The Design Project

Key Frameworks

Our project is framed around the ideas of personalized and situated learning and communities of practice. Because we are all secondary teachers with experience ranging from a few years to many years, we recognize that our colleagues range in their comfort in using technology in their professional practice. The “silo effect” of education, where teachers rarely have the opportunity to discuss their work continues to exist in varying degrees, depending on school location (urban or rural), staff size, and whether a school (or district) has embraced a collaborative learning model like professional learning communities (PLC). Our project is designed to assist any teacher interested in learning how to create an e-textbook, whether the teacher is working alone and accessing feedback and support asynchronously or working in a group setting and benefiting from group discussions and assistance. Creating an e-book with the help of colleagues, is reflective of Brown, Collins and Duguid’s assertions that “activity, concept and culture are interdependent.” (1989)

Despite our excitement at creating this project using iBooks Author, Apple’s program for creating multimodal e-books designed to interact with iPads, we have become informed of the limitations and criticisms associated with the technology we chose for this project. Apple products, by their proprietary nature, restrict access for many potential users. It is not open source or easily accessible on all types of devices. Not all educators have access to Mac products necessary to create and read this type of e-book. Licensing of such books also requires that authors go into a sales agreement with Apple, should they wish to sell their textbook. For several reasons Apple has taken, a not uncommon, proprietary approach to the designing and publishing textbooks. This approach has led to a closed system of development and distribution whereby created textbooks created with iBooks Author may only be sold on the iBookstore in Apple’s proprietary .ibooks format for electronic publishing, which incorporates digital rights managed (DRM) protection to prevent unauthorized copying. With the release of iBooks Author 2, Apple now allows users to export and freely share textbooks in both text and portable document formats (PDF), which has been perceived by many as a positive shift from Apple’s previously limited approach to textbook distribution. However, to fully realize the multi-touch interactive and multimedia capabilities of an iBook textbook, the technical and creative affordances of Apple’s proprietary .ibooks format and free iBooks Author 2 publishing software are required. Texbooks purchased in .ibooks format, must be viewed on an iPad or iPad Mini, which does also provide for the highest quality user experience for reading iBooks Author textbooks. To some in the education community, the use of design software available only for Apple computers and the reliance on expensive iPads for viewing, represent a very closed development and distribution approach, which is problematic.

“It’s not at all clear that Apple’s exclusivity benefits kids, schools, or teachers. iPads are expensive, and Apple’s exclusivity will mean that schools will be entirely at the mercy of a single company, for its approval of content, pricing and availability of devices, and tools for making textbooks.”

Liz Castro

Others support more open creation of educational resources and a wider choice of devices to read textbooks. The open education resources (OER) community initiated by MIT, aims to make learning resources such as textbooks, free to distribute and use. Educational startup Boundless Learning, based in Boston, is an example of how open-licensing and sharing of educational resources can be curated and published as an open alternative to paid electronic textbooks. Though the longevity of such open resources are also at risk of shifting to a more closed and monetized resources in the future, as has occurred recently with textbooks from Flat World Learning.

Apple’s Market Impact

Thanks to Amazon, Apple was not the first company to sell e-textbooks, nor is it the last. The e-texbook market is a rapidly growing section of the overall education market, as the following chart from editor Ron Reynolds clearly shows:

Reynolds, R. (2012, 02 12)

This lucrative potential of this growing market attracted Apple, who was concerned about Amazon’s early wholesale pricing approach, which it believed could lead to price wars in the future.  In response,  Apple along with several high profile textbooks publishers including Hachette, HarperCollins, Pearson, and Macmillan brought forth an agency model toward pricing, where publishers set their own pricing and Apple agreed to sell the books online, for a 30% commission.  This new distribution and pricing approach was questioned  in a US government antitrust complaint filed against Apple and several major publishers including Simon & Schuster and McMillan, alleging that the publishers conspired with Apple to raise ebook prices to increase profits for publishers.  While several of the publishers such as Hachette and HarperCollins, have settled with the US government over the complaint, Apple along with several of major publishers continue to fight for the validity of the agency price model.

Despite these limitations, we are aware that there are a significant number of potential users and many schools have begun to purchase class sets of iPads to explore the affordances of tablets. We are also attempting to compensate for this through the creation of a wiki and a PDF version of the e-book.

