In January of this year, Apple held a special event in New York City. At the event, they announced a new and improved iTunes U app and digital textbooks. Both announcements were mildly exciting, but were targeted towards higher education. Individual students may own an iPad and want to purchase their textbooks in a lower-cost, digital format, but for many schools, it may not be economically feasible to jettison they’re existing library of textbooks and provide each and every student with an iPad loaded with digital textbooks.
That said, many schools are experimenting with smaller deployments of iPads in their classrooms and are looking for ways to leverage them to enhance instruction. For those schools, the morning of January 19 was exciting, but not because of any software released for iOS. Along with a few initial digital textbooks and an increased offering of higher education courses in their iTunes U catalog, Apple released iBooks Author—a tool for Mac OS X that allows teachers to create rich, multi-media textbooks that rival the books released by the big publishers. Best of all, the software is completely free.
iBooks Author provides teachers with fantastic-looking templates, built-in interactive widgets, Microsoft Word importing for their existing content, and the ability to preview their books live on an iPad connected to their Mac. Interactive features include maps that zoom in and provide information based on touch and embedded quizzes that help their students assess their understanding before moving on to the next chapter. Apple provides a preview of some of the built-in widgets on their website.
Teachers can embed their PowerPoint or Keynote presentations for future reference as well as embed movies, slideshow, and 3D models into their books to reinforce written content. In many ways, iBooks Author allows teachers and students to create apps for the iPad without having to learn Objective-C and the Xcode suite of developer tools.
Apple understands that not all students will have access to their iPads at home. iBooks Author allows you to export to a variety of different formats—most notably PDF, which can be viewed on almost any device. Online converters allow you to take ePub books (the basis for iBooks Author books) and convert them for use on the Amazon Kindle as well.
Once the book has been exported from iBooks Author and loaded into iBooks on the iPad, students can highlight sections and passages, create flash cards, and take notes. This content is stored in the file itself. If they email the book to their home account, all of their notes and markings will remain in tack.
iBooks Author isn’t just for teachers. Making books in iBooks Author is as easy as making a presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint. Students can use the application to maintain online portfolios of their work and create multimedia books instead of writing yet another five-paragraph essay.
The software opens a lot of possibilities for schools that have already adopted the iPad and for no additional cost. For schools considering an iPad deployment, there really isn’t any parallel to iBooks Author on any of the alternative platforms.
On the other hand, iBooks Author does require that you have access to a Mac. It is not available for Windows and the books can not be used on Android devices unless you export them to PDF.