By Dolores Gende

Apple’s iBooks2 and authoring app has created big waves in education circles. But smart educators don’t necessarily need Apple’s slick devices and software to create their own books. How educators think of content curation in the classroom is enough to change their reliance on print textbooks.

As the open education movement continues to grow and become an even more rich trove of resources, teachers can use the content to make their own interactive textbooks. It might seem daunting, but the availability of quality materials online and the power of tapping into personal learning networks should make it easier.

Here’s how to create a digital textbook and strategies for involving the students in its development in three steps.

1. AGGREGATION. Gather all your sources of information. The best way to aggregate content is through social bookmarking with great online tools like Delicious and Diigo, which allow you to bookmark sites that can be seen and shared online. As Diigo’s web site explains it, the site “allows teachers to highlight critical features within text and images and write comments directly on the web pages, to collect and organize series of web pages and web sites into coherent and thematic sets, and to facilitate online conversations within the context of the materials themselves. (Watch this video to see how to do this step-by-step.)

Teachers can work with colleagues within their subject area departments and beyond the walls of the classroom to aggregate resources through social bookmarking. Invaluable sources of information for professional learning come through Personal Learning Networks (PLN) in Twitter  and from RSS feeds.

Also try or The Twitted Times, which will sift through your connections’ resources and organize them.

2. CURATION. While aggregation is collecting Web sites, the process of curation involves a deeper analysis of those sites to select the ones that have the most relevant information for a particular topic. Use your subject area syllabus, state standards or learning objectives to hand pick the content for a particular unit of study. Focus on the essential questions to help you choose resources. Use the most powerful potential of Web tools to make your textbook engaging by using images, videos and simulations.

One of the most user-friendly tools to post resources for your course is LiveBinders. Another great tool for curation is Scoop-it!, which allows you to create your own online magazine. (See how articles related to physics are curated on Scoop-it’s PhysicsLearn.)

You can find many more useful tools for curation. Check out  30+ Cool Content Curation Tools for Personal and Professional Use. And if you’re using an iPad, take a look at these curation apps.

3. CREATION. This is the most important (and fun) part of the process. You can create an online repository using a wiki digital tool such as Google Sites, PBworks or Wikispaces that organize your resources neatly. You could also use LiveBinders to select a template that allows you to include text for each of your resources. Learning management systems (LMS) such as Edmodo and Schoology are also great alternatives with neat features for educational social networking.

Google Sites also allows you to create and share Web pages, and has lots of customizable features. You can easily post images, directly embed videos from YouTube, lecture podcasts, and Google Docs for easy collaboration among your students. You can even embed assessments using Google Forms and a calendar.

And now, of course, if you have an Apple platform you can use the iBooks Author. Though it can only be used on Macs, the free app offers a drag-and-drop template that can be customized with images, interactive diagrams and videos to create a polished book.

As you put your book together, consider some of these questions:

  • How are learners going to use the information?
  • How will they demonstrate what they’ve learned?
  • Are they completing a document, creating an outline or answering a set of questions?
  • What are the assessments associated with the material?

The table below compares and contrasts the elements of the various levels of involvement of teachers and learners in the process of creating a textbook. You can use the traditional model where all steps of the process are managed by the teacher or move towards a learner-centered approach using the chart to determine which level is appropriate for your course.


Teachers as curators: Check out this unit on Projectile Motion, which includes content information, exercises, a virtual lab and a couple of assessments and this wiki from Craig Savage, which contains his resources for AP Biology and AP Psychology.

Students as curators: American Democracy in Action, a digital textbook for AP US Government created by seniors at St. Gregory College Preparatory School. For excellent strategies to involve your students take a look at Silvia Tolisano’s Students Becoming Curators of Information.


iTunesU: This free app enables video, audio, and an integrated Learning Management System with available push notifications options.

CK-12 Foundation: You can customize your own FlexBooks with open-content in all subject areas.

Open Culture Links: 400 Free Online Courses from Top Universities

National Repository of Online Courses: Algebra, Calculus, History, Biology, Environmental Science,Physics and World Religions.

Cybrary Man Educational Resources

And much more: K-5 Resources, Language Arts/ English, Math, History/Social Studies, Science, World Languages.

Ready to ditch your textbook yet?

Dolores Gende is the Director of Instructional Technology, Science Department Head and Honors Physics teacher at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, TX.


How to Create Your Own Textbook — With or Without Apple 6 September,2012MindShift

  • Thanks to the author for the insight into these tools.

    However, I can’t help to notice that this approach focuses on aggregating material from the web in order to create your own textbook. So, what kind of textbook would that become?
    Teachers should be very careful when choosing what to add to it – and you rightfully pointed out about the importance of curating the material.
    One tool which you might want to look at – and which to an extent encapsulates all these three steps is the Reader function on iversity.

    On iversity you can upload your class material – pdfs, presentations, docs, images, etc – and compile all this material in a course pack which can be ordered online. The material will still be available online – in the course page – and students can access it like they access their photos or videos on facebook. Unlike facebook, and other LMS out there, iversity also let students annotate onthe documents and create discussions related to the material.

