“Whenever I talk to teachers about eBooks, the feeling seems to be that they’d be a great way to get students creating and sharing information, or to create custom textbooks with the most up-to-date content – if only they didn’t take six hours of painstaking formatting to make, and involve you knowing your EPUB from your MOBI. I used to have a ten minute speech about how making them in Pages wasn’t that awkward really, but thankfully Apple have saved you from that by creating a new, free authoring tool that makes the entire process far easier: iBooks Author.
“Available free from the Mac App Store, iBooks Author allows you to create Apple’s preferred format of eBook, an iBook, by dragging and dropping your content into a template. You can then share it with your classroom iPad deployment through the iBooks store, iTunes U, or a web server. With a simple interface, controls much like the ones you’ll already know from apps like Pages, for teachers looking to keep students’ attention or students wanting an innovative way to deliver a report, it’s more than enough to get the job done. “
Are you Mac enough? A word about formats
There are a few things you need to be aware of from the get go: iBooks Author will only run on Macs, and will only support very specific file types (.m4v video, .m4a audio and Collada 3D files, though more video and audio types are supported since version 2.0). It can be used to create PDFs and text documents as well as iBooks, but only the iBooks will retain interactive elements like video, animations and annotations, so it’ll work best if your school has an iPad deployment. Come to think of it, if you’ve just joined an iPad scheme, putting together an iBook is a great way to help students get to grips with tablets without straying too far from the curriculum.
iBooks Author for teachers
The obvious advantage of using iBooks Author is that it effectively lets you create a textbook you can edit at will. You can drag in diagrams and text from existing handouts (even entire Word documents if you like), then combine them with up to date information, supporting video and audio, and even create multiple versions of texts for classes of different abilities – all without spending 40 minutes swearing at the photocopier and spending a small fortune on paper every time the curriculum changes.
iBooks Author comes with a range of templates and, while making changes to the templates themselves is more difficult than it’s worth, adding content to the pages is purely a matter of dragging, dropping, cutting and pasting until you’re happy with what you’ve got, then hooking up an iPad to your Mac to preview it. Text auto-wraps around any media you drop, while titles, headings and paragraphs are all pre- formatted, so you don’t need to be a closet design genius to end up with a good looking, easily readable iBook. Other features that will come in handy include the ability to embed whole Keynote presentations (so any slides that you’ve used during lessons can be slotted in the iBook for revision later) and the ability to create quizzes at the end of each chapter, so students can see how much they’ve managed to retain. Admittedly, there’s no way for you to see their results yet, but you don’t need to tell them that…
…and for students!
Creating an iBook and getting it to work properly on an iPad is an engaging challenge for students that makes them think critically about the resources they encounter (what best supports the information they’re trying to share?), work collaboratively and creatively (why not get them working together to create their own multimedia content?) and brush up their IT skills in any subject at the same time.
I’d recommend having a practise yourself before putting students to work, as tasks like reordering pages can take a couple of tries to get right, but once they’ve mastered the basics, iBooks Author quickly becomes a more interesting alternative to writing another five-page essay. You can even get students to create iBooks on different areas of a topic and then lead a session on them. If you don’t like the idea of students creating their own textbooks, iBooks are still an excellent learning tool. Because any notes, highlights and bookmarks made are stored in a single file on a student’s iPad, it can be used for revision anywhere at any time, and PDF and text versions of the books can even be used on Macs or PCs if students don’t all have access to an iPad. The range of media you can include means that you can cater to a wider range of learning styles and create a richer, more memorable text for students to revise from – always helpful in the run up to exam day!
Now for the important bit: How to make an iBook in 7 easy step
1. Open the iBooks Author app on your Mac.
2. Choose a layout from the Template Chooser. Choose either a Portrait Only template, or a Landscape one with a simplified view when the iPad is turned to Portrait orientation.
3. Type in your text or copy and paste it from an existing document. All the templates have their headings and titles pre-formatted for you, but you can edit these in the Inspector if you need to.
4. Drag and drop elements like images, tables and video into your layout. These can come from the desktop or from your Mac’s Media Browser – best if they are m4v files if they’re video and .m4a if they’re audio, but Author will convert them for you if not. The text should automatically wrap itself round any new elements so that it stays readable, and you can edit how it aligns itself in the Inspector.
5. Connect an iPad to your Mac, start the iBooks app and hit Preview to check everything’s working. Your iBook should display on your Mac with all the interactive elements fully usable. If anything isn’t displaying properly, you can edit on your Mac and the changes will be visible on the iPad as soon as you hit Preview again.
6. Save your work and from then on iBooks Author auto-saves every edit you make. Easy!
7. Upload the finished textbook to the student iPad through iTunes U, a web server, your VLE, cloud services like Dropbox or apps like Goodreader and iFiles.
Think it sounds too good to be true? Watch the video demo on our education YouTube channel here.