Category Archives: e-book

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #086: Do you like books, or do you like reading?

#ebooksuwe2012 #366photos

I delivered the keynote at e-Books: Experiences and Future Directions, A Joint Higher Education and NHS Event for Library Staff held at UWE in Bristol.

What are the challenges and issues when it comes to the embedding and use of ebooks in libraries?

With James Clay.

This is the 86th e-Learning Stuff Podcast, Do you like books, or do you like reading?

Download the podcast in mp3 format: Do you like books, or do you like reading?

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

The Kindle is not a problem!

This week I attended and presented at UWE’s E-Books: Experiences and Future Directions Conference. It was an interesting conference that had a focus on health and delegates from Universities, Colleges, Hospitals, Aggregators and Publishers attended.

One theme that did come out of the conference was the “Kindle Problem”. The issue stated by both aggregators, publishers and libraries was that users had Kindles, however all eBook platforms and downloadable formats were not compatible with the Kindle and therefore this was a problem “with the Kindle”.


Blaming the user is indicative of an industry that fails to understand its users and is an industry that dictates how users should do things, over trying to meet the needs of the user.

The reason that people see the Kindle is a problem, is that the Kindle has been successful. Consumers have gone out and bought the Kindle and therefore want to use it.

The reason the Kindle has been a success compared to other eBook readers is that Amazon have created a product that basically works.

I have a Kindle and I also use the Kindle App on my iPad. All my purchases are stored in the cloud and I can download my books to  the device of my choosing. I can download it to both iPad and Kindle. Once I have signed into the Kindle app, I don’t need to sign in again.

Now the Kindle isn’t perfect. There are issues with it that annoy my. I don’t like how it doesn’t support ePub, I think it’s PDF support is lacking.

Importantly though I use the Kindle to read books!

I did prior to the Kindle have a Sony e-Reader and though I did use it to read a few classics, the real issue I had was with getting books onto the device, the DRM meant that I had to use a specific computer to download the books onto before transferring them onto the e-Reader. I remember talking to a colleague at work  who had real problems doing that, so in the end didn’t use it, they now have a Kindle and use it all the time!

I find therefore interesting that providers of ebook platforms are very rigid and inflexible and then accuse Amazon of the same thing! I appreciate also that Amazon are in some ways just as inflexible as the aggregators and publishers!

If our users are buying and using the Kindle, then shouldn’t we, if we are offering e-book loans, ensure that whatever service we subscribe to supports or at least works towards supporting, the Kindle?

To ignore the Kindle or to assume that it is a problem is missing the fact that it is well used and liked by the user. To push another device onto the user so you don’t need to change implies you don’t have a user focus. There needs to be a push to Amazon to support an ebook lending model and for aggregators and publishers to change their systems to support the Kindle.

It can happen, but at this stage I can’t see it happening, can you?

ebrary on Bluefire

One of the criticisms I had of the official ebrary app for iPad was that if you used Federated Access or Athens the only way to authorise the app was via Facebook.

I am never a fan of making people sign up to a social networking service just so that they can do something else or to support their learning. Also in many FE Colleges, Facebook is blocked for either staff, learners or both, or there is restricted access.

I had heard of the Bluefire app before, but hadn’t looked at it, as the reports I heard was that it “didn’t work” across Federated Access or Athens and needed a dedicated ebrary account.

Whilst researching my ebrary on Android article I decided that the Bluefire app may be worth another look, as I had read that it was possible to use Bluefire with an Adobe Digital ID to access and download ebrary books, all without needing to go through Facebook.

Download the Bluefire app from the iTunes App store, it’s a free app.

Authorise the app with your Adobe Digital ID.

Visit the ebrary platform in the mobile Safari browser. Sign in, through Federated Access (or Athens) and then find the book you want. Select Download and then download the book.

If you have the ebrary app on your iOS device then you will be asked which app you want to use with the download.

Select Open in… and then select Bluefire Reader.

In terms of usability both Bluefire and ebrary work in a similar manner.