Affordances of e-textbooks

It is the multi-modal nature of the e-book created in iBooks Author which may prove to be exceptionally helpful to both teachers and students. O’Brien and Voss note that the addition of text to speech, applications like Voicethread and the use of social bookmarking open the potential interactions into social meaning-making of image, sound and text. For students whose first language is not English, translation features make e-books much more accessible, allowing students to participate in a greater degree. This also requires consideration on the part of the instructor designing the e-book, as the literacies involved in reading multi-modally are significantly different from reading text on a print page. (Coiro, 2012). Other considerations the instructor and designer must reflect upon are student familiarity with the device being used and the format being used, as different e-texts and devices operate in manners differently enough to require time for familiarization with the operating features.

One of the key affordances of the iPad is the natural user interface (NUI, pronounced ‘Newee’) used to operate the tablet.  NUIs leverage instinctual human abilities, to allow users to learn to interact with computer technology, in an often nearly invisible manner. As our computing devices have become more advanced, so to have the user interfaces used to control them. In his 2010 article published in The Futurist, Richard Yonck insightfully quotes Apple Computer in this regard, as having said that “the less alike two entities are, the more obvious the need for a well-designed interface becomes.” Apple demonstrates its understanding of this design challenge, with its highly intuitive gesture based interface design for iBooks on iPad. The overall ease of use, including greater accessibility, the potential for collaboration and the benefits of multi modal learning, are among the many benefits NUI can provide. Textbooks experienced on an iPad can be powerful, intuitive to learn with, fun to use and engaging. As users swipe, tap, pinch, watch, write notes and listen to their textbooks with an iPad, it’s possible for some users to develop emotive relationships with their technology, at which point ethnographers and psychologists of computer culture, including MIT professor Sherry Turkle, would say that the devices have become not just tools, but relational objects; subjective extensions of ourselves, which influence how we view ourselves and the world around us.

To ensure students and teachers are able to explore ideas together, the iBooks Author program can allow learners to build their own collection of writing and artifacts that help them fully understand a topic. This project aims to give educators the opportunity to learn these skills and begin to share them with their students.


Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher18(1), 32. doi: 10.2307/1176008

Castro, L. (2012, 01 20). Ten reasons i can’t recommend or use ibooks author. Retrieved from

Coiro, J. (2012). The New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension: Future Directions. Educational Forum76(4), 412-417. doi: 10.1080/00131725.2012.708620

O’Brien, D., & Voss, S. (2011). Reading Multimodally: What Is Afforded? Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy55(1), 75-78. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.9

Reynolds, R. (2012, 02 12). E-textbook market remains on course to pass 25% by 2015. Retrieved from

Turkle, S. (2004). Whither psychoanalysis in computer culture. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21(1), 16-30. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.21.1.16

Yonck, R. (2010). THE AGE of the INTERFACE. The Futurist, 44(3), 14-19. Retrieved from /docview/218577167?accountid=14656


Our primary intention is to produce a multimedia artifact in the form of an e-textbook produced in accordance with iBooks Author for the purpose of training teachers on how to integrate this medium into their current instructional practice. More specifically, we are taking a professional development approach by allowing educators the opportunity to experiment with our instructional e-textbook that will emphasize content creation via the iBooks Author platform. To accomplish this, we’ve produced a digital instructional guide that  provides step-by-step instructions on how to create an e-textbook from the initial organizational and planning phases to the final publication and viewing phases. It provides interactive multimedia examples of built in features that are afforded through the combination of media rich digital textbooks and the iPad’s natural user interface (NUI).

The predominant technologies we have used for our design project are Apple’s iBooks publishing format, iBooks Author design software and an online Wiki environment. This specific technology has been selected for several reasons including the ever increasing 
popularity of iPads and iPad Minis in learning environments, the multi-touch, multimedia and interactive capabilities of the iBooks e-textbook format along with the easy access and use of a Wiki environment, to encourage collaborative learning and knowledge construction. In addition, with the exception of an iPad required for optimum interaction with iBooks, the iBooks Author software is free to download, iBooks can be distributed outside of the iTunes store for free and there are many no charge options for creating online Wiki environments; making this design approach very cost effective.


