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5 Tips for writing your own iBooks Textbook

Published on 09/02/15

The Stephen Perse Foundation made 12 iBooks Textbooks available in January 2015 which follow the Cambridge International Examinations IGCSE Biology course. I wrote these in collaboration with our digital curator, Aisling Brown.
In this blog post I will give 5 tips that will help you create your own iBooks Textbook using iBooks Author.

Match the iBooks Textbook to a syllabus

The easiest way to start a book is to start out with the syllabus and divide it into a discrete chunks. These will form your books. If you are going to start with only book, don’t try to fit the whole syllabus into it. You want your books to stay a manageable size and you don’t really want them much longer than 70 pages or so. A book that is made in this manner for the whole syllabus will be several gigabytes in size.

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Split the book into discrete chapters, separating the syllabus into smaller pieces. These are further subdivided into sections covering just a few syllabus points. This makes your table of contents easier to navigate and your end-product more user-friendly.

Start small and work your way up

My first book was a whole unit of the WJEC Biology course. In hindsight this was a mistake. The book became bloated and presentation suffered. For any first attempt I would suggest picking only a small area of the syllabus, so that you end up with only a few chapters to hone your skills on.

Once you get a couple of these together you can start thinking about doing a series of books for a whole course. Again, I didn’t and did the entire IGCSE course over two summers. I would not do that again as it starts to takes the enjoyment out of the process.

Produce an accompanying iTunes U course for questions

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The program used to make iBooks, iBooks Author, contains a widget that allows you to make multiple choice questions. This process works well, if you can think of decent questions, but is onerous and time-consuming. Using an accompanying iTunes U course allows you to easily add existing materials for this course so that your students can you use it.

If you want this course to be publicly accessible you have to be a bit more careful than teachers usually are with copyright issues, but you can find a large number of copyright-free images for non-commercial reuse using the search functions in a Google Image or Flickr search.

Use Keynote to produce animations

One of the key things that set an iBook apart from paper textbooks or even most ePub formats is the ability to create animations and insert them into the text. In my subject this is particularly useful as most biological processes have multiple steps and animations link these steps together better than text can.

I have used both Hype (an HTML5 animation program) and Keynote for animations. Hype is probably more powerful in the right hands, and definitely has a better timeline system than Keynote. However Keynote is on the whole more straightforward to use and set up. The only issue is the lack of a coherent timeline (such as the one in PowerPoint), meaning you have to keep the various movements in your head as you go along.

Layout matters, templates are key

I had initially produced the IGCSE iBooks Textbooks in 3 sections, laid out much like a traditional textbook. The biggest change made by Aisling Brown when she helped transform the books into the current layout is the implementation of a clear template, reducing the clutter on each page whilst adding increased visual appeal.

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Creating a blank template allows your books to be consistent in their visual characteristics and could even be implemented across all books produced by a school.