The advantage of Bluefire over ebrary, is not just not needing to connect your ebrary account with Facebook, but also you can use the Bluefire app for other e-books, so you can use a single app for all your reading. If your college is publishing resources and assignments in ePub format then you will be able to read these in the Bluefire app.

ebrary on Android

I have reviewed the ebrary App for the iPad, and a few people asked if there was an Android version? ebrary is currently working on an Android app, in the meantime it is possible to read ebrary e-books on your Android device. You can of course read e-books on the ebrary platform through a browser on your Android device, however this requires a live internet connection, which is fine if you have wifi, or unlimited data.

Using Adobe Digital Editions on your computer it is possible to download e-books from ebrary and transfer them to your Android device using a compatible eReader application, myself I used the Aldiko app as a “bookshelf”. You can then read these books offline without needing a constant internet connection.

Alas it isn’t possible to download the books direct to your Android device, you will need to go via your computer. There is a “bug” that stops you downloading direct to your device, this may be fixed at some point.

You will need to first download and install Adobe Digital Editions and then sign up for an Adobe ID. This will allow you to “authorize” transfers from your computer to your Android device. On your device you will need to install a compatible eReader application. I used Aldiko as I already had it on my Google Nexus One.

Start Aldiko on your Android device, then connect to your computer and where necessary turn on USB storage.

Having connected your Android device then start Adobe Digital Editions, it should recognise your device and add it as a “bookshelf” to your library after you have authorised the device.

Once this is all done then you can go onto the ebrary platform, select the book you want to read, click the download link.

There are a few options, you can download a DRM-free PDF containing part of the book, or a DRM’d copy of the whole book.

It will download an acsm file, open this file and Adobe Digital Editions will start to download the book from ebrary.

Once downloaded you merely need to drag the book from your library to your Aldiko bookshelf, this will then transfer the book from ebrary to your Android device.

You can then read the book on your Android device. Remember though you only have the book for 14 days before the DRM “expires” the book and then you will need to delete the book.

As for the reading experience, well this isn’t a true e-book experience and I found it quite difficult to read the book on the small screen of the Google Nexus One.

However on an Android tablet with a larger screen I suspect the experience would be as good as reading on the iPad.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #083: Read This!


We are discussing Kindles, e-Books, iPads, iBooks Author and all manner of stuff related to digital books.

With James Clay, Lilian Soon, David Sugden and Ron Mitchell.

This is the 83rd e-Learning Stuff Podcast, Read This!

Download the podcast in mp3 format: Read This!

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

ebrary – iPad App of the Week

ebrary – iPad App of the Week

Update: The app has now been discontinued.

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at various Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive.

This week’s App is ebrary.

Researchers now have an optimized way to experience authoritative content – both online and offline – from multiple sources including e-books that their institutions acquire from leading publishers and materials uploaded and integrated by librarians.


I have a bit of a passion for e-books. It’s not about replacing paper books, much more a way to provider greater access to books at a time and place to suit the learner.

The e-Books for FE from JISC Collections enables FE Colleges to start with e-Books through the ebrary platform.If you can it makes sense to provide authenticated external access, either through Federated Access or Athens.

One of the disadvantages of the ebrary platform was it was browser based, though that meant you could easily access the collection through a PC or a Mac, it did mean that it was either not possible or challenging to read them on a mobile device.

Recently ebrary have added a download feature to the collection, this means you can download either 40 pages as an unprotected PDF or the whole book for a 14 day loan using Adobe Digital Editions. This means you could transfer it to some e-book readers such as the Sony Reader.

ebrary have just released an iPad and iPhone App. What surprised me was how much better the app was for reading books than the browser based platform on the iPad.

Disappointingly the only way I could get the app to work was to link my account on ebrary that I use with Federated Access with my Facebook account and then link the App with my Facebook account. There didn’t appear to be a way of logging into the App using Federated Access (and I also believe it isn’t possible with Athens either). I guess there is a technical reason for this, but this could cause problems if your institution blocks Facebook for staff or learners (or both).

