Accessible Web Based E-Books for Education

Tom Worthington

For A11y Bytes Canberra, Global Accessibility Awareness Day, 6.00pm 20 May 2015

Slides and notes:

About the speaker: Tom Worthington is an independent computer consultant and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University. In 1999 he was an expert witness on web accessibility in the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission case "Maguire v Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games 2000" and advised on the website for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Tom is a Past President, Fellow and Honorary Life Member of the Australian Computer Society.


In 2008 the Australian Computer Society commissioned an e-leaning course on reducing greenhouse gas emissions using computers. The course is offered via the web using the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS), through ACS Virtual College, from Open Universities Australia, the Australian National University and Athabasca University (Canada). The notes are available with the courses as a simple Moodle eBook, web pages, an Amazon Kindle eBook, ePub eBook, or an IMS Content Package. Using a subset of HTML to prepare the material allowed it to be easily ported before formats , as well as making it easier to download on a mobile device and on a slow link. The format also makes the content more accessible.


  1. Non-interactive course notes are separated from the interactive forums
  2. Course notes are consolidated in one eBook using the Moodle Book Module, in structured HTML
  3. Each week is a chapter and each chapter a web page
  4. Students can "print" a web page of the whole book
  5. The web page chapters are converted to eBook and e-Learning formats.

The first implementation of the course used the LMS to offer dozens of electronic documents, discussion forums, assessment items and other resources to the student. This was confusing for the students and difficult to maintain. The different electronic documents can be in different formats (HTML, PDF and eBook formats) which need different viewers to open also caused problems.

The first revision of the course for ANU consolidated the reading materials into one eBook, implemented with the Moodle Book Module. Each weekly topic for the course is a chapter in the book, with readings and questions at the end of each chapter. Other materials are appendixes in the eBook. Each chapter and appendix is referenced from the LMS with a hypertext link, at the relevant point in the course schedule.

The chapters and appendices are each implemented as a HTML web page, carefully formatted to allow for reading on a wide range of devices and for conversion to eBook formats. This works with desktop web browsers as well as smart phones and tablet computers.

The Moodle Book module has the disadvantage of requiring the use of Moodle, thus limiting access to the notes to enrolled students. To make the notes more widely available, the HTML of the chapters was exported to an external web server. This required no changes to the HTML. The web pages were also converted to Amazon Kindle and ePub format for the Apple iPad. These conversions required slight changes to the HTML used.

The HTML of the chapters was also imported into as sub-documents of a word processing mater document, to produce a typeset PDF document. This is offered as an eBook and also used to produce a print-on-demand paperback book version of the notes.

Same Look of Different Devices

ICT Sustainability book as a web page on a mobile device: on a mobile device the menu is above the chapter text, not beside it. ICT Sustainability book as a Moodle Book: all the ebook versions look similar on a desktop computer, with a table of contents and one table of text for the chapters ICT Sustainability book as an ePub eBook: all the ebook versions look similar on a desktop computer, with a table of contents and one table of text for the chapters ICT Sustainability book as web pages

All the ebook versions of the course look similar on a desktop computer, with a table of contents and one table of text for the chapters. On a mobile device the menu is above the chapter text, not beside it.


E-learning is aided by the use of content using a book metaphor, implemented using web pages, PDF or an eBook reader. The same content can be provided in multiple eBook formats and on paper. Separating the course content from the interactive elements of the LMS makes it easier for the student and course maintainer.

Interface and course designers need to use simple and familiar designs for students using on-line learning materials. The book remains a very useful way to present educational materials. Even when translated into its electronic equivalent and allowing for interactive activities and non-linear ways to navigate the material, the familiar book structure provides somewhere for the students to return to when lost.

More Information

Version 1.0, May 2015, Tom Worthington

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Accessible Web Based E-Books for Education by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.