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E-books are becoming ever more popular in education. They are cheaper for students and better for the environment than print books, saving about 9.8 million trees per year (Wahl, 2018). They satisfy ADA requirements as the text can be enlarged and read by a print reader. They allow for various types of media, such as audio and video, and can include interactions, such as questions, to reinforce understanding. They are more portable than a backpack full of books and can be downloaded from anywhere. Instructors can modify open-source versions as well as cut them up to use only certain parts in class. Above all, because e-books do not require a professional publisher, anyone can create them.
Instructors have started creating e-textbooks for their classes. They can distribute these free of charge as open educational resources, allowing students and teachers in other classes to benefit from their work. Instructors who want to monetize their textbook can bypass traditional publishers by posting their e-textbooks directly on sites such as Amazon, Google Play, and Apple Books, which generally return about 70 percent of sales to the book creator. This split is far greater than that offered by traditional textbook publishers, though the author will likely need to pay for a copy editor and designer to build the book.
But many instructors have created e-textbooks just for their own classes. Why would an instructor create an e-textbook rather than host the content on the institution’s learning management system (LMS)? One reason is that e-textbooks are more convenient to access than an LMS. They don’t require logging in and drilling down through multiple pages of an LMS. Students can view them on a variety of different software systems besides web browsers and, once they’re downloaded, offline. Thus, a faculty member who leads students into the field can have an e-textbook guide their work without worry of slow connections.
E-textbooks are also not tied to a particular LMS. A faculty member who uses their own digital content at more than one institution needs to reload it into each new institution’s LMS. Not only is this time-consuming, but many institutions lock down their LMS content to prevent additions. By contrast, an instructor can create an e-textbook once and have students use it at multiple institutions by doing nothing more than posting a link to the book.
Here are the best e-book creation systems for education:
Book Creator is probably the best-known e-book tool for educators. The books are easy to create using the drag-and-drop interface, and there are a variety of fonts and layouts to choose from. The results can be downloaded as either EPUBs (the most common e-book file type) or PDFs, but the instructor can also host up to 40 books on the site for free in their library. This feature is ideal for a teacher who wants to assign an e-book project to their class. They simply invite students into the library and can monitor their e-book development. Students can then share the results with classmates via the sharing function. The features include themes and templates for getting started and the ability to draw on the screen. Viewers can even have the e-books read aloud to them in what the site claims is any language.
Canva is a graphic design tool that has attracted a large and faithful following among educators due to its functionality and remarkably large library of templates. While there is no e-book category for searching templates, the newsletter category delivers e-book results. With over 770 templates within this category to choose from, I recommend using filters such as “minimalist” and “modern” to narrow the selection. Once you have a template, which is essentially just a sample e-book, you swap out the text and any other elements with the ones you want. When working with a template, it is important to remember that the template style, not the content, is all that matters as you will replace the latter. A military history newsletter template might be ideal for a Gothic art course if the style is perfect, and so instructors should not limit their choices by searching for examples only in their own subjects.
Madmagz is a collaborative online magazine creator that works well for developing e-books. What makes it distinct from other platforms is the highly detailed and realistic design of its templates, which make them look like professionally published magazines. While any system will allow the user to add pages to a template, Madmagz templates offer many more possible page layouts within a particular template, making it easier to avoid repetitive layouts within an e-book. The e-book owner can also invite collaborators to contribute content that the owner must approve before it’s incorporated into the work, making this an ideal system for a club or academic department to publish e-books edited by a single person.
JooMag is an e-book creation site with special pricing for educators, including a free account for teachers with up to 30 students. Like Madmagz, it offers realistic magazine templates and a wide range of functions. It differs from others in that these functions include interactives such as quizzes, surveys, and games.
Apple Pages has now replaced the much beloved iBook Author. It is actually a word-processing program, but Apple’s well-known design focus means that it can easily be used to produce e-books. It comes with 90 templates in a variety of categories and a nearly limitless ability to modify, stretch, color, and otherwise customize the work; it also allows for exports as EPUB, PDF, or Word documents.
Finally, Google Slides is a free and simple option for making e-books. One advantage of using Slides is that Google’s integration with its constellation of apps means that there is a wide range of activities that instructors can add to the e-books, including whiteboards, games, videos, forms, and so on. Another advantage is Google’s ease of collaboration, with each contributor’s additions noted in the history function, which helps a teacher determine who created what in group projects.
Whereas publishing was once the exclusive realm of experts, e-book creation software puts it within the reach of teachers and students, offering new ways to deliver course content in today’s digital world.
 A bit about file formats: EPUBs automatically resize properly on any mobile device. PDFs, by contrast, do not resize, which can make them awkward to view on mobile devices.
Wahl, J. (2018, July 19). What is an eBook? Understanding why they work and how to make your own. Learn Hub. https://learn.g2.com/what-is-an-ebook