multi-touch iBook, Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion which gives students a chance to work with historic films and poster art to critically evaluate the US government’s public relations effort during the war. I’ve already blogged about my reactions to using iBA, but let me use this post to offer three arguments for using iBA with students.

Crowdsourced Production
iBA (a free program) requires a Mac running OS X 10.7.2 or later, but that doesn’t mean that every student needs a Mac to contribute to the iBook project. All the classroom needs is access to one computer running iBA to create an iBook. (Use somebodies new Mac Mini?)

iBA accepts text from Microsoft Word and other text editors. Teams of student writers can do research and writing on a variety of computers (and devices) and send finished copy to the iBA production team. Images, audio and video files collected by researchers can be added to the eBook project with a simple drag and drop. If students have access to multiple Macs running iBA, it’s easy to consolidate iBA projects by copy / pasting chapters (or sections of chapters). Research, writing, and design can even be sequenced into a “flipped classroom” production model.

Broadcasting Your iBook
Terms of use for iBA require that iBA-created iBook that are offered for sale can only be sold through the iBookstore. But there’s no restriction on “free” iBA-created iBooks – circulate them any way you want.

While the iBookstore does provide accounts for producers of “free” iBooks, there’s a simpler way to distribute an iBook. Connect an iPad to the computer running iBA, click Preview, and the iBook is pushed to the attached iPad. Do the same on as many iPads as you choose. It’s also easy to export the finished iBooks file from the iBA program to an external drive or network and distribute the iBook to multiple iPads.

The ease of distribution means students can communicate with a broader, and more authentic audience than just their teacher and class peers. They can even bring their iBooks files home on thumb drives to be shared with families and friends that have iPads.

Design Thinking Meet CCSS Skills
Researching, writing, and designing an iBook provides an opportunity for students to hone a wide range of skills. Common Core State Standards require a host of literacy, critical thinking and writing skills that are essential to production. Project based learning (PBL) engages students with the opportunity to think like professionals while solving real-world problems. While the iBook qualifies as a project goal, don’t forget that the subject of the iBook could also give students a platform to tackle community-based issues.

Collaborating on an iBook draws from a wide range of creative skills – creating audio clips, producing illustrations, shooting and editing video. Because a variety of media can be included in an iBook, there are numerous opportunities for students of all ability levels and language proficiencies to be active contributors.

Digital technologies have put students in charge of the information they access, store, analyze and share. Most importantly the digital era has given them an expectation of informational choice. Creating an iBook harnesses all those motivational factors into an engaging learning experience. When students get to collaborate and work as adult professional do, we relinquish responsibility for learning to the student and provide them a valuable opportunity to reflect on both their process and product. That’s the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Image credit/ author

Do Not Use iBooks Author to Author an iBook

After loads of research and design work, this week I eagerly uploaded my interactive, multi-touch book -“Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion” for approval at the iBookstore.

A day after my upload, I received an error ticket for using the term “iBook” within my work.

Use of Apple Inc. Copyrighted Terms (Description) Books must not:
Use the phrase “iBook” to describe the book. iBooks is the trademark for Apple’s book reading software, and iBooks Author is the trademark for its electronic book creation software. Books created with Apple’s iBooks Author software and/or sold on the iBookstore should be described as a book, ebook, electronic book or interactive book, but not an “”iBook.”

Perhaps I’ll rewrite into something like “Here’s how to navigate this book on your Pad.”

How-To Tips for Working With iBooks Author

I’ve spent the last month creating my first iBook – “Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion.” It’s in the “approval” process at the iBookstore. (Look for a post when it’s available).
I learned a lot about making multi-touch iBooks the hard way – trial and error. I thought I’d share a few tips for using iBooks Author (IBA). This post is not an IBA step-by-step. It assumes you are already a bit familiar with IBA.  Note: I have collected IBA how-to’s at this Scoop-It.

Carefully plan your pages

Here’s one big lesson I learned in IBA  - you can’t move pages. Chapters and sections of chapters can be easily re-arranged in an iBook. Just highlight them and slide to new location. You can also right click a chapter or section and cut, copy, duplicate and paste. You can even use those commands to move them between two different IBA projects that you have open. BUT moving pages is not allowed. I should note that my book had very little text and loads of graphics and widgets. So, for example, if I wanted my current page 10 to become page 5, I had to recreate pages 6-9 as part of the process. Lesson learned – plan ahead! (This is not a problem if you have a largely text oriented iBook. You could easily cut the text from page 10 and insert it into into a place in the flowing text that would put it at page 5.)

Size matters

File size that is. I planned a multimedia-rich look at the US propaganda effort in WWII. Lots of videos, audios and poster art meant that my iBook file was quickly becoming too large. I used video files from Archive.org that that were in mp4 format. IBA only accepts m4v format and it’s very picky about the types of m4v it accepts. I tried converting mp4 files using Handbrake (a very popular free app). IBA wouldn’t accept Handbrake converted m4v files. I used QuickTime player to convert by opening the mp4 and using QT File / export, but for some reason QT greatly increases file size when exporting.

