This year I decided to try iBooks to publish student memoirs. Why iBooks? Here are some of my reasons:
- My school district will probably go 1:1 with iPads for students this year or next, so I wanted to practice using an iOS-specific app like iBooks.
- While you can only read the iBook version on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer, you can publish the document as a PDF, which is accessible from anywhere. Before this experiment, I was under the impression one needed an iOS device to read an iBook. That is not true if you just want to read text or see static images, but the for interactive, multimedia features you still need an Apple device.
- You don’t have to publish to the iBooks store. For some reason, I had it in my mind that if you make an iBook, you have to publish it to the store. Not true. You can simply publish the iBook link or PDF link to your website or learning management system (LMS). There is no need to go through the iBooks store unless you want to market your product more widely.
- iBooks Author creates a professional-looking, multimedia product. It turned out to be more complicated than I expected, but the final anthology looks great. In fact, next time I plan to incorporate even more of the multimedia elements—why not have students create short audio or video elements to accompany their narratives? iBooks Author has limitless possibilities when it comes to digital composition.
My First Adventure with iBooks Author:
- I learned that you create with iBooks Author. You have to do this on a Mac computer, not an iPad or an iPhone. You read in iBooks (not iBooks Author), and the reading can be done on any Apple device. And, like I noted above, iBooks Author allows you to export your work as a PDF, and in that form, anyone can download and read it.
- When you create a new project, iBooks Author asks you to choose a template from their gallery. I chose Portrait because I thought it fit the mood for an anthology of seventh grade student memoirs. I like how the template automatically changes the font to match template parameters when you copy and paste text from another source. It also formats everything correctly.
- This leads me to my next point: One major drawback of iBooks is that it is not collaborative. This means my students had to give me digital access to their typed drafts, so I could copy and paste them into iBooks. My students typed on our LMS and I copied and pasted from there. The only problem I had was the LMS doesn’t support smart quotes. Since dialogue punctuation was one of the project’s learning goals, I wanted that part to be correct. With some help from my husband, I figured out how to replace all of the “dumb quotes” with smart quotes using the Find and Replace function in iBooks Author. That took me awhile to figure out, so email me if you want the details.
- Since iBooks is meant to have multimedia components, I asked my students to contribute art to accompany their writing. I gave them the option of creating illustrations the old-fashioned way—with colored pencils and paper—or with digital tools using the school iPads. At my school we have a free app called Doodle Buddy which works for the purpose. Interestingly, the class was evenly divided between who chose print and who chose digital drawing tools. NOTE: If you’re in a hurry, regular pen and paper drawing takes much less time. All students have to do is snap a photo of their finished work in order to send it to you.
- Most of my students do not have email accounts, so in order to get their illustrations off the school iPads, they attached the files to an assignment on our LMS. Another option would have been for them to upload the files to their Google Drive accounts—they have Drive but not Gmail—in order to share the files with me from there. I do not recommend having students embed the images onto their writing because it doesn’t copy and paste the way you want into iBooks.
- Next, I spent several hours copying and pasting student work in to iBooks. This wasn’t intellectually strenuous but it was time consuming.
- I quickly realized I needed to print the entire file for students before I could publish it. Why? No matter how much proofreading we did up to this point, there were still many errors. After I printed and passed out the iBook-formatted versions of their work, I noticed students were more motivated to clean up their typos than they were when looking at the digital document. All of a sudden publication became real to them. In fact, that short activity was the most successful I’ve ever taught in regard to getting students to proofread. It was worth printing out all that paper.
- Here’s the really painful part: After students edited on paper, I had to make their edits in iBooks Author. This took me awhile and it felt fairly tedious. A better system might be to have student editors take on the work after school or at lunch. Or maybe this is an opportunity for parent volunteers to contribute. Like I said, the fact that iBooks Author is not collaborative means that one person—probably you—is doing the lion’s share of the publishing work.
- Digital composition means moving beyond purely text-based writing. I didn’t have much time, but I wanted more multimedia components, so I added the slide show from a previous project—A class poem based on George Ella Lyons’s “Where I’m From.” Each student pasted a line from their individual poems along with their photo onto a collaborative slide deck. Here’s my example:
- For the cover art, I made a Wordle of all of my students’ names and the titles of their pieces.
- Inspired, I made another word cloud for the last page of the anthology. Because I taught Nancie Atwell’s “The Rule of So What,” I wanted students to consider common themes and topics that came up in the memoirs. With this in mind, I copied and pasted the last line or two of each student’s memoir into Wordle. This worked OK, but if I were to do this again, I might have students choose the lines they felt best addressed their “so what” before creating the word cloud. After all, the significance of the event should be woven throughout the narrative, not just tacked onto the end.
Final Thoughts on iBooks Author
While this little project turned out to be more time-consuming than I expected, it still beats churning out paper copies next to an ancient photocopier. The hardest part was getting the last-minute student edits done. If I try this again, I will make sure the digital documents students share with me for publication have already been through several rounds of proofreading. And, no matter how much I wish to avoid it, seventh grade writers are much better proofreaders when they have printed copies of their work, so I will make sure that part happens before I start loading the work into iBooks Author. In the end, I now have a nice product for students to share with their friends and families. I posted the iBook anthology as an iBooks file and as a PDF to our LMS and to my class website. I also used the Remind app to advertise it to parents. In addition, I printed a few paper copies for my classroom library and for the front office to show school visitors. The point was to give my students real reasons to write and to find them real audiences to read their work. That much, I think we were able to accomplish.