The Best Way to Use iBooks Author in Education


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Sometimes we focus on what an app can’t do and forget to look at what it can. That’s been the case with iBooks Author, Apple’s e-book creation platform released nearly a year ago.

Part of the problem was Apple’s own hyperbolic statements about its “disruptive” nature to the textbook publishing industry. It failed to live up to the hype for a variety of well-documented reasons. But this post is about what it is, not what it isn’t.

Sridhar Condoor’s recently published Innovation Challenges: Mind Workouts for Teams is an example of what it is: A great tool for creating simple e-books.

How iBooks Author Spread Innovation

When Dr. Condoor, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at St. Louis University, started hosting Innovation Challenges — a weekly lunch-hour event that brought together students and faculty across disciplines to solve creative problems — he knew he was onto something special.

For the first two semesters, the challenges drew upwards of 50 participants each week, and soon, faculty from other institutions were calling with questions about how to replicate the success of Innovation Challenges at their own schools.

That’s when, after exploring his options, Condoor decided the best way to spread the message and the method behind Innovation Challenges was to lay it all out in a free, interactive e-book.

And iBooks Author, he determined, was the way to do it.

The 74-page e-book that he and grad student, Gregory Keogh, wrote includes details on setting up the challenges and marketing them, followed by 22 challenge-specific sections outlining learning outcomes, step-by-step instructions, team and facilitator supply lists, tips and variations.

Each section also includes short videos that let the reader hear about the challenges in the participants’ own words.

What to Know About Writing an iBooks Author E-book

Should you decide to experiment with iBooks Author, Condoor has some advice.

Writing an e-book is easier than you think.

Just get started. A great way to practice is to take one of your short lectures or modules and turn it into an e-book. When you do this, you not only will go through the process of dividing material into book-sized pieces, but you’ll also learn the ins-and-outs of the tool.

iBooks Author is designed for novices. From selecting one of the pre-set templates to dragging and dropping content from other documents, the entire process is simple, and similar to creating documents on the Mac’s native apps, Pages and Keynote.

Though not a substitute for downloading the free program and tinkering around, Nellie McKesson and Adam Witwer’s free e-book, Publishing with iBooks Author is an excellent guide for getting started.

It took Condoor and Keogh about a month to hit publish on Innovation Challenges, with filming and editing videos taking the most time. You could leave that part out and finish sooner, but video and other media that give life to your ideas are often worth the effort.

Simple doesn’t mean boring.

“Don’t limit your thinking to the traditional book,” Condoor says.

With iBooks Author, you’re able to add images, Keynote slides, video, audio, quizzes, scrolling sidebars, 3D images and more. All these features can make the book more interactive, and ultimately, more instructive.

Bookry (formerly Class Widgets) is a third-party tool designed to let you add widgets, like YouTube, Timeline, Google Maps, Vimeo and Instagram, as well as a monitoring tool so you can get feedback about how readers are interacting with your book.

Of course, the key here is to be selective. Just because you can use scrolling sidebars and 3D images doesn’t mean you should. And, that’s where Condoor’s next tip comes in.

Keep it simple.

“With a tool like iBook, it is easy to make things more complicated and lose the cohesiveness [of your book],” he says. “Keep the layout and thoughts simple and well organized.”

For Innovation Challenges, Condoor and Keogh took each weekly challenge from the previous two semesters and asked themselves what information was most important to convey. That’s how they ended up with a consistent layout for each section.

Condoor recommends that you choose a short lesson, module or exercise with a specific outcome. Select an existing slide presentation and let the slide deck (assuming it has a number of visual elements) serve as your images. Then, add text to go along with the images. Finally, think about various multimedia elements that could complement the content and engage the reader.

Involve students in the process.

Asking students for feedback as you write can help ensure your content connects with the reader. “The student perspectives and reflections are refreshing,” says Condoor, who asked students for feedback on draft versions of Innovation Challenges, and ended up featuring several students in the videos embedded in the book.

So far, response to Innovation Challenges has been positive and Condoor says he’s planning an updated version with new challenges next year.

Despite its limitations, what are your thoughts on the best ways to use iBooks Author in education? Share in the comments.


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