Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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Book Creator + Tellagami = eBooks with UDL Supports!

Strange things keep me awake sometimes, and last night it was Tellagami. Some of my EdTechTeacher colleagues love Tellagami. Sure, I can create a talking avatar. It can speak with my own voice if I record audio or via text-to-speech. However, I just found it sort of flat. I get that I could use it for App Smashing and have a mini-virtual me travel in and out of screencasts. In fact, Greg Kulowiec (@GregKulowiec) wrote an amazing post this week about Green Screen App Smashing with it.  But honestly, until about 4am, I just didn’t get it.

I get it!

When teaching, one of my favorite web tools was the CAST Book Builder. Teachers could create their own custom content and then employ animated coaches to ask thought provoking questions, support prediction making, and scaffold concepts. What if I could do the same thing by combining Tellagami and Book Creator?!

Imagine writing a story and then using Tellagami to ask thought provoking questions to guide students through comprehension, or creating an interactive math book that includes characters to remind students of steps and processes. What if social studies teachers included characters with digital artifacts to read excerpts of speeches or documents that may be above reading level. Science teachers could have Tellagami coaches ask questions about the content to encourage students to make hypotheses. Foreign Language teachers may provide translation support or additional information about cultural references.

While voice-over narration is possible – and could be another way to provide differentiated content – incorporating these talking avatars could be more for learning support as well as enrichment.

Ok, I get it now…..


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iPads, ePubs, and Windows – stuffing a square peg in a round hole

Last week, I taught iPads, ePubs, & iBooks Author: Creating Your Own Digital Course Content with EdTechTeacher colleague, Greg Kulowiec. When we wrote the description for the course, we included language to ensure that we wouldn’t exclude people with Windows computers. However, in the weeks leading up to the workshop, we honed in on iBooks Author and assumed that no one would come without a Mac. This proved to be a false assumption…

Challenge #1 – Converting a Word file into an ePub

During the first afternoon, as Greg lead the group through the process of creating ePubs with Pages, I created the Windows Working Group and tackled the concept of converting from Word to ePub. While there is not an ePub extension available from Microsoft to easily convert Word docs into ePubs, we found a few solutions.

  1. If you have the bandwidth and connectivity, it’s possible to upload a Word doc to either 2EPUB or Online-Convert, though they don’t always load, and then download the converted ePub file.
  2. Save your Word file as HTML. Open the HTML version in a browser, and then use the dotEPUB bookmarklet to convert it to an ePub file.
  3. Connect Wappwolf to a Dropbox account. Wappwolf is a third party site that lets you write actions for specified folders in your Dropbox account. We created a folder called PDF to ePub and gave it the action that when a file is uploaded to that folder as a PDF, then Wappwolf would convert it to an ePub file. This lets you save a Word file as a PDF on a Windows computer and upload it to the Dropbox folder with the action.

We tried a few Windows based converter programs such as Calibre and ePub Maker, but found the first three options to be more effective. Wappwolf actually held the formatting the best of all and created an ePub format that allowed for full annotation when opened in iBooks on an iPad.

Challenge #2 – Creating Custom ePubs on Windows Computers

iBooks Author only runs on Mac OSX 10.7+, so our Windows Working Group spent a chunk of time exploring other ePub creation options. While Adobe CS6 claims to be able to create media rich ePubs, none of us were looking to spend $300+ to find out. There are also fantastic iPad apps for creating ePubs, but it is often easier to create content on a computer that already has a library of files and images. After much trial and error, we came up with some solutions in addition to simply converting content a Word file into an ePub format via one of the above options.

  1. eCub is a sort of ePub compiler. Mutiple text files can be brought together as a project and then compiled into a single ePub. However, images did not carry over well, and it was a bit cumbersome to use.
  2. Jutoh has more of a WYSIWYG editor for creating ePubs. Once the project has been created, it’s possible to export it out. However, you have to buy the full version ($39) in order to lose their watermark in your publications.
  3. Sigil, an open-source option, proved to be our favorite solution. It was possible to create ePubs with text, images, and basic formatting. It was also nice that Sigil created raw ePub files that didn’t need to be converted to any other file format, and included features such as chapter markers and the ability to create custom cover images as well as a Table of Contents.

Regardless of which program we chose, workflow posed an additional challenge. Gathering all text and image files before beginning to compile definitely improved the process, as much of the decision making then fell into place more easily – especially with regard to inserting headers in order to generate a table of contents and knowing how to locate all relevant files quickly and efficiently.

With collaborative projects, we determined that it would be easier to create a shared Google Document that could then be compiled into an ePub. Similarly, if working on a network, multiple files could be placed in a shared folder for easy access.

Challenge #3 – Creating Media Rich eBooks

The lure of iBooks Author is the ability to incorporate audio, video, and text. This was not a possibility from a PC given the programs at our disposal; however, it is possible to create dynamic ePubs from the iPad. While we found Book Creator to be valuable for having students create their own eBooks; as educators, Creative Book Builder opened up a world of possibility.

Creative Book Builder can import an ePub file from either Dropbox or Google Drive. This means that Windows folks can create the majority of their book on a Computer with either Sigil or Word,  upload it into cloud storage, and then import it into Creative Book Builder in order to add audio, video, additional images, or even links to Google Presentations. Once completed in Creative Book Builder, final ePubs can be sent to iBooks or back to Dropbox for dissemination to students.

Square Peg/ Round Hole

Even when using iBooks Author, educators face a host of challenges with regard to creating digital course content: storage, workflow, and compiling resources onto a single device. When working with Windows, because a single program for creating media rich ePubs does not seem to affordably exist, the process becomes even more complex – sort of feeling like cramming a square peg in a round hole. After much trial and error, we came up with two solutions to the challenge:

  1. Create a Word doc. Save it as a PDF. Upload it to a Dropbox folder with a Wappwolf action. Import it into Creative Book Builder, and add additional media.
    Word, Wappwolf, Dropbox workflow
  2. Create an ePub with Sigil. Upload the ePub file to either a Dropbox or Google Docs/Drive. Open it in Creative Book Builder and add additional medial.
    Sigil to Cloud Storage to Creative Book Builder

Regardless of the workflow solution, a set of essential questions emerged to help guide the process of creating custom content.

  • Who is the creator of this content? Is the teacher doing the creating or the student?
  • Why digitize the content? Is the intention to provide a multi-modal representation of the information or just to reduce paper?
  • What do you want students to do with the content? Is the goal for them to actively read or just experience a different representation?

For schools combining Windows and iPads into a single learning environment, there are certainly challenges with regard to the creation of custom curriculum content. However, by combining the facility of using a computer and the features of certain iPad apps, it is possible without the assistance of iBooks Author.