My final solution to growing file size was three fold. One – I invested in Apple Compressor to convert mp4 to m4v and compress file size. Two – I used iMovie to edit some to the movies to tighten them up. Three – My planned iBook eventually got split into 3 iBooks of smaller file size. One other solution you could use would be to not put the video file in the iBook, but to link to it on YouTube via an embedded widget. (You can easily create a widget for that at a free site – Class Widgets).

Who wrote my iBook? 

IBA allows you to preview your iBook by connecting an iPad and choosing File / Preview. It gives you the choice to either preview the entire book on your iPad or just preview the section you are working on. For the longest time, when I previewed my iBook it would appear on my iPad as “Author Unknown.” Finally, I figured out I needed to set the title and author in the “Document” section of the Inspector. Lesson learned.


I decided to use frequent stop and think prompts in the book to focus students on reflection. It was also away to reinforce CCSS skills throughout the book in a user friendly manner. I created a yellow post-it style text box and liked the way it looked. One I had the format I wanted I was able to copy and paste using the tool bar icons. BTW  - You can also edit / copy and edit / paste widgets. A nice way to move them around. 

Don’t mess with chapter image placeholders

My iBook was loaded with media content, so I used the “Basic” template offered by IBA. One of the first things I did was strip it down to blank white pages. My mistake was revealed when I looked at my iBook in the “Table of Contents” view. I noticed that my chapter start pages lacked the graphics I had put on them. I finally figured it out.

When you create a new chapter you are offered an image place holder on the right side of the page. Don’t delete it like I did. Instead, just drag your image into it. That way the image will appear in the ”Table of Contents” view. Once I deleted the image placeholders there was no way to get them back. You guessed it – I needed to create a “new chapter” and rebuild all the content. Ouch!

Customize layout for your widgets

I was going for a very clean minimal look that would showcase the content. So I wanted my widgets to have minimal styling.

To do that  - go to Widget in the Inspector panel. Choose “Layout” tab and deselect background. Lots of other options for Label and Caption. You can also show thumbnails (as I did on the left) by selecting them in the “Interaction” tab.

Sneaking up on hyperlinks and bookmarks

You can hyperlink from the iBook to external links or create Bookmarks to jump between content within your iBook. Use the Inspector to create them. Here’s a few tips. You can only hyperlink from text. No image hyperlinks. You can hyperlink from any body text or text within inserted text boxes to URLs outside your iBook. Be sure to copy / paste you new URL into the Inspector or you’ll be creating a hyperlink to Apple.

Bookmarks are a bit fussier. First you need to turn some text in your iBook into a bookmark using the Inspector  - select the text and click on the + sign to add new bookmark. Here’s the catch – you can only create a bookmark from body text – you cannot bookmark text in a text box. Once you have anchored a bookmark you select some other text in your iBook and use Inspector to hyperlink to your bookmark.

Working with hyperlinks after you create them is a bit quirky. If you click on a previously created hyperlink in your iBook, it work. In other words you’ll leave the iBook and go to the URL in Safari. So you have to “sneak up” on hyperlinks. Click your cursor into adjacent text and use your keyboard arrows to navigate into the hyperlinked text. It will go active and you can use the Inspector to make changes. 

Where’s the Find and Replace?

IBA has a some good editing tools. You can use Edit / Proofreading to get to a reasonable proofreading panel. I found it useful. Looking for the find and replace feature? Use keyboard Command – F.

Multi-Touch iBook – Experience the US Homefront in WWII

Updated: October 23, 2012
My iBook Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion free at iBookstore.

Designed as multi-touch student text, it focuses on the American response to WWII – especially the very active role played by government in shaping American behavior and attitudes. “Why We Fight” gives students a chance to step back to the 1940s and experience the perspective of Americans responding to the Pearl Harbor attack and WWII. Americans were hungry for information, and Washington responded with a PR blitz to sell the war to the American public.

It features 13 videos including rarely-seen cartoons like “Herr Meets Hare” (1945) starring Bugs Bunny, government films “What To Do in a Gas Attack” (1943) and Hollywood wartime flicks like the “Spy Smasher” cliff hanger series (1942).

View naval deck logs detailing the attack on Pearl Harbor. Listen to FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech while you read his handwritten notes on the first draft of the speech. Listen to man-in-the-street interviews recorded the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. Swipe through an interactive timeline map detailing early Axis victories of the war. Use an interactive guide to interpret over 40 wartime posters.

