The news about the new iBook author tools for the Mac have been met with enthusiasm and concern.  Some see it as the dawn of new digital textbooks. Parents who see their kids struggling under backpacks that seem to weigh as much as they do, all cheer as well. The educators I spoke with this weekend at Educon, largely folks I would put in the Ed Tech and Ed Reform group, are hopeful, but are skeptical about the terms of service and the ability to sell their creations, after spending significant time in creating these customized works.

As a result of what I would consider a “the jury’s still out” feeling, I decided to sit down and try to create something in the iBooks Author Software.  I sit on both the technology and professional development committees for our school district, so I figured putting together a book with iBooks Author served several purposes.  I would learn the tool by playing around with it, and I could make a book that could explain things like digital citizenship to teachers and parents.  The goal is to also have others help write the book as well, if they have time, and to customize it for our school district, making it a pretty decent “project-based learning” exercise for everyone involved.

It’s early on in the project, but I’ve found that iBooks author is pretty easy to use.  It works very much like the Pages application on the Mac, so getting started is pretty easy.  It took a little bit of fiddling and using the help feature to make sure I put hyperlinks in properly, and I could not find the footnoting feature, but I assume I’ll figure that out today.

It’s incredibly easy to add keynote presentations and videos into iBooks.  I had a one-step conversion process to take a YouTube Video and convert it so I could embed it in the text, and a Powerpoint presentation from the Pew Internet and American Life Foundation was easily converted into Keynote and included as a “figure” in a chapter. (They have their data available for use as open source with credit, so inclusion is not a copyright violation.)

My initial thoughts are that this could be a great tool for teachers and even people who regularly teach adult classes or trainings to put together interactive texts, aggregating resources and more.  For example, for folks in social media that are trying to teach folks how to use WordPress, it would be simple to put together a few slide shows, short how-to videos, and the like, and hook them together with text to create a much more useful and instructive guide.

The biggest problem I see with iBooks is making sure that IP rights are respected.  If you look in the back of any textbook, there are tons of footnotes, references and the like, because textbooks are, by their very nature, a conglomeration of expert advice from all over.  With iBooks Author, it’s very simple to cut and paste from all over the web to create a really terrific interactive book, yet determining whether anyone selling an iBooks Author text through the iBooks Store is “profiting” from work they did not actually create is going to be tricky.

The tools provided to create really terrific looking EPUB books are simple to use.  The application to sell your books in the iBooks store or distribute them for free is also pretty straightforward.  The aggregation of information and preserving intellectual property rights for a book format that relies on aggregation of information may be tricky.  But certainly for most teachers and educators who may be considering creating their own textbook or compendium of information they use for their lessons every year, this will be a terrific tool.

The only additional wrinkle is that so far, the epub multimedia format of the books produced will only be available for viewing on ipads.  I get that- adding video and slide presentations in an interactive format won’t work so wel on a Kindle or e-ink readers, especially when hot links to websites and secondary resources will require web access.  I’m not sure why the books should not be viewable in a reader on a Mac or PC, but I suppose if there’s enough demand, those problems will be solved as well.

iBooks and iBooks Author tools are an interesting business play for Apple, and provides a great way to let anyone, even children, create multimedia books and projects that are truly impressive.  We’ll have to wait and see how many people adopt it, but so far, it’s been a much more interesting way to put together a book than just using Microsoft Word.