Making e-Books for e-Learning on i-Pads

Tom Worthington FACS HLM

Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Australian National University
For the BarCamp Canberra 2010, 6 February 2010

Tom Worthington shows how he used simple web pages and free open source software to create a university level e-learning course and accompanying e-book. This allows educational materials to be provided for the Netbooks, Amazon Kindle, Google Android, Apple iPhone. He looks at using the recently announced Apple iPad for education.

From e-Learning System to e-Book in three steps

  1. Start with educational content authored for the Moodle e-learning system
  2. Export as a web page (HTML and CSS)
  3. Import to Amazon's Digital Text Platform
  4. Publish to the Amazon Kindle

Apple iPad uses EPUB, a similar web based e-book format (conversion tools available).

A few weeks ago I published an electronic edition of my ""Green Technology Strategies" book for's Kindle e-Book device. PDF did not work well, as the Kindle uses a version of the Mobipocket format. So I decided to stop at that point and see if I could create a good quality HTML document in the format Amazon requires. It appears that Moodle can generate e-Books suitable for the Kindle which has significant implications for education.

The Green ICT book was originally converted from HTML created by Moodle's Book module. I was able to upload an IMS Content package created by the Moodle Book module to and have this converted to the Kindle format. produced an 80 kByte zip file for the Kindle, slightly smaller than the original 81.5 kByte IMS content package. The Kindle archive appears to have the same folders and files as the IMS original, with an XML manifest, a folder with a CSS file and a folder with a HTML file for each chapter. The only change appears to be that the HTML 4 headers of the IMS content package have been stripped off the HTML documents.

When previewed by the Amazon's Digital Text Platform web site, the book content is displayed in a window of about 50 columns by 16 lines of text, with headings in larger font and hypertext links underlined and highlighted in blue, much like the web page original (current Kindle devices actually have monochrome screens).

Being able to provide educational content via the Kindle essentially unchanged is very attractive, but has some limitations. The Kindle does not appear to display the table of contents for the book. This is displayed in an Learning Management System (such as Moodle) from the XML Manifest. Without the table of contents the e-book is very hard to navigate. This may be a limitation of the way Moodle creates IMS content, or the Kindle online emulator (perhaps the Kindle device creates the contents page dynamically).

I tried exporting the version to HTML, but the results were not that good. OOO generated a table of contents with hypertext links, but the links are on the print page numbers, which do not make much sense for an e-Book (as the Kindle has smaller pages than a paper book). I could have used the web version of the book, but would have had to assemble all the chapters, which are separate web pages, into one document.

The Moodle Book module can also "print" a book. This produces one HTML file containing all chapters (unlike the IMS format which has each chapter in a separate HTML file). I saved this web page from the Firefox web browser, along with a folder generated containing a CSS file and images. When Zipped, this produced a 73.7 kByte archive file. After conversion by Kindle, a slightly smaller Zip archive (73.5 kBytes) with a similar structure, but slightly simplified HTML resulted.

One change I made was to move the front matter of the book to after the table of contents. While with a paper book you can quickly flip over the boring stuff at the front, with a e-book this is tedious. It is better to put the table of contents first. Readers will see the front matter if the then scroll through the book, but will quickly learn the can skip this by clicking on the first chapter in the content.

One issue to be resolved are the external hypertext links in the book. In the USA, Amazon provide limited web browsing, but not internationally. The reader can't see the difference between local links in the book and external ones. The reader could get frustrated when the click on links which do not work. I might need to hide the external links for the Kindle version, or at least distinguish them. This is possible with some more CSS.

The converted print file looked very similar to the IMS version when displayed with the Kindle emulator. The table of contents generated by Moodle in the HTML file was displayed.

With a table of contents the e-Book has sufficient for navigation. Amazon ahs Formatting Guides, with some more tips.