All of the historic content is in the public domain. And the iBook provides access to the digital content, so users can remix the historic documents into their own galleries and projects.  Students can use an iPad-friendly historic document guide to analyze all the source material and share their observations with peers and teachers. “Why We Fight” is filled with “stop and think” prompts keyed to Common Core State Standards and includes a student guide to learning from historic documents and links to a teacher’s guide to related activities and free iPad apps.

This first of a series, “Why We Fight,” focuses on why Americans went to war and how the government defined the reasons for war and the nature of our enemies. Students build critical thinking skills as they are guided through the documents in consideration of three questions:

  • Why did Americans go to war?
  • Was Washington’s public relations blitz crafted to inform the public or manipulate? Did it appeal to reason or emotions? Did it rely on facts or stereotypes?
  • How do the themes in this book apply to your life and America today?

The next iBook in my Homefront USA series will consider how Americans were asked to change their lives, work harder and sacrifice in support of the war effort. Additional iBooks will look at how the war brought dramatic changes to American society – contrasting the growing opportunities for women with the internment of Japanese Americans.

Image credits:
Title: Enemy ears are listening.
Artist: Ralph ligan
United States. Office of War Information. Graphics Division.
Washington, D. C
Date: 1942
UNT Digital Library.

Title: Avenge December 7
Artist: Bernard Perlin
Publisher: Washington, D.C. : U.S. G.P.O. Office of War Information,
Date: 1942.
Northwestern University Library

Reflections on Working with iBook Author

At the core of the creative process is the willingness to step back, reflect on what you’ve accomplished, ask how it’s going and then get back to working on it some more. So after a few weeks of using iBooks Author (IBA), I thought it was time to practice what I preach. I’ll use this post to explore my initial reaction to working with IBA framed with by thoughts on the reflective process. A good warm up for a keynote I’m giving on the reflective process in a few weeks.

I got my first iPad recently (I skipped versions 1 and 2) and was very excited about using the new iBook Author program to create an iBook. As I took a closer look at IBA, I realized that while it presented some interesting opportunities, IBA had some notable shortcomings. On the plus side, it’s very easy to create an engaging mix of text, images, recordings, and videos. Perfect for my first IBA project – a document-based history iBook. I had already posted lessons on the homefront in World War II and realized there was a wealth of government films, posters and other artifacts that all fell within the public domain. So I got very excited about making an iBook that embodied my approach to empowering the student as historian.

Stay tuned for my finished iBook on Homefront USA. If you’d like to be notified when the book is finished, leave a comment below or send me a tweet @edteck. I’ll be offering a free sample for my beta testers. Here’s a sample of some of the great content that’s available. (1942) Walt Disney made this short film for the US War Production Board

Find patterns
While IBA supports a more interactive reading process – searching text, adding bookmarks, highlighting text, defining words – at the core IBA is designed for traditional instructional methods. For example, iBooks built-in note taking feature is designed to create flashcards (don’t you use flashcards to memorize stuff?). Its built-in test feature can only be used to create an objective questions – not the tools I was looking for to support critical thinking skills. There doesn’t seem to be away to copy and paste text from my books author into some other iPad program. I don’t see ways for students to share their thinking without leaving the iBook.

Videos are very interesting components of iBooks, but here’s the challenge. The more videos you put in the book, the bigger the file size of the book. Not only does iTunes place a 2 gig limit on the size of an iBook, but in practical terms no one wants to fill up their iPod with your book. One option is not embed the videos, and instead, link to them with a YouTube widget. That keeps your iBook’s file size smaller, but it means your reader will need to be online and not in a school network environment that blocks YouTube.

Ask for help
I spent a lot of time on Apple discussion groups reading IBA-related threads, and posting questions of my own. I posting a poll on Twitter to ask educators what they thought about the YouTube link vs embed the video question. Results – nearly 90% of them voted to embed the videos into the book. Reflection can be a social experience. Framing questions and sharing your progress forces you to construct models that capture what you’ve accomplished and better define the tasks that lie ahead. Hat tip to my friend and colleague Mike Gwaltney who took a look at my concept iBook and offered great feedback.

Share what you’re learning
As I found online resources for using IBA, I posted them to a collection I started at Scoop.it. My Publishing with iBooks Author began to attract viewers, many of whom proved to be great resources for me. As I tweeted out my new online resource finds, more leads came in and I found myself connected to a group of educators exploring the same topic. One contact, Luis Perez, made me realize that I wasn’t taking full advantage of the iBook’s accessibility features. He’s also working on ways to compress video size, and still be able to have caption videos for accessibility.

Motivate yourself with design thinking
Open yourself up to the cycle of planning, execution, reflection you might expect to see in an artist’s studio – it’s addictive. I find myself thinking about and working on this iBook all the time. (that’s why you haven’t seen any posts from me in a few weeks) The self-directed project provides all the essential elements of motivation. I chose the content, process, product and was doing my own evaluation. Through it all, I was exploring the frontier of what I knew and what I didn’t know. After all – this is why project-based learning works.

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