Archives for March 2011

Getting Started with ePubs: Creating Your Own E-Book Using Apple Pages

While attending a recent Apple Education Seminar, Mobility with iPads at Illinois Institute of Technology, I learned of the relatively easy process for creating an ePub file using Pages on a Mac.

For those who aren’t familiar with ePub, it is a free, open e-book standard that is quickly becoming the universal format for ebooks. ePub is the format that Apple’s iBooks app reads and offers some very interesting capabilities for information distribution in mobile formats beyond the traditional PDF format.

Why ePub instead of PDF for E-books?

ePub documents are fundamentally different from PDFs. Historically, many PDF files have actually been just image scans of text pages (or, with the advent of optical character recognition, text within the scanned page). While the reader views the PDF page in the exact font/style/formatting that the author intended for the print form, the reader is unable to customize the font, size, etc. to personalize the reading experience.

ePubs take drastically different approach in that the formatting is separate from the content and as such can be controlled by the end user. Text, images, and even media within the document is formatted for the end user based on a default style sheet, similar in many ways to how CSS is used to style web sites today. Using an ebook reading app, like iBooks or Calibre, the reader can adjust fonts, fonts sizes, search, and even highlight and annotate within the book. In addition, the ePub format is highly accessible, providing a far superior reading experience for users who rely on screen readers or other assistive technologies. Creating an e-book using the ePub format results is a much more personalized, feature-rich, and mobile friendly e-book.

Why use Pages to create an ePub E-book?

Pages is by far the easiest application I’ve found thus far for creating ePubs. While there are other applications for creating ePubs, such as: Adobe In Design, Open Office, eCub, and Sigli, Pages is the simplest one that I’ve used. Apple provides an “ePub Best Practices” sample Pages document that is very easy to use in setting the formatting and table of contents for an ePub.

My First ePub – Interactive Course Syllabus in E-book Form

To try creating an ePub for myself, I took a look at Apple’s instructions for creating ePub files using Pages. I then downloaded the “ePub Best Practices” sample Pages document and used that as a template to create my ePub.

I decided to take an existing syllabus I had created for a recent online course, Social Networking in Online Learning, and create an interactive ebook version of the syllabus. Here’s a brief tour of the finished ePub file viewed on an iPad and iPhone:

This ePub can be downloaded directly from http://jasonrhode.com/~sn/syllabus.epub

The source Pages document that I used to create the ePub from can be downloaded from http://jasonrhode.com/~sn/syllabus.pages

How to Create an ePub E-book

Here’s a screencast I recorded with more details on how I created my sample ePub.

Share your experience!

If you’ve tried creating an ePub, whether you used Pages or some other tool, leave a comment let me know your experience!

How to Create an ePub E-book

As I previously shared, I’ve been experimenting with creating a ebooks in the ePub format and am very impressed with how simple it really is! Here’s a screencast I recorded with more details on how I created my sample ePub.

Links to sample Pages and ePub documents I mentioned are at jasonrhode.com/myfirstepub

If you are a Windows users, there are other utilities for automatically converting existing PDF or HTML files to ePub. I must admit I’ve not tried any of these yet so I can’t confirm whether or not they do in fact work.

If you’ve tried creating an ePub, whether you used Pages or some other tool, leave a comment let me know your experience!

My First ePub – Interactive Course Syllabus in E-book Form

Attending a recent Apple Education Seminar, “Mobility with iPads at Illinois Institute of Technology” earlier this week, I learned of the relative easy process for creating an ePub file using Pages on a Mac.

For those who aren’t familiar with ePub, it is a free, open e-book standard that is quickly becoming the universal format for ebooks. ePub is the format that Apple’s iBooks app reads and offers some very interesting capabilities for information distribution in mobile formats beyond the traditional PDF format.

To try creating an ePub for myself, I took a look at Apple’s instructions for creating ePub files using Pages. I then downloaded the “ePub Best Practices” sample Pages document and used that as a template to create my ePub.

I decided to take an existing syllabus I had created for a recent online course, Social Networking in Online Learning, and create an interactive ebook version of the syllabus. Here’s a brief tour of the finished ePub file viewed on an iPad and iPhone:

This ePub is an item in my course podcast feed, available in iTunes here or via the RSS feed.

Or, the ePub can be downloaded directly from http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7112775/%7Esn/syllabus.epub

The source Pages document that I used to create the ePub from can be downloaded from http://edtechsandbox.com/~sn/syllabus.pages

In a later post, I’ll share a tour of the Pages ePub template document and the details to be aware of in formatting an ebook in ePub format.

**UPDATE 3/12/11 – Tutorial demonstrating steps to create an ePub using Pages is available at jasonrhode.com/howtoepub

How to Send Text Messages to Students via Email for Free

I’m intrigued by the increasing growth in the use of SMS (ie: text messaging) in mobile communications and it’s implications for online learning. I’ve recently been experimenting with providing my students the ability to contact me via text message (sms) as well as to allow them to opt-in to receiving course-related news and reminders as text messages from me. I’ve explored several different work flows and options for accomplishing this and am sharing here the text messaging approaches I’ve tried thus far.