From British Columbia to New Brunswick, provincial Ministries of Education have been extolling the benefits of technology integrated with purpose in education. From The Shift in New Brunswick Public Education video (2010) to the BC Education Plan (2012), governments have been striving to join in encouraging the use of new pedagogies and technologies to support learners in this new century. In Ontario, the Ministry of Education has been promoting blended learning environments for 3 years (or more) with tutorials at its e-Learning site to enable teachers to incorporate new learning strategies and technologies to support students in a more personalized learning environment. In British Columbia, the recently drafted Digital Literacy StandardsExploring Curriculum Design and Cross-Curricular Competencies documents are part of an intense push to radically change how schools and education are structured. As Will Richardson points out in Why School?, “It’s now easier than ever to communicate, create and collaborate with others from around the globe who share our passion to learn. This changes just about everything when it comes to being educated.” (Richards, 2012)

Teachers in the K-12 system, are at various points on the continuum of comfort and skill in integrating technology into the classroom. Many teachers own personal devices for communication and entertainment, yet do not always consider how to use these tools in the classroom. This is certainly true of e-books and e-book readers. Despite the incredible surge in e-book popularity in the last two years, with sales of e-books surpassing the sales of print books, it is rare to see e-books in school library catalogues or in classrooms. There are varied reasons for this lack of inclusion. Subscription costs for e-textbooks have not yet matched the long term savings of a print textbook, making the initial purchase inexpensive, but the long term cost greater. Ensuring equitable access to reading devices concerns teachers and students alike. Finally, finding teachers who are comfortable enough with the affordances of e-texts to see the learning potentials continues to be challenging, as even pre-service teachers have had limited exposure to instructional practices with e-textbooks or e-books.

With these concerns in mind, we hope to give teachers the opportunity to not only work with an e-textbook, but to create an e-textbook that would be completely applicable to the instructional setting and learners the teacher would be working with. We recognize that  “Learning how to use a tool involves far more than can be accounted for in any set of explicit rules. The occasions and conditions for use arise directly out of the context of activities of each community that uses the tool, framed by the way members of that community see the world” (Brown, Collins & Duguid,1989). The iAuthor program allows the designer to embed text, images, video, audio files, and many other digital artifacts that the teacher can then arrange or delete as needed. Creation of e-textbooks can allow for insight into culture and authentic activities of science (and other content areas) through ill-designed problems and projects which link to discussion and expert communities of practice. (wiki support, “ask a scientists”, knowledge-building activities built from socially constructed understanding). While designing an entire e-textbook might seem like a daunting task, allowing educators the opportunity to discuss challenges, successes and problem-solve only further enhances their educational community of practice. The finished product can be viewed best on an iPad, but can also be viewed as a PDF document. Once in the PDF format,  it can be edited to have page-turning capabilities, although the moving images would no longer be accessible and interactive in the same manner.  While iPads are expensive, pilot projects around North American seem to indicate that schools are prepared to have at least a class set of these devices to allow students to interact with tablets.  By including a support wiki, we are valuing situated learning as discussed by Lave and Wenger, as well as Vygotsky’s research in socio-cultural learning. Ultimately, we hope to address Hung and Chen’s  four considerations for web-based learning in communities of practice:

▪   situatedness (can learners situate tasks in “global” picture)

▪   commonality (valid reason for learners to work together)

▪   interdependency (need for varying demands and expertise of different competency levels)

▪   infrastructure (participants are clear as to the processes, especially significant in web-based environments)


Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher18(1), 32. doi: 10.2307/1176008

Coiro, J. (2012). The New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension: Future Directions. Educational Forum76(4), 412-417. doi: 10.1080/00131725.2012.708620

Hung, D. L., & Chen, D. (2001). Situated Cognition, Vygotskian Thought and Learning from the Communities of Practice Perspective: Implications for the Design of Web-Based E-Learning. Educational Media International38(1), 3-12. doi: 10.1080/09523980121818

IPads vs. textbooks [Chart]. (n.d.). In IPads vs. Textbooks. Retrieved January 30, 2013, from

Judson, E. (2006). How teachers integrate technology and their beliefs about learning: Is there a connection? Journal Of Technology And Teacher Education14(3), 581-597. Retrieved from

O’Brien, D., & Voss, S. (2011). Reading Multimodally: What Is Afforded? Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy55(1), 75-78. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.9

Province of BC. (2013, January). Defining cross-curricular competencies. Education – Province of BC. Retrieved January 31, 2013, from

Province of British Columbia. (2013, January). Exploring curriculum design: Transforming Curriculum and assessment. Education – Province of BC. Retrieved January 31, 2013, from

Province of British Columbia. (n.d.). Profile for technology (ICT) literate students grades 10 to12 (ages 15 to–18). DRAFT Profile for Technology (ICT) Literate Students Grades 10–12 (Ages 15-€“18). Retrieved January 30, 2013, from

Province of New Brunswick (Producer). (2010, March 28). 21st Century Education in New Brunswick [Video]. Retrieved February 01, 2013, from

Province of Ontario. (2012, September 18). Ontario’s e-learning strategy. Ontario’s E-Learning Strategy. Retrieved January 30, 2013, from

Richardson, W. (2012). Why School? [Electronic].

