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7 Reasons to Learn Apple iBooks Author Now

Do you remember where you were Jan. 19, 2012? You might want to go back and check your calendar and add a star. It was a big day for those of us deploying mobile devices in our classrooms and school sites. On Jan. 19, Apple announced partnerships with most of the textbook industry, making digital textbooks available on iPads through the iBookstore. While digital textbooks made the news, what really piqued our attention was the second part of the announcement--the release of iBooks Author, a free piece of software that would allow anyone with an Apple computer running OSX Lion (10.7) to easily create and publish digital, interactive books.

Since January we have facilitated a handful of iBooks Author workshops with educators at regional technology events all over California, as well as the Computer Using Educators (CUE) conference in Palm Springs. These workshops have included teachers and administrators engaged in discussions about how to leverage Apple's new software in education. Based upon these experiences, we have identified seven reasons why you should consider adding iBooks Author to your knowledge base.

  1. Curate learning. For decades teachers have been able to supplement adopted curriculum materials with newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and video clips. However, until the development of online curation tools, such as wikis or web-based journals, there was not a simple mechanism for organizing these resources and making them available to students.

    iBooks Author provides a powerful tool for teachers to use when curating instructional materials. Unlike many web-based resources, these materials can be organized into a book-like format while still incorporating interactive features, such as hyperlinks, video clips, presentations, 3-D objects, and photo galleries. iBooks Author is designed to make quick use of materials you already have, including text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

  2. Publish easily. iBooks Author gives teachers and students a free and accessible tool for creating digital texts. iBooks Author could easily be used by students to publish a short story for their school site digital library or as a tool for creating a portfolio of all of their work over the school year. In addition, schools and districts have expressed a great deal of interest in publishing their own materials for staff for both professional development and information updates.

  3. Share for free. With iBooks Author, writers have multiple options for sharing their completed texts. Free and fee-based books can be shared directly with the world through the iBookstore. However, school districts and teachers who want to share their texts locally can choose two different export options: PDF and the .iBooks file format.

  4. Create interactive objects. From podcasts and videos to embedded photo galleries and presentations, iBooks Author provides a variety of interactive objects authors can embed into their digital texts. This allows books to become truly multimodal, providing content to readers in multiple formats.

  5. Transition simply. iBooks Author is an amazingly simple piece of software. When compared to other e-book creation tools, iBooks Author is in a class all by itself. If you are familiar with Apple's Pages and Keynote applications, you will be right at home using iBooks Author. All of the tools and menus are in the exact same locations, making transference from one application to the other quite seamless.

  6. Update quickly. Whether you choose to share files locally or through the iBookstore, e-books created with iBooks Author can be easily updated and made available for your readers through a quick download.

  7. Learn anytime, anywhere. Since books published with iBooks Author are self-contained files, teachers can develop resources that can be accessed anytime and from anywhere. Interactive graphics and videos are built right into the document and do not require an internet connection to operate. Additionally, as students read through the text they can highlight key sections, add notes, and create flashcards that will stay on their iPad, available for use with or without an internet connection.

Planning for iBooks Author in Your District

It is important to recognize that iBooks Author has only been available for a couple of months and will likely have many updates and changes in the future. However, as your district explores mobile device deployments, iBooks Author will be an important tool for incorporating district- or teacher-created digital texts. From our own experiences teaching multiple workshops and writing our own iBook, technology leaders may want to consider the following areas:

  1. Technology requirements. It is important to note that the iBooks Author software requires a minimum of Macintosh Operating System 10.7 (OS X Lion). This is the latest operating system for Mac computers. Also, iBooks Author requires specific file formats for audio and video files. These can easily be created using the free program QuickTime Player. Please check with your technology support staff about adding these updates and programs to your computers.

  2. File formats. Currently, iBooks Author provides only three export formats: text, PDF, and .iBooks. Unfortunately, the PDF and text formats lose all of the interactive features, including video playback, and the .iBooks format only works on the iPad. It will not open on any other mobile device. Districts will need to determine which file type makes the most sense based upon the needs of their readers.

  3. File sizes. As videos, images, and interactive objects are added into iBooks Author projects, the files can grow very quickly. Users will need assistance with creating files that can be easily transferred across school district networks. This may include support with compressing videos or resizing images, and formatting Keynote presentations.

  4. Professional development. Fortunately, iBooks Author is fairly easy to use, especially for individuals comfortable with Pages or Keynote. However, your teachers and students may need some assistance with properly downloading and opening the .iBooks files. When these are downloaded and opened in the iBooks app on the iPad, the process can easily take 30 seconds to a minute. For many users this seems like a really long time and they will repeatedly click on the "Open in iBooks" button, restarting the process each time, and will never be able to open the file. Users will need support on how to properly download and open the book on their devices.

  5. Copyright. While iBooks Author makes it easy to drag and drop documents, video, and images into one book, your district may not have the copyright privileges to use these materials as part of your project. Districts will need to spend time educating students and staff about appropriate use of current instructional materials and spend time getting familiar with copyright-friendly and Creative Commons-licensed content.

Getting Started
Beginning your own iBooks Author journey is quite simple. All you will need is an Apple computer running Lion (OSX 10.7) and a free copy of the iBooks Author software available from the App Store on your computer. Feel free to download the iBooks Author handbook we have created as part of our iBooks Author workshops. As you develop your own texts, consider making them available to the world. One of the great benefits to iBooks Author and mobile devices is the fact we can truly have anytime-anywhere learning sitting right in our backpacks.

About the Authors

Burt Lo is the manager of instructional technology and online learning at the Santa Clara County Office of Education and tweets @trubol.

Joe Wood is an instructional technology integration specialist with the San Juan Unified School District in Sacramento and blogs at joewoodonline.com. He is active on Twitter @ucdjoe.