The app doesn’t “hold” the authentication for very long either, so as a result you do need to re-authenticate on a regular basis. So it’s not like you can authenticate at home and then use it in college, you would need to authenticate across the college network. Though if staff or learners have a 3G iPad then they could just use 3G to authenticate and then go back to wifi to access the book!

In my own college that wouldn’t be an issue, learners would have access to Facebook over the student wireless network and though we do block Facebook to staff, staff who have an “academic need” to use Facebook can get the block lifted. Using Facebook to access ebrary would be a legitimate “academic need”.

Once authenticated you can search and browse for books as you can on the browser platform.

The books download page by page which on a slow connection can be frustratingly slow. It makes much more sense to download the books, but to do that you need an Adobe ID for the Adobe Digital Editions. This is in addition to the other IDs. I can imagine that this could be complicated for learners in having to combine various IDs to use the app. Also if they have been using Ebrary purely through IP authentication on campus they may not even know they need an ID to access the books.

The books are quite large too, the ones I looked at were in the 70-100MB range which on a slow broadband connection will take a while to download. Once downloaded though, moving between chapters, or flicking between pages the experience is so much faster and better than trying to read the books “live” having to download each page. Also it doesn’t require you to re-authenticate so making it much easier to read books on the move. However once you have downloaded a book and it expires you don’t seem to be able to download it again!

I am looking into this limitation. You can return a book early, so I am guessing that is one limited solution. I have managed to re-download an expired book, but I suspect that there may be a watiing time before you can “borrow” it again. The ebrary help does cover some of this, but as the ebrary platform can be used for a variety of books and collections, the help isn’t always specific to the e-Books for FE or the iOS App.

You can copy and paste text from the e-books and what I do like (as it does in the browser) is it adds the appropriate reference to the pasted text. This makes it much easier for learners to understand and recognise the importance of referencing the text they cut and paste.

I will admit that the ebrary app is not perfect, but it does work and it does allow you to access the ebrary collection from your iOS device, there is an app for the iPhone as well as the iPad.

If you are subscribed to the ebrary collection, have a Facebook account and have an iPad, then get this app.

Get the ebrary app in the iTunes App Store. Update: The app has now been discontinued.

iBooks Author

A new free tool, iBooks Author, from Apple that should mean creating content for iBooks on iOS will be much easier.

Today in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

I wasn’t too impressed with iBooks 2, on the other hand, iBooks Author I think has real potential for practitioners in allowing them to easily create content that will work on the iPad. Practitioners have been wanting a simple tool that allows them to create simple content with added bells and whistles. This will I think have a greater impact than the textbooks for iBooks 2.


Well practitioners now have a tool that allows them to not only easily create content they can give to their learners, it also gives universities, colleges and schools the ability to convert and create content, that they can they give away within iTunes U, but also sell in the iBookstore to learners, not only in their institution, but also sell to other students across the world. You will also see individual practitioners creating and selling educational content that before was only mainly done by publishers and software companies. With iBooks Author there is now a tool that is not only free and simple to download, it is also very easy to use. Practitioners who are using Keynote and Pages (or even Powerpoint) will find that it is relatively simple to reuse or convert content, publish and sell it on Apple’s iBookstore.

Having given iBooks Author a try, in a similar vein to iWeb if you don’t mind following the Apple template then the app will work just fine. If you want to go out of the box? Then at this time the app isn’t a solution and you will find it very frustrating.

The export options are limited to iBooks, PDF and text. The PDF option is horrible in that it exports the “pages” in frames with a watermark underneath each one, and none of the media work, even though PDFs can support video and animations. There is also no ePub export option available either. It was rumoured that Apple would be using a ePub3 standard with HTML5 extensions that would allow the use of interactivity and media. Now that may very well be the case, but they are using their version of it which means that firstly any book you create will only really work on the iPad, and won’t work on other readers such as the Sony Reader let alone the Kindle. Secondly if you didn’t want to use iBooks Author to create an iBook then you probably wouldn’t be able to create (easily) an iBook using the ePub3 standard with HTML 5 extensions.

