How to Choose an E-Book Format for Education Publishing

Teachers and students can self-publish educational e-books for the iPad textbooks, storybooks, class assignments, and more. Create e-books for classroom iPad e-readers from any educational material, simply by converting that material to a compatible format.

The whole notion of education publishing is changing with the amazing growth of the Internet and technologies such as social networking. These days, anyone even the students in your class can express herself to a worldwide audience. Tools exist to make the process simple and to incorporate digital publishing into any grade level and academic discipline.

Remember those days you'd come to school with your assignment on a large sheet of cardboard, little pictures stuck randomly around it and punctuated with large headings you wrote with bold markers? There's always a place for such hands-on work, and as a teacher, you should continue to encourage it wherever appropriate.

Parents and educators, however, should recognize that the landscape is changing at a rapid rate and that there are some compelling, digital alternatives that need to be incorporated into education.

With a little enthusiasm, creativity, and resolve, today may be the day you start helping your students develop their voices as expressive writers. In the immortal words of Mark Twain, "Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today." (Well, he also said, "Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education," but that doesn't seem to apply here.)

Choosing an e-book format for education publish is admittedly a bit confusing. You have Pages documents that won't open in Microsoft Word. Then there are Microsoft Word documents that don't open in older versions of Word itself. You have HTML files that look all messed up wherever you open them. And, of course, PDF files . . . well, nobody wants you messing with their formats.

It's important to understand the difference because it helps determine your options in creating e-books and other digital files and the apps you'll use when reading them. Here are some of the common terms:

  • Documents: Unless they are very basic text files, most documents are associated with editing software. The most common formats include Word documents and, to a lesser degree, Pages documents. They are primarily designed to be opened and edited within the software that created them a fact everyone encounters at one time or another, when trying and failing to open that all-important e-mail attachment.

  • PDF files: Also known as Acrobat files, they share a common formatting standard used by the Adobe Acrobat software. Generally, anything that can be printed can be turned into an Acrobat document. PDF files are easily distributed and read by anyone who has the free Acrobat reader on her computer.

    Both word processing documents and PDF files are essentially designed to be printed on paper. Of course, they can be read onscreen, but the paper size and formatting options are directed at printed output. Then along came e-books.

  • E-books: An e-book can be a digital version of a printed book but doesn't have to be. The distinguishing feature of an e-book is that it's designed to be read on a computer or portable e-book reading device such as an iPad with an e-reader app. E-books can normally be purchased and/or distributed online.

    Many e-books are PDF files or in the ePub format, which is an open standard designed to work across a wide variety of reading devices. Traditionally, e-books were just text and images; they now incorporate more multimedia and interactive elements. They provide a pleasant screen reading environment, with tools for changing colors, text size, searching, bookmarking, and more.

  • iBooks: Apple's e-book reading app, iBooks opens books made with iBooks Author, ePub books, or PDF documents. Of course, it also links to the iBookstore, where you can purchase and download e-books.

So if you want to create e-books, you have a variety of options.

You can turn an existing document into an e-book, or you can use a variety of apps to create e-books from the very simplest levels you might use in lower grades all the way up to sophisticated multimedia and interactive books that older students or teachers might consider. Options for creating e-books include such iPad apps as Book Creator, ScribblePress, and iBooks Author.

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