Key Concepts and Contexts

Why an e-textbook format for professional development?

      Successful integration of information and communication technologies in classrooms continues to happen inconsistently, at best, in Canadian classrooms. While there are financial and policy-based reasons for the slow implementation of technology-supported pedagogical practices, educators have been seemingly reluctant to embrace the use of programs, applications and devices as part of their instructional environment construction. Brinkerhoff (2006) summarizes the research describing barriers to implementation and reports on four main areas: resources, institutional and administrative support, training and experience and attitudinal or personality factors. In focusing on training and experience, Brinkerhoff studied the impact of long-term professional development on technology skills and practice and found that while long-term professional development is effective, it must be centered around teaching interests, be supported by having the studied materials available in the classroom, and that lesson plans or artifacts produced by educators as part of their professional development be assessed and shared. Masuda et al (2013) also note in their qualitative study of teacher engagement in professional development at different career stages that teachers will be willing to “invest in PD that they perceive as valuable, where the benefits of what they are learning outweigh the costs of their precious time.” Design of professional development materials, then, must focus clearly on the goal of enabling instructors to practice with, then reflect on the technologies they wish to infuse into learning and instruction cycle.

Organization of materials to be studied is at the core of any educator’s instructional practice. Secondary teachers, in particular, have relied on commercial textbooks supplemented by other resources for well over half a century. Textbooks allow for a cohesive and progressive study of a topic, enabling learners to discover the vocabulary of the field, core concepts and some supplemental information, which may be addressed by the teacher. Educators just beginning their careers may rely heavily on the scope and sequence of a textbook to enable full instructional coverage of learning outcomes prescribed by the governing body for the education system. Educators who are well established rely less heavily on textbooks and may even design a collection of resources used for instruction and learning which better meets their instructional style or needs. Increasingly, with easy access to web-based resources and multimedia resources, some educators forego the use of textbooks, which may be in poor repair, outdated or in limited supply due to financial restraints in the public education system. Even with wider access to resources, there is still a systemic reliance on a means of common access to a collection of information which forms the foundation of understanding about a subject. What is beginning to change is the understanding that the collection of information must be fixed, and commercially created by experts in the field. Textbooks are becoming “crowd-sourced,” in that more than one person can contribute to common understandings by sharing in the exponential growth of information available through the web. Students and teachers alike can contribute to common holdings, particularly if the textbook is digital and easily editable.

Creating an e-textbook as a professional development experience allows educators the opportunity to reflect on practice and common understanding in the subject area, as well as incorporate the best of multimedia resources. Because it is focused specifically on the subject area being taught, incorporates technology in a meaningful way, it can meet a teacher’s desire for professional development that is a valuable use of time. By designing this professional development experience to be both face to face and online through a support wiki, it also allows for development of a community of practice focused on e-textbook design. Currently, the most promoted and easily accessible means for creating an e-textbook is Apple’s iAuthor software, which creates e-textbooks for use on the iPad. While it is not the only means of creating e-textbooks, many educators are already using Apple products personally and professionally and are comfortable with the operating systems and functions used in Macs and iPads. By creating an e-textbook on how to create e-textbooks, learners can work within a model they will be building upon.



Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a theory of online learning. In Theory and Practice of Online    Learning (2nd ed., pp. 45-74). Athabasca, AB: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved March 2, 2013.

Brinkerhoff, J. (2006). Effects of a long-durations professional development academy on technology skills, computer self-efficacy and technology integration beliefs and practices. International Society for Technology in Education39(1). doi: 541.302.3777

Darling-Hammond, L., & Richardson, N. (2009). Teacher learning: What matters? Educational Leadership66(5), 46-53. Retrieved March 21, 2013, from

Matsuda, A. M., Ebersole, M. M., & Barrett, D. (2013). A qualitative inquiry: Teachers’ attitudes and willingness to engage in professional development experiences at different career stages. The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 6-13. Retrieved March 18, 2013.