So there is no easy way to export as ePub or import ePub. From the perspective of the average practitioner this isn’t going to be an issue, but for some learning technologists this will probably create some real headaches if they are trying to reuse or repurpose existing content.

I can certainly see a lot of practitioners and institutions deciding to create and sell content using iBooks Author and as a 1.0 release I think it has potential, however it currently reminds me too much of iWeb and not enough of Keynote. For “normal” people I think it will be “awesome” and “magical” for everyone else it will be iWeb.

Get iBooks Author in the Mac App Store.

“Reinventing” Textbooks, I don’t think so!

So has Apple reinvented the textbook?

I don’t think so.

Today in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

With iBooks 2 it is now possible to read e-books that also contain media and interactive content

I have to say to Apple and all those sites out there that are saying iBooks 2 has reinvented textbooks, I don’t think so. I felt a little underwhelmed by the textbooks that were announced by Apple. They are for all intents and purposes digitised textbooks with some fancy video, slideshows and other effects. There are already apps within the iOS App Store that provide a similar experience, the Dorling Kindersley releases for example. I have already reviewed some of these in my review series, and I think some of those, such as Eureka, are much more innovative and exciting.

Don’t get me wrong, the use of video, animations, slideshows, 3D diagrams, interactivity can be so much better than the diagrams and photographs in a paper book. We mustn’t though forget that interactive doesn’t always mean engaging. Sometimes something very uninteractive and be very engaging, likewise in the past many interactive textbooks (we called them CD-ROMS back then) did not engage learners. It takes a lot of skill and thought to create engaging interactive content, and clever animations and video is only part of the picture.

What is missing is the Apple magic in the user interface. iBooks and devices such as the Kindle work for “normal” books such as novels and non-fiction where the reader moves from one page to another in a linear fashion. From a user’s perspective, the experience is comparable.

However this is not how academic textbooks are used by learners. Learners rarely (if ever) read an academic textbook from page to page. No they are more likely to flick through the pages to the relevant chapter or section, flick back to other parts of the book as they make notes, sometimes on the book (annotations) but also on paper (or using a word processor). Now you can do that in iBooks 2, but not nearly as easily and smoothly as you can with a paper book.

In May 2010, I wrote about how the Seattle Times outlined how student at the University of Washington did not like using the Kindle compared to using printed books.

There were some interesting results and comments from the pilot. 80% would not recommend the Kindle as a classroom study aid for example. However 90% liked it for reading for pleasure.

Though I hazard a guess that maybe a slightly lower percentage would not recommend the iPad as a classroom study aid, I said back then:

This is a lesson that educational publishers need to recognise when publishing content to platforms like the Kindle and the iPad. Though novels are linear and as a result eBook formats can “work” like a printed book, educational books are used differently and as a result eBook versions need to work differently. Students need to be able to move around quickly, annotate and bookmark.

Creating a digital copy of an academic textbook for a lot of learners is not going to work, as it doesn’t allow them to use the digital textbook in the way that they would use a paper copy. There needs to be a paradigm shift in understanding how learners use content, so that the advantages that a device such as the iPad can bring to learning are fully exploited and learners are not left thinking that the digital version is a poor relation of the paper textbook.

Those advantages that Apple outlined in their presentation that the iPad is portable, durable, interactive, searchable and current are just part of the story, digitising content misses out on the other advantages that the iPad brings to the desk. The touch interface offers so much more than just highlighting and flicking backwards and forwards in a linear fashion. Magazines such as Eureka and Wired have started to understand that, I am surprised that Apple haven’t.

There is also a complete lack of communication and sharing within iBooks 2. Learners are unable to share their annotations, copy their notes to their peers, discuss the content. All that is missing from iBooks 2, it is about consuming content, individually and then probably writing about it using Pages or creating a spreadsheet in Numbers.

The new textbooks in iBooks 2 make the mistake of creating a digital equivalent of the paper book with a few added bells and whistles and does not take advantage of the iPad interface and connectivity that could add so much. Textbooks need a new way of thinking, however this time Apple are not thinking differently enough.

What do you think?