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My ebook experience

April 30, 2013
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I made an ebook for the communications class I teach and used it this semester. I would like to say it was a thing of beauty, but functional would probably better describe it. The ebook solved two problems: guilt and paper use. Guilt came from having the students buy a textbook, a really good textbook, that we only used a few chapters from. I hoped to cut down on paper use, and I succeeded to some extent. The extent was limited because the ebook application I use and the others I am aware of don’t handle tables well, so it was difficult for me to put my rubrics in the book. I finally went with handouts.

Getting there

For the book, I tried a free online application but ran into problems when it conflicted with the browser I was using. I shopped around and decided to purchase Jutoh because I can use it on my PC at work or my Mac at home.

It took a couple of tries to even get it into ebook form, and the first version I used with the class looked rather plain with spacing problems. Over spring break I redid the book and got rid of some of the problems and fixed some of the text.

From the beginning, there were problems to overcome. First, the book needed a reader. I posted a link to Adobe’s Digital Edition, and I had to have the reader installed in the ESL lab and on the computer we used in the classroom. I put the book on Box.com to be available for download because the LMS had trouble with the format. However, Box.com works great, so I will continue to use it. After we could use it in class and in the lab, most of the problems were alleviated.

Advantages

The ebook offered several advantages. It was always available, so no one could claim to have lost the textbook. It provided links within the textbook, so students had fast access to additional materials that were not in the textbook. These were materials like additional places to find topics for speeches or download video converters. I could use the textbook in class, sometimes in place of PowerPoint, for presenting the expectations and procedures for an assignment. In addition, it was free.

Not all good

There were problems. If we were in the classroom, students did not have access to the textbook unless they brought their laptop or other device, and they usually didn’t. The format is not consistently displayed. On a computer, the format changes depending on how large the reader makes it on the screen. The information needs to be carefully linked (more about that below) so that navigating is not so confusing. Tables have proven very difficult to use in this format, and text from screen captures loses some of its clarity.

Suggestions going forward

While I have read many books of fiction and nonfiction on my Kindle and iPad, they did not prepare me for an instructional book. An ebook for instructional purposes requires much linking because an ebook requires a different approach to reading. My ebook is not very long so it can be navigated relatively easily, but with longer ebooks, there needs to be recursive linking.

To explain that last statement, I will describe my recent experience in working with an instructional ebook. The book is a paper book that has been turned into an ebook without any adaptations to the ebook situation. It makes references to different sections of the book but provides no links. If I look back for the previous explanation without taking note of my place, I end up searching backwards and then unable to easily return to my previous spot.

As I move forward with the ebook I made and others I plan to compile for our students, I realize that a guide to using ebooks would help the students use them with more confidence and comfort.

Presently, I would like to find a way to make workbooks usable in the ebook format. My current thinking is to put an exercise on one page and having the key linked to it on another page. It seems that there should be something more elegant. Why do I keep thinking hypercard here?

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