by Dr. Jonathan Fingerut
The introduction of Apple’s free iBook Author software has made producing customized electronic texts and assessment tools easy and possibly more important, free. E-Books, of which the iBook format is just one type, provide the opportunity to embed engaging, interactive multimedia directly into texts. This can potentially increase student attention and comprehension as well as making it possible to illustrate subjects, techniques and other activities that would otherwise require moving from the text to a different platform (a computer or video screen). I use the term “potentially” because there exists little-to-no assessment of the efficacy of these new platforms in education. Anecdotal evidence seems to point towards students being more engaged by the format as it more closely resembles how this generation gets most of their other information (both educational and entertainment) but I know of no controlled studies that have proven or dis-proven this.
While E-books can be read on a variety of different platforms, including PC’s, phones, e-readers and tablets, it is the latter that appears to have the greatest potential for education. By pairing the iBook format with the iPad, it is possible to bring this tool into situations, such as wet labs, where texts and computers have previously been at a disadvantage due to the messiness that goes along with these activities. To test this combination I wrote a new dissection guide iBook for the upper division course Invertebrate Zoology.
The following video outlines that effort:
One issue I faced was finding images and videos that could be used without licensing. I was able to produce some of the necessary material in-house with microscope-mounted cameras and cellphone video cameras, but I did not have enough time to produce all I needed, nor did I have access to all the specimens I wanted to include. Luckily a clearinghouse for creative-commons licensed multimedia is now available online at http://search.creativecommons.org/. Through this site, multiple search engines (including Google Image Search) can be automatically set to only return Creative Commons-licensed material. Creative Commons is a widely used free-use licensing scheme. Combining the text and a mélange of material, I was able to fully populate dissection guides for 13 different species ranging from the simplest sponges to the most complex arthropods. Guides included slideshows of species diversity, full-color close-up images of anatomical features, videos of animal behavior (e.g. feeding, locomotion), and interactive images where students can select labeled parts of large image on which to zoom in.