It should be noted that other e-book readers use similar web based formats to the Kindle. The Apple iPad is reported to use EPUB, along with the Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader, BeBook. Different readers and formats use subtly different versions of HTML and other web standards, but generally then zip these into a manifest. For books without complex formatting it should b reasonably easy to convert from one format to another. The same basic web format also works on desktop and mobile browsers. Anti-copy protection imposes some complexity, but can be avoided with open access licences.

Learning Without Paper

Green Technology Strategies is a postgraduate e-learning course, with a set of notes published to accompany the course.

Learning Online

Moodle e-learning system provides:

  1. Online tools for educator to author content
  2. Online delivery of content to students
  3. Online discussion forums and tools for students to author content

The ACS and ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System (LMS). This has web based tools built in for authoring content in the form of web pages.

It should be noted that books and their online equivalent are just an aid to learning. LMS such as Moodle, also provide ways for tutors to fostering discussion between students, not just presenting content.

See: Computer Professional Education using Mentored and Collaborative Online Learning, David Lindley, IJCIM Special Issues on e-learning, Vol.15 No. SP4, November, 2007.

Students Teach Each Other

Moodle e-learning system provides:

  1. Online discussion forums
  2. Tools for students to author content

The tutors fostering discussion, not presenting content.

See: Computer Professional Education using Mentored and Collaborative Online Learning, David Lindley, IJCIM Special Issues on e-learning, Vol.15 No. SP4, November, 2007.

The ACS and the ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System. This is used to provide forums for students to discuss what they are learning, not just receive content prepared by teachers. This also teaches students how to use the same online collaboration techniques in the workplace.

The techniques of using mentored collaborative online learning for computer professional education were developed for the ACS by David Lindley.

Social Inclusion with ICT

Online education can help with:

But requires "Access to the Internet and information technology"

Indicators from: Compendium of Social Inclusion Indicators, Australian Social Inclusion Board, Australian Government, 2009

The Australian Social Inclusion Board of the Australian Government issued a Compendium of Social Inclusion Indicators in 2009. "Access to the Internet and information technology" is one of the measures listed under "Exclusion from services". There is a risk that using the Internet and computers for education could decrease social inclusion, by decreasing access to education. However, assuming this access can be provided, then the Internet and ICT, particularly mobile phones, can be used to combat other forms of social exclusion.

In particular, Internet and ICT access can assist with "Young people not in education or training", "Persons (adults) with low educational attainment", "Adult literacy", "Academic progress of Year 3 and Year 7 students in Australia", and "Access to services".

Online courses can be provided where and when required, either on their own, or part of a face-to-face program. This can be in a traditional educational setting at a school, TAFE, or universities. But it can also be in a less traditional setting, such as a library, other community facility, or group. This can help keep young people in education or training by making it more relevant and accessible, assisting academic progress. It can also be provided to adults with limited education.

Online education can be used to address adult literacy directly. Also accessibility features of the web can be used to provide access to services for those with limited literacy, as well as to those with a disability.

The Internet can be used to provide access to services, particularly by allowing a simpler path through complex administrative procedures of government and corporate service providers. The techniques developed for presenting information in an easy to understand way on web pages and to test the effectiveness of the information provision, can greatly aid access.

Mobile phones provide a new opportunity for providing access to education and to services. As well as providing a more available way to access the Internet, the limited interface of the mobile phone forces web designers to prioritize the information provided, removing irrelevant material and concentrating on what the client actually needs.

Online Learning Works

From: "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning" by Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia & Jones, Center for Technology in Learning, US Department of Education, May 2009

This recent study suggests that online learning is more effective than face to face classroom learning, that blended learning is no more effective than purely online learning and that video and online quizzes do not improve online learning. But it should be noted that the US study has limitations: it is a "meta" analysis, that is analysis of previous results, not new data collection. Also this was for post K-12 students and may only be applicable to vocational, university or adult learning.

More Information

Slides for these notes are also available.

Copyright © 2009 (Version 1.0, 21 November 2009) Tom Worthington

Making e-Books for e-Learning on i-Pads by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.

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