I’ve recently completed a three-part series at Education Week Teacher on educators writing and publishing books.

Here’s a guest post from Peter Pappas about an important option I neglected to cover in that series.

Peter Pappas is a teacher, writer and national consultant exploring the intersection of critical thinking, teaching and new technologies. His popular blog, Copy / Paste is dedicated to relinquishing responsibility for learning to the students. It’s filled with loads of lesson ideas – many for the history classroom:

Apple’s iBooks Author (iBA) is turning 3 years old and it is still the best tool for creating highly interactive multi-media content viewable on an iPad or Mac. I’ve published eight iBooks (two authored by my students) and offered numerous workshops to train teachers on how they and their students can become published authors. All eight are free. You can visit my  iBA training website for more info and free downloads.

iBA includes many great interactive widgets that allow you to easily add video, audio, photo galleries, pop-up text / images, glossaries, and test questions. Secondary widget designers are busy creating additional widget functions. Here’s a video demo of how I used a Bookry widget to add a photo reveal effect to my latest iBook Portland’s Japantown Revealed

Crowdsourced Production

iBA (a free program) requires a Mac running OS X 10.7.2 or later, but that doesn’t mean that every student needs a Mac to contribute to the iBook project. All the classroom needs is access to one computer running iBA to create an iBook.

iBA accepts text from Microsoft Word and other text editors. Teams of student writers can do research and writing on a variety of computers (and devices) and send finished copy to the iBA production team. Images, audio and video files collected by researchers can be added to the iBook project with a simple drag and drop. If students have access to multiple Macs running iBA, it’s easy to consolidate iBA projects by copy / pasting chapters (or sections of chapters). Research, writing, and design can even be sequenced into a “flipped classroom” production model. Here’s my workflow that required only 2 hours of Mac lab time for my students to create an iBook.

Broadcasting Your iBook

Terms of use for iBA require that iBA-created iBook that are offered for sale can only be sold through the iBookstore. But there’s no restriction on “free” iBA-created iBooks – circulate them any way you want.

While the iBookstore does provide accounts for producers of “free” iBooks, there’s a simpler way to distribute an iBook. Connect an iPad to the computer running iBA, click Preview, and the iBook is pushed to the attached iPad. (With Macs Mavericks and Yosemite OS, fully functional interactive iBooks are also viewable on the Mac desktop.) It’s also easy to export the finished iBooks file from the iBA program to an external drive or network and distribute the iBook to multiple iPads or Mac desktops.

The ease of distribution means students can communicate with a broader, and more authentic audience than just their teacher and class peers. Imagine your students telling family and friends their new iBook is available at iTunes. My most popular iBook to date is Exploring History: Ten Document-Based Questions It was written by my students – it’s available in iTunes in 51 countries and has been downloaded over 1,100 times.

Design Thinking Meet CCSS Skills

Researching, writing, and designing an iBook provides an opportunity for students to hone a variety of skills. Common Core State Standards require a host of literacy, critical thinking and writing skills that are essential to production. Project based learning (PBL) engages students with the opportunity to think like professionals while solving real-world problems. While the iBook qualifies as a project goal, don’t forget that the subject of the iBook could also give students a platform to tackle community-based issues.

Collaborating on an iBook draws from a wide range of creative skills – creating audio clips, producing illustrations, shooting and editing video. Because a variety of media can be included in an iBook, there are numerous opportunities for students of all ability levels and language proficiencies to be active contributors.

Digital technologies have put students in charge of the information they access, store, analyze and share. Most importantly the digital era has given them an expectation of informational choice. Creating an iBook harnesses all those motivational factors into an engaging learning experience. When students get to collaborate and work as adult professional do, we relinquish responsibility for learning to the student and provide them a valuable opportunity to reflect on both their process and product. That’s the foundation for a lifetime of learning.