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How to Create Your Own Textbook -- With or Without Apple

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By Dolores Gende

Apple's iBooks2 and authoring app has created big waves in education circles. But smart educators don't necessarily need Apple's slick devices and software to create their own books. How educators think of content curation in the classroom is enough to change their reliance on print textbooks.

As the open education movement continues to grow and become an even more rich trove of resources, teachers can use the content to make their own interactive textbooks. It might seem daunting, but the availability of quality materials online and the power of tapping into personal learning networks should make it easier.

Here's how to create a digital textbook and strategies for involving the students in its development in three steps.

1. AGGREGATION. Gather all your sources of information. The best way to aggregate content is through social bookmarking with great online tools like Delicious and Diigo, which allow you to bookmark sites that can be seen and shared online. As Diigo's web site explains it, the site "allows teachers to highlight critical features within text and images and write comments directly on the web pages, to collect and organize series of web pages and web sites into coherent and thematic sets, and to facilitate online conversations within the context of the materials themselves. (Watch this video to see how to do this step-by-step.)

Teachers can work with colleagues within their subject area departments and beyond the walls of the classroom to aggregate resources through social bookmarking. Invaluable sources of information for professional learning come through Personal Learning Networks (PLN) in Twitter  and from RSS feeds.


Also try or The Twitted Times, which will sift through your connections’ resources and organize them.

2. CURATION. While aggregation is collecting Web sites, the process of curation involves a deeper analysis of those sites to select the ones that have the most relevant information for a particular topic. Use your subject area syllabus, state standards or learning objectives to hand pick the content for a particular unit of study. Focus on the essential questions to help you choose resources. Use the most powerful potential of Web tools to make your textbook engaging by using images, videos and simulations.

One of the most user-friendly tools to post resources for your course is LiveBinders. Another great tool for curation is Scoop-it!, which allows you to create your own online magazine. (See how articles related to physics are curated on Scoop-it's PhysicsLearn.)

You can find many more useful tools for curation. Check out  30+ Cool Content Curation Tools for Personal and Professional Use. And if you're using an iPad, take a look at these curation apps.

3. CREATION. This is the most important (and fun) part of the process. You can create an online repository using a wiki digital tool such as Google Sites, PBworks or Wikispaces that organize your resources neatly. You could also use LiveBinders to select a template that allows you to include text for each of your resources. Learning management systems (LMS) such as Edmodo and Schoology are also great alternatives with neat features for educational social networking.

Google Sites also allows you to create and share Web pages, and has lots of customizable features. You can easily post images, directly embed videos from YouTube, lecture podcasts, and Google Docs for easy collaboration among your students. You can even embed assessments using Google Forms and a calendar.

And now, of course, if you have an Apple platform you can use the iBooks Author. Though it can only be used on Macs, the free app offers a drag-and-drop template that can be customized with images, interactive diagrams and videos to create a polished book.

As you put your book together, consider some of these questions:

  • How are learners going to use the information?
  • How will they demonstrate what they've learned?
  • Are they completing a document, creating an outline or answering a set of questions?
  • What are the assessments associated with the material?

The table below compares and contrasts the elements of the various levels of involvement of teachers and learners in the process of creating a textbook. You can use the traditional model where all steps of the process are managed by the teacher or move towards a learner-centered approach using the chart to determine which level is appropriate for your course.


Teachers as curators: Check out this unit on Projectile Motion, which includes content information, exercises, a virtual lab and a couple of assessments and this wiki from Craig Savage, which contains his resources for AP Biology and AP Psychology.

Students as curators: American Democracy in Action, a digital textbook for AP US Government created by seniors at St. Gregory College Preparatory School. For excellent strategies to involve your students take a look at Silvia Tolisano's Students Becoming Curators of Information.


iTunesU: This free app enables video, audio, and an integrated Learning Management System with available push notifications options.

CK-12 Foundation: You can customize your own FlexBooks with open-content in all subject areas.

Open Culture Links: 400 Free Online Courses from Top Universities

National Repository of Online Courses: Algebra, Calculus, History, Biology, Environmental Science,Physics and World Religions.

Cybrary Man Educational Resources

And much more: K-5 Resources, Language Arts/ English, Math, History/Social Studies, Science, World Languages.

Ready to ditch your textbook yet?

Dolores Gende is the Director of Instructional Technology, Science Department Head and Honors Physics teacher at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, TX.


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