Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Thoughts from Working with iBooks Author

Apple’s new movement in educational technology has drawn much attention in the past several days after announced, thearguments and discussion are still ongoing (link to on this topic follow-up). According to Mashable reported yesterday, users have downloaded more than 350,000 textbooks in three days. Apple announced on its quarterly earnings call this afternoon(Jan.24th) that iBooks Author had seen 600,000 downloads, and iTunes U has seen 3 million app downloads since unveiling. Apple also announced earlier that currently 1.5 million iPads have been deployed in schools.

David Thomson is the author of Law School 2.0: Legal Education for a Digital Age, and Director of the Lawyering Process Program at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law. David is well known for his expertise in using technology in teaching, and has presented widely across the country on this topic. We found his sharing on using “iBooks Author” is a great post(as below). You can visit his website Law School 2.0 for more of his intelligence.


Working with iBooks Author

(by David Thomson on January 21, 2012)

I have been working with Apple’s iBooks Author software more today, and can report that it is very much like Pages for the Mac, with interactive “widgets” built in to add interactivity and an output capability directly to iBooks. It also has a “Preview” feature so you can see what it looks like on your iPad before you publish the book to the iBookstore.

As I was working with the program, I prepared a mindmap showing the features I think one would want in an interactive textbook for legal education, and also noting which of those features iBooks Author has already baked in. Here is the diagram (the checkboxes indicate which features Apple has already included):

iBook author

The quiz functionality is very basic, and would not work well for legal materials.  If you are going to quiz law students on legal information, the provided answers in the multiple choice questions need to be longer than is allowed in the software, but more importantly, they need to provide detailed answers for students to review after they have taken the quiz.  Also, it should be noted that there is no “email results to teacher” option, or any capture of how the student did on the quiz. This functionality has been part of law school courseware sites for many years, and so many will want to have it (in some form). The thinking seems to be (so far with this 1.0 version of the software) that these questions are merely for review.  Which is fine, but a law text would need more room for the questions and more information provided in the answer and review part of the quiz. Merely knowing you got the question “right” does not provide enough instruction.

Also, a glaring omission is social networking. One of the most important technology developments in the last several years has been the rise of social networking.  Social reading is still catching on, but the Kindle has had this feature for over a year.  (If you are reading something on your Kindle and want to share a passage with  your Twitter following, it’s a matter of a few clicks). This kind of functionalility could be very powerful for law students, but it is not available in the 1.0 version of the iBooks Author software.

A concern is that links into webcourse systems may be somewhat problematic.  Embedding links in an iBook out to a website is simple: it opens the link in Safari on the iPad.  But embedding links that might require a logon step (like to a University Blackboard or other courseware system) does not seem to work very well.

A more sophistocated software end-to-end solution can be found at Inkling, and in the Inkling iPad App, but that software is not generally available to the public, much less free.  Inkling is working with publishers to help them convert their books over to iBooks, and they do have social capability built in to their software, as well as many of the same (or similar) interactive features the iBooks Author software does.

Inkling has published a traditional law school textbook with Aspen Publishers (Wolters Kluwer): Wills, Trusts, and Estates.  It is, frankly, a very poor example of what I think we want to do in making a law school text into an iBook format for the iPad.  I downloaded the first chapter into the Inkling software on the iPad, and it essentially the same as the print – that is, the old style “dinosaur” formatted law textbook.  There are internal links to other parts of the text. The demo page for the book seemed to indicate that there were links for cases out somewhere, but those are not visible or usuable in the Chapter I reviewed. I also did not see any links to rules or much of any additional, contextual information.  Oh, there was a picture of Sandra Day O’Connor embedded in one of her opinons while she served on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Big whoop. And here is the most disappointing part: the Inking eBook version of the Wills & Trusts book is the same price as the print version: $159. Although you can purchase chapters separately (for $22 each).

It is interesting to read the reaction of Inkling’s CEO to the Apple eTextbook announcement on Thursday. Here is a particularly thoughtful quote from his blog post:

Although Apple introduced some beautiful content, there are miles to go before this industry scales itself around building products that are “born” digital. To do so will take sophisticated tools and a cross-platform, open infrastructure that has yet to materialize. 

He put his finger on a big issue right there – the textbook publishing industry is going to have to re-scale itself around a different kind of publishing than they are used to, and that they know. “Born digital” is a different realm, and being a traditional editor at a traditional publishing house is a job that is going away (however slowly) or changing significantly (over time).

In the meantime, Apple has made a tool available to enterprising authors to publish their own work, and experiment with their own interactive elements. How these will be incorporated into law textbooks remains to be seen, but the iBooks Author tool makes a lot possible.

Note : Law School 2.0 Blog by David Thomson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


What’s “born” digital” ? The comment means even such an innovative company like Apple hasn’t fully fulfilled the full potential of digital textbook(learning).  Kathleen Fitzpatrick (ProfHacker) also reflected and gave comments on iBooks Author, one of the opinions is :

But there are some notable gaps here, as well. The textbooks that can be produced with iBooks Author and read in iBooks 2 are interactive… They do not, however, provide for interaction amongst readers of the text, or for responses from a reader to reach the author, or, as far as I can tell so far, for connections across texts. The “book,” though multimediated, manipulable, and disembodied, is still a discrete, fairly closed object.

I think we can expect more innovations being created in future after Apple kicked a great start on digital textbooks. For continuing development of this story, user experience sharing and debates from different points of view, we are curating a here : All about Apple’s New Move in Digital Textbooks.


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Categorised in: Digital Textbook, iPad for Learning

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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