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Is it possible that a book is no longer just a book?
I wrestled with this question when a teacher contacted us this week about a literacy workbook that Carla and I have written. The workbook has been used by schools to prepare students for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test for over 10 years.
We published an ebook version (Don’t Panic 2.0: On-the-Go Practice for the OSSLT) nearly two years ago, and while teachers have been curious about it, schools haven’t yet found a way to use the ebook in the classroom.
If this article is any indication, not all Ontario teachers are sure about the role of technology in the classroom, even though “69% of high school students believe mobile devices will replace textbooks in five years.” So, up until now, the print version has been the overwhelming preference.
Asking for Something that Doesn’t Exist
So back to the teacher… she contacted us about Don’t Panic 2.0, the ebook version. She had a problem to solve and it wasn’t going to be solved by a print book.
This teacher teaches in a fairly large school, and she and her teaching colleagues prepare students for the OSSLT by offering reading and writing workshops during lunch hour and assigning them sections of the Don’t Panic workbook for homework. The problem was that students needed to find teachers to pick up the homework assignment, and they’d have to connect with teachers two more times to drop off their completed homework and pick it up after it was marked.
Logistically, students chasing teachers and teachers chasing students became a game of hide-and-seek. The not-so-fun variety. She was hoping that something digital would solve the problem and engage students at the same time. She admitted that she wasn’t very tech savvy, but was willing to embrace a tech solution. Don’t you love her already?
After a bit of back-and-forth I realized that the ebook wouldn’t solve all aspects of the problem—at least not elegantly. She was looking for something that she couldn’t quite articulate and that didn’t yet exist on our backlist.
In the end, it occurred to me that the teacher was asking me to create an interactive PDF from our print resource that she could upload to her school’s intranet. I had recently learned that Adobe upped their game with Adobe Reader XI and with the ubiquity of tablets, PDFs appeared to be, suprisingly, back in the game as an e-reading option.
Students could download the file from the intranet to their home computers, work directly in the file at their computers (or tablets), and then upload the file for teachers to check. No chasing necessary. The teacher was over the moon about this idea until…
Cold (Tech) Feet
…she realized that she’d have to teach her colleagues how to learn to use an interactive PDF—something she didn’t yet know how to do herself.
For those of you who don’t know, Adobe Reader XI now has amazing features that allow for interactivity. Students can write and draw on a PDF and teachers can mark up, leave written comments or audio record comments, on a PDF, too. Adobe also has a text-speech feature, which is a boon for English Language Learners and students who have communication-related learning disabilities. Learning to use these features isn’t at all difficult, but learning anything new can seem so at first.
Beyond the Book Examples
To support this teacher, we need to go beyond the book. We’ve done this already by creating the Don’t Panic Tips blog which helps to address a wide variety of topics related to reading in a digital world. More specifically, though, we’ll need to create some tutorials and a demo video or two on Adobe Reader XI that can step teachers through the process of using an interactive PDF. It’s not enough to tell our readers that using an interactive PDF is easy, we have to guide them, or show them.
Going beyond the book seems to be par for the course in publishing nowadays. And authors are finding some wonderfully creative ways to go beyond the book in order to support or attract readers.
Self-publishing gurus Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, authors of Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book, offer a self-publishing intelligence test to help authors wrap their heads around self-publishing and a free ebook template—the one they used to create their ebook—to demonstrate how to style a Word document for ebook conversion.
Karen Bergen, author of Overcoming SAD: The Happy Hippie Yoga Chick’s Guide to Beating Winter Flip-Out (due out in November 2013) has included fun downloadable colouring pages and yoga videos that demonstrate the yoga poses she describes in her resource-rich and lighthearted take on dealing with seasonal affective disorder.
There are lots of ways to go beyond the book. What are some of your favourite ways? Don’t be afraid to let your readers give you a nudge, like one of our readers did.