A Case for Using iBooks in Your Classroom

I’ve previously blogged about creating great content with iBooks author and using Book Creator to create and collaborate. They really are both fantastic tools for creating iBooks! But what benefits will using iBooks bring to your classroom? Here, I will present what I feel are the greatest strengths, in no particular order, of iBooks to give you some ideas of how you might use them with your own classes.

Cost (unfortunately) can often be a major factor when making decisions within education, particularly with regards resources. However, creating your own iBooks is completely free! One tool used to create them, iBooks Author is free and there is no cost associated with publishing your work either to the iBooks Store or independently (check the licensing agreement first if you plan on distributing a paid book independently). This is a huge win for educators, many of whom would have been unable to publish their own work due to cost constraints. Even if you were fortunate enough to be able to publish your own content, the size of your creation may be bound by printing costs: something iBooks do not succumb to since additional digital pages bear no extra cost!

As well as using your own creations, iBooks can be downloaded from the iBooks store: there are currently over 2.5 million available. The cost of digital books are often comparable to their printed counterparts. For example, a paper copy of a popular GCSE English text A View from the Bridge is available from Amazon for £6.35 (+ P&P), whereas an electronic version is available from the iBooks Store for £6.49. Another popular A Level text, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is available on the iBooks Store for free! Whilst the saving may not appear all that significant, iBooks contain a number of key features, which I’ll touch on later, which make purchasing them more appealing, especially for education. Finally, if your institution is enrolled with Apple’s Volume Purchase Programme (VPP) for Education, you may be able to receive additional discounts for any iBooks purchased from the iBooks Store. Please note, whilst iBooks purchased through VPP can be distributed by your Mobile Device Management (MDM), they can not be revoked and reassigned as is the case with apps.

IMG_1586Many Classics are available for free!

Traditional books do not always offer the greatest in terms of practicality. Students or even teachers who have to carry multiple textbooks will attest to the fact that they are often heavy and cumbersome. In addition, due to cost, they are often used for many years, resulting in worn covers, torn or dog-eared pages, unsightly graffiti and possibly content which is out of date. Plus, any textbooks which are lost have to be replaced, again at a cost. The use of iBooks can overcome these problems! Students and teachers can store multiple iBooks on their devices which are much smaller, lighter and more portable. This in particular is likely to make peripatetic teachers rejoice! Furthermore, they can not be forgotten, lost or damaged: in fact, iCloud makes it possible to sync all of your iBooks across all of your devices to ensure they are always at hand.

IMG_1588You can carry every iBook you’ll need on your device

One element which really causes iBooks to shine is the level of interactivity that is possible between the reader and an iBook. This is one aspect where a traditional, printed books simply cannot compete! The content of conventional books is confined to text and static images, whereas the content within an iBook is able to raise this to a whole new level. Instead of small, static images that are common in many textbooks, through the use of Widgets, iBooks are able to display stunning images in full screen which readers can interact with using gestures they are familiar with like pinch to zoom, great for when you want to focus on a particular feature within a picture. Furthermore, the inclusion of galleries enables readers to swipe through multiple images. The Interactive Image Widget brings a new dimension whereby readers can access additional information about a picture simply by tapping a label.

iBooks also allows creators to add additional interactive elements which are impossible to feature on the printed page. Through the inclusion of the Media Widget, authors can embed video and audio files which can be played within the iBook itself. My favourite interactive feature is the 3D Widget. This enables the creator to add a 3D model to an iBook which can then be manipulated by the reader. As a geographer, I love this feature as it enables students to explore features of our earth, like volcanoes, in 3D and in a way that even digital images and video are unable to.

IMG_1589An example of a multiple choice question within a Review Widget

Finally, one interactive element which is tailored specifically to education is the Review Widget. This enables the creator to add a series of interactive questions, including text or image based multiple choice or drag to target questions. What makes these so great is they assess the responses of the reader and provide instant feedback making it very simple to identify any misconceptions or gaps in their knowledge.

Student tools
I believe that one of the most significant advantages that iBooks have over their paper equivalents is the additional tools that the reader has at their disposal when interacting with an iBook. For example iBooks allows readers, to highlight text with the swipe of a finger. Users can even change the colour of the highlighter, great for colour coordination. In addition, gone are the days of multiple Post-It notes (which would inevitably get lost) being attached to pages, readers can easily add notes to sections of text. This may not necessarily appear all that significant: anyone armed with an array of highlighters and a stack of Post-It notes could achieve the same thing in a traditional book, albeit not quite as slick. However these simple tools provide additional features which really make the difference. Tapping the Note button in the toolbar reveals a collated list of highlights and notes added by the reader, great for when you revisit a topic and have at a quick summary available at a glance. iBooks even takes this one step further by creating a set of study cards for users, an absolutely fantastic revision tool!

IMG_1590Highlighting and note taking toolbar

With iBooks, searching for content and finding definitions to key words is made easy. At the start of each chapter is a table of contents and readers can use this to quickly select a topic simply by tapping on it. Perhaps you want to be more specific: the search function in the toolbar enables the reader to search for a word or phrase, or can even go to a certain page in the book just by searching for a page number. Finally, authors can create a glossary of key terms in exactly the same way as it features in a traditional book. However in iBooks, these words are highlighted within the text and if the reader is unsure of the meaning of these can access a definition by tapping on it. In fact, using the built in Define feature found in iOS and OS X, the reader can find the definition to any word by highlighting it and choosing define.

Readers with impairments may sometimes struggle to use traditional, printed books. For example, a reader who is visually-impaired may be unable to read a book because the font is too small. Alternatively, a reader with a low reading age may find it difficult to interpret the text. As a result, these individuals often have to use different materials to access the content which is problematic as it can result in them being stigmatised. However, some of these can be overcome through the accessibility features built into iOS, OS X and iBooks. For example, enabling the Zoom or Larger Text functions within the devices settings will make reading iBooks easier for those with visual impairments. Also, enabling the Speak Selection function will enable the user to make their device read to them, again great for those with visual impairment or sometimes for those with a lower reading age. When creating iBooks using iBooks Author, the creator can add iBooks Accessibility Description to Widgets. This is great if your book contains elements which are not described by text. For example, a description of an image could be included when creating a book, which is then read by VoiceOver when user interacts with the book on an iOS or OS X device.

As a Geographer, printed textbooks can be great, but they can also be problematic. Whilst the theoretical content is great, in our ever changing world, some of supporting material can quickly become dated and lose its relevance. For example, a current textbook features a case study of an earthquake which happened 20 years ago: that’s before any of my students were born! That is not to say it is of little value, however it is easy to understand why students feel that it is difficult to connect with when they frequently see examples of such events in the media. Obtaining up to date textbooks is near impossible because of the time taken to publish and print the materials and because of the cost involved in replacing an entire class set. iBooks is able to overcome this by supporting book updates. If an author updates a book in your library, the iBooks app notifies you and offers you the option to download the updated version for free. As a creator, this is also great as it means you can update sections of your book where necessary and push those out to students.

This is just an insight into what I feel are the strengths of using iBooks in education. Some of those mentioned may be more or less applicable to you depending on your location, subject or even the age range of your students. I would love to hear in the comments section below if you agree or disagree with any of the above or if there are any other features which make iBooks a great tool for using in education.

mzl.cyfzvwwuiBooks Author by Apple is available for free on the Mac App Store.

*all prices and links correct at the time of publication and are subject to change


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