DIY Multimedia Ebooks for Distance Students

Our colleague Phil Wood of the University of Leicester School of Education has recently launched a new distance masters program in which students are furnished with iPads. The iPads are not preinstalled with anything. (I don’t even know if it’s possible to do that). Phil wrote the course material first and released it on our university VLE Blackboard. Then he turned his attention to formatting the material for the iPad and decided to use iBooks Author. iBooks Author is for Macs only and is free if you have the latest version of the Mac OS. Phil decided to use this because it is easy to use, offers lovely templates and easily accommodates multimedia such as video and podcasts.


Phil demonstrated his DIY ebook for delegates from the Open University of China at a session 23rd of November, 2012, at Beyond Distance, University of Leicester

Phil reported it was not very difficult to cut and paste the already written material into iBooks Author; it required about 10 hours to do 101 pages. The difficulty was that once he imported videos and podcasts, the ebook was over 500 MB in size. The problem then was how to transfer this document onto the students’ iPads in remote locations. For some reason even smaller portions of the book could not be transferred through Blackboard. I need to get to the bottom of the technical reasons for that.

In the end the best option was to use iTunes U Course Manager. This is possible to use even though our university is not yet launched our iTunes U channel. Phil created a new course using Safari on his computer; all he needed was his own Apple ID. For the Course Material, he uploaded his new ebook.

Phil emailed me the link so I could test it; I was the first to enrol on his new course. I selected the ebook to download; it took about 10 minutes to download it onto my iPad 1, while I was sitting in my kitchen at 9.30pm, using Virgin broadband. At first I could read everything but not view the multimedia; that was because I had not upgraded to the latest iBooks. So I upgraded, and everything played perfectly. Phil emailed his students with the private link to his course; when I spoke to him a day or two later, Phil reported that roughly one-third to one-half of the students had already enrolled in the course to access the ebook, and no problems had yet been reported. These students are located all around the world.


iBooks Author saves in the formats .ibooks (for the Apple iBooks app), .pdf and text.

If and when I learn whether students experience issues, I will blog about it here.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester


iPad as e-book reader: we need more data

The MSc in Security, Conflict, and International Development, was the focus of two papers I presented at the MobiLearnAsia 2012 Conference in Sentosa, Singapore, 24-26 October. This MSc course at the University of Leicester provides an iPad to each student; students are located all over the world, largely in conflict zones.

I presented Mummies, War Zones, and Pompeii: the use of tablet computers in situated and on-the-go learning, and also Embedded E-books and E-readers in  Distance Education. This second presentation is particularly interesting to our Places project, because it shows how the use of iPads in the MSc in Security programme is building on the use of e-readers in Psych and Education  Masters, which was done in the DUCKLING Project. It is great to see how research done in a previous project is being continued and developed, and taking some unexpected turns.

Information assistants carrying iPads at Changi Airport in Singapore

The e-book readers in DUCKLING were pretty basic, the Sony PRS 505, the only model available for purchase in the UK in 2009 which is when DUCKLiNG happened.  We pre-loaded the learning materials, then shipped the devices to students around the world. Because of copyright issues, we could only succeed in including one book on the e-readers, in addition to our instructor-authored learning materials. Time-poor students found the e-readers very helpful to keep up on reading in a convenient, accessible psckage, because they could make use of even 10 minutes during the day. One student felt using the e-reader helped her to focus on assigned reading and achieve better marks in assignments.

In the case of the iPads for MSc In Security, nothing is preloaded; the iPad is simply shipped to the student w instructions to download the free, custom-made app (called ‘SCID’, and it is free in the Apple store). The student downloads the app and has the course information from a single handy source. The student is also given Amazon book vouchers so as to purchase some of the recommended readings for the course.

So far students are very positive about both the app and the iPad, but less positive about e-books on the iPad. One person lives in a country in which Amazon books cannot be purchased. Another person commented thats/he had not yet gotten into the habit of using the iPad for all of the readings.

We need more data to be sure, but in our case, e-books on the iPad don’t seem to be quite as popular as the app, about which students are definitely very positive. Why is this? Is it because we did not pre-install the readings? It does seem clear that in DUCKLING, students liked having the readings pre-installed on the e-book reader. Is it because the iPad is not as easy-on -the-eyes as an e-ink e-reader? We have not asked enough questions yet to make any conclusions at all, but we hope to establish whether the iPad is a successful e-book reader for these distance students.

Finally, we have received word that another distance program at Leicesteer is considering a one-mobile-device-per-student model, but this one may feature not iPads but e-book readers. It would be good if we could get even a bit of data on that one for our Places project as well.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, Beyond Distance Research Alliance, University of Leicester