Google Voice

First off, I setup a free Google Voice account at http://voice.google.com using my Google Account. When setting up a Google Voice account, I received a phone number that I can give out that when called, simultaneously rings any of my phone numbers that I wish. I setup my Google Voice number to simultaneously ring my work phone and mobile phone. My Google Voice phone number is in fact is the phone number that I give out to all of my students to contact me if needed.

What I also realized is that in addition to voice calls, I can also receive send and receive text messages from my Google Voice phone number for free! So, if my students send a text message to me at my Google Voice number, it goes to my Google Voice account.

I also installed the free Google Voice app on my iPhone so that now when I receive a text message at my Google Voice phone number, it shows up in my Google Voice app.  I can then choose to send a reply back if I wish, again for free directly from the Google Voice app. Here’s the home screen of my iPhone with the push notification that I’ve received a new text message in Google Voice.

Launching the app, I see a preview of the message that I can click on it to read the complete message. My Google Voice Inbox also contains any other voicemails that I may have received at my Google Voice phone number.

With my Google Voice app, if I have my students’ mobile phone numbers, I can send them text messages for free from my Google Voice app. This is a great free solution and allows me to give my students and single phone number to reach me at, either voice or text message.  However, I was also looking for the ability to more quickly broadcast a text message to all my students who opt-in to receiving such messages.

SMS Email Gateways

Nearly every mobile phone carrier provides free delivery of text messages using a sms gateway.  The list of SMS gateways at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_SMS_gateways tells which email address to use if you want to send an email and have it arrive as a text message on someone’s phone. The number must contain no punctuation. For instance, to send to a number typically expressed in the USA as 987-555-0100, you would email 9875550100@SMS-gateway.

I invited my students to opt-in to receiving text messages from me by simply emailing me their mobile phone number and carrier.  The carrier part is important, as each carrier has a different SMS gateway. As each student sends me their phone phone number and carrier, I lookup the SMS gateway for their carrier and add the sms email address to my list of email addresses for the class.

Then, to send a text message to my students, I simply launch my email client and copy/paste their sms email addresses in the BCC field and then enter my message to be sent in the body of the email.  It’s important to remember that text messages are limited to 160 characters, so emails sent via sms with more than 160 characters will be truncated beyond 160 characters.

I opted to not include a subject in my email as many phones don’t display the subject. Upon sending the email, each student receives the email as a text message.

This is the option that I’ve preferred to use for sending announcements as text messages to students.  I’ve also send personalized feedback to students using this same work flow.

Twitter

A third option for allowing students to receive course news and announcements via text message is to setup a Twitter account for the class where news and announcements will be posted and then make use of Twitter’s built-in follow via sms feature.  I gave this a try for my Illinois Online Network Spring 2011 “Social Networking in Online Learning” advanced online seminar.  This course introduced Twitter to students, so it made sense to try Twitter’s sms delivery capabilities.

I setup a Twitter account for the course at http://twitter.com/ionsn1111 where I posted course-related news and announcements.  I then posted the following message in Moodle for my students:

Are you the type of person that prefers to receive text messages over email? Did you know that you can receive our course news announcements that I post to Twitter at http://twitter.com/ionsn1111 also as text messages to your mobile phone? Simply text “follow @ionsn1111” to 40404 to receive all future course announcements as text messages.

If you’d like to try out this feature of Twitter and then later no longer want to continue receiving the text messages, you can text “OFF @ionsn1111” to 40404 and you’ll no longer receive the messages.

Here’s what the text message sent looks like, as well as the automated receipt send to subscribers confirming that they are subscribed. New subscribers also receive the latest message posted to the Twitter account for the class.

Students don’t need to have a Twitter account!  They will receive all future tweets posted to the class Twitter account as text messages.  Using Audioboo to tweet audio announcements, students in this course subscribed using via sms also received audio announcements!

This third option using Twitter is perhaps the simplest for the instructor as the students need to take the responsibility to follow the course Twitter via sms and the instructor simply posts to the class’ Twitter feed.  The drawbacks are that this approach doesn’t allow the instructor the flexibility to send a text message to an individual student and students can choose to un-follow course news via sms.

Overall Impressions

I’ve found my experiment with communicating with students via sms thus far to be a very positive one and I plan to continue making use of sms for communicating with my students in the future. I’m curious to hear at the end of the course feedback from my students who tried the texting experiment their thoughts on the value of texting in fostering social presence in our online community.  I’ll be collecting feedback from my students and will continue to refine my texting practices and plan to share my findings in the future.

I’d love to hear from others who also are using text messaging in their teaching. Do you currently make use of text messages in your teaching?  If so, what work flow works best for you?

Also, if you found my instructions here useful, leave me a comment and let me know your experience!