Learning Service’s Learning Technology Development Team wanted to find out if it is possible to create an eBook of course content and distribute it to students without publishing through a 3rd party but via the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard), as a way of providing media rich content which can be downloaded to their device.
Dr Charles Knight (Senior Lecturer Business School) assisted by taking part in a pilot project to develop course content for his students using eBook creation software.
On completion, Charles kindly agreed to be interviewed about his and the student experience.
As a result of the interview, this blog post contains a number of audio clips taken from the interview as our way of sharing a personal account of this subject with others who may also have an interest in this area.
After researching software with the right options for us, we decided upon Ultimate Ebook Creator (UEC) for the creation of ebook content. Which, in our view offered what was required in terms of (DIY) in-house creation, capable of producing several file types and is easy to use. Prior to the pilot a free trial version of the software was available making it a good choice, because it meant we could compare it with other free software such as Calibre and Scrivener.
The right solution
In addition to our own software research Charles also took a looked at Calibre, which he explains, is easy to use for converting documents into an ebook format. However, in terms of creation, he goes on to say;
“Ultimate Ebook Creator is a very powerful piece of software. The built-in document editor is very similar to Microsoft Word, so is very familiar and much easier to use than some other software packages”.
Introduction: Charles Knight
Traditionally, lecturers here use PDFs to distribute course content via Blackboard. Charles wanted to know what the advantages and disadvantages are of using eBooks, and also to get a better idea of the process of creating and distributing eBooks.
The problem with PDFs
Another of the drivers for conducting the pilot was to look at eBooks as more engaging alternative to PowerPoint.
When originally undertaking the pilot the first item to investigate converting was the course handbook. The process currently involves producing a handbook as a Word document, saving it as a PDF and uploading it to Blackboard. For the pilot, Charles also offered the students an .ePub and .MOBI version of handbook so students can choose a format depending on their device or apps.
Challenges using the software
Another area which often presents a challenge is copyright. For the purpose of the pilot we asked Charles to consider this in the production of his material.
The content created and converted for the pilot was produced by Charles with the exception of the front cover. Charles explains the reason for this and why creating a good book cover that stands-out is important and goes on to describe his approach to copyright compliance:
During the pilot Charles was able to provide students with a number of file types and the opportunity to download .ePub, .MOBI, PDF and Word files for equity and with the aim of distributing them online through Blackboard.
Surprisingly for Charles and the students, downloading an eBook file to a dedicated eBook reader presented the main challenge. However, other devices such as the iPad, Android tablets and some mobile phones would suggest an application to open the file making it much easier to download and use.
Hear Charles share his thoughts on the process of creating eBooks, the software used and the complexities involved in terms of the process and the matter therefore of additional support and training for staff and students:
So what recommendations does Charles offer to others who may be considering doing something similar with eBooks and any comments for manufacturers of this type of software?
Following on from the pilot, we asked Charles what would he do different next time and what his thoughts are around producing eBooks in his future courses and module:
“I’ve played around with the formats, I’ve got three devices in-front of me; an iPad, Nexus 5 Android phone and a Kindle tablet and it rescales and it’s dynamic content on each of these, you know because you can resize it. It’s made me think, it’s a far better format!”
It has been a very interesting journey and one where we have enjoyed areas of success and begun to reflect on current practices. However there are still some challenges ahead and proposals of enhancements for the software developers to take on board.
Finally my thanks to Charles Knight for taking part in this pilot at such a busy time of the taught curriculum and to his students for providing valuable user insight. I would also like to thank Nitin Mistry, from Ultimate eBook Creator, for his part in the project; working with us to adapt his software, providing free and unrestricted access to UEC’s full features during the pilot and the continued developments he made throughout the project.
Martin Baxter (Learning Techology Development)