    In a sense, iversity does more to the third step of your process than the tools you mentioned there – catering for techies and those who still fancy paper copies of their textbooks.

    • Agreed!  The missing person in the process for collecting accurate information in all formats and creating multimedia and interactive components is your school library media specialist! Collaborate with your school library media specialist to curate and create texts filled with  authoritative, current, accurate information.

      • Dolores Gende

        Thank your your insight! Librarians are essential in our schools, their understanding of literacy and curation is definitely an asset. Moreover, this partnership supports promoting a community of practice within the schools.

    • Jscaffid

      Actually when creating these ebooks the teacher is taking their documents and incorporating them. From there they are adding ultimedia content that supports what the students are reading about. Most teachers probably arent going to write a whole book as much as a course to help support learning. “here are the passages I want you to read, along with cool diagrams, images, clips, etc…” The book publishers are jumping on so that means that they can still supply textbooks. Whether they are good or not is a separate debate. Please dont think we are just using any old site for our information. Teachers are very careful about what they teach and where that information comes from.

  • I think people are missing the biggest problem w/ using an iPad for schoolbooks — it is BACKLIT! This is going to kill the eyes of all those kids. There needs to be an e-ink schoolbook reader for this to be a sensible solution in the schools

    • Jeff

      I’ve been reading off of the iPad iBook application for over a year and my prescriptions haven’t changed. I would agree the Kindle is easier to read, but not for eink alone, but because it doesn’t have as many distracting awesome apps. Backlit screens are more user preference than anything else. Besides, how many kids get back strain from carrying fifteen pounds of textbooks in a too-small backpack?

  • Crissy Cochran

    So many great tools mentioned in this article! But when it comes to number 3.) Creation, My Big Campus is another perfect LMS. Many My Big Campus users are taking advantage of its pre-embedded Education Resource Library!

  • small amount of self promo 🙂 with Highlighter’s HTML5 reader you can take your PDF and EPub files and upload them to our reader which makes the materials viewable no ANY device as well as allowing students to highlight, comment and share on the text itself! This way you know if the students have read the material before coming to class and what they’ve said about it. Annnnnnnd….. it’s all freee!

  • llawrie

    I am using My Big Campus to create my online book and so are other teachers in my school district. It is a perfect place to not only create your book but also add a complete online class. You even can blog, collaborate, video chat, turn in your assignments, add youtube videos and more. Check it out! 

    • Can you tell me how MyBigCampus is different to Edmodo?

  • Edu Technology Enthusiast

    Gooru ( — a search engine for learning provides one of the best tools to create collections. It is definitely better than the few tools that I recognize among those mentioned…

  • I understand that the iBook Authors tool is only available on the Mac. However, I have created a few e-texts already using that software, and it creates an easy-to-navigate, interactive book for the user (and these texts are available when the Internet is not). It is worth getting at least one Mac in your school just for the final creation stage. Teachers have tons of digital resources already gathered and can easily (well, after the first time) make an iBook and distribute it locally to the students. (One caveat: Don’t try to distribute it via DropBox. I had all my public files suspended by DropBox, as per their user agreement, for 3 days because there was too much activity on the account as people tried to download the iBook. These books have a hefty file size!)

    • Anonymous

      Very interesting, Kathy. What do you think is the best way to distribute e-books that teachers create for students, given the big file sizes?

    • C. Hitchcock

       Another issue to keep in mind is the nees to create instructional resources that will be accessible to all learners.  This requires considering reading order on the page, live text for use with TTS, alt text for images and all text embedded in images, and more.  Other than the E.O. Wilson textbook provided within the iBook2 store, most of the examples provided to date are not reasonable accessible to learners with print disabilities. How ironic that digital books are now just as inaccessible as print.

  • Jbackon

    If your goal is to create an eBook, but still be connected to the web so that changes to the content are live, I would try The Learning Mag ( One may embed video, images, and other interactive apps, create an attractive looking eBook, and access the book from any device that has a browser. I’ve been using the tool all year with excellent results, and my students prefer it to a LMS.

  • An illuminating guided tour of some new and several not-so-new tools for tech savvy educators. Still, as a self-published ESL/EFL author, the article does seem to confuse two separate aspects: collecting and bookmarking excellent sites and creating and distributing new materials. Or perhaps I misunderstood and next to set aside a weekend to explore and test various tech tools and applications. Thank you for sharing and giving me a pleasant “to explore” list for my next book projects.

  • Michael Cairns

    If you are an educator check out which allows you to build a custom textbook using your own material and/or publisher content. It is free for faculty and the student can get the finished book in print or eBook format.

  • April Oberempt Kelley

    I am a science teacher and am very interested in creating an e-book for distribution to my students but my administration is very concerned about violating copy right laws. Does anyone have any information in this regard? Any advise given will be greatly appreciated.

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