Classroom uses of iBook Author

Happy New Year everyone, it’s been a while since my last post on Videoscribe. I thought I would look at potential uses for iBook Author in this particular post, using my own experiences with my year 11 group. At the end of last year during gained time I decided to write an e-book using iBook Author to cover the triple science biology curriculum for my year 11s this year. This allowed me to personalise their book and add in features they would appreciate. This post is going to look at how well it has gone down and how they are using it as well as a quick run through of creating iBooks for those that are not familiar with the process.

A sample contents page from the iBook

A sample contents page from the iBook

iBooks Author is free OS X-only application (i.e. it needs a Mac to use) that is downloadable from the app store. It produces files in the .ibooks format which are only readable on iPads, although it can export to other epub formats with reduced functionality. It produces clear and attractive textbooks, and I was inspired by the E.O. Wilson Foundation iBook “Life on Earth” to attempt something similar. I wrote each chapter from scratch, as well as creating a number of images and video files for use in the book. A number of images were taken from creative commons licenses, but as the book is not for external publication I was bound by the less strict rules for teachers within an educational establishment.

A typical page with some inbuilt exercises

A typical page with some inbuilt exercises

The process was relatively straightforward and the book was created in about three weeks’ worth of free periods (maybe 25 actual hours). iBooks Author allows you to add a number of different “widgets” including questions (which are limited in scope as they as they don’t take text input and are multiple choice or click and drop only), videos (both ones I created using Explain Everything and linked through YouTube), labelled diagrams and image galleries.

A sample page showing an image, table and Explain Everything video.

A sample page showing an image, table and Explain Everything video.

This is a labelled diagram of the excretory system. All labels are clickable and show a definition. All content can be zoomed into.

This is a labelled diagram of the excretory system. All labels are clickable and show a definition. All content can be zoomed into.

I am going to focus the rest of the post on how this has helped my students this year. If anyone has any questions on how to create an iBook, do feel free to contact me (@mravandijk on twitter).

I have often found that textbooks are not perfectly aimed at a particular class and that I (or the students) rarely use them. In general students seem to prefer the CGP revision guides. Producing your own allows you to tailor it to your particular cohort of students. At the recent Consumer Electronic Show a publisher demonstrated the first adaptive textbook (, but with iBooks you can already tailor it to a degree. The intake in my current is well above average ability so I focused on adding extra content into the iBook, including previews of how a particular subject would develop at 6th form level or videos and articles linked to current research on a topic.

An example of a page pushing beyond normal GCSE-level thinking

An example of a page pushing beyond normal GCSE-level thinking

This allowed for extension during lessons when some students might finish a task whilst others were still working their way through it. I found that many of my students would be very keen to access the further information which would be seen as more interesting. One could also imagine that in a school with a more EAL intake you would choose to define the glossary terms in multiple languages to help those students who might not have the necessary command of English.

An example of a glossary definition. You could imagine this in multiple languages.

An example of a glossary definition. You could imagine this in multiple languages.

Where iBooks are really shining in my class is in the annotation and review features that are built-in to the book. Students can highlight any section or add their notes to any area and the book stores all of these in a searchable index allowing students to cross-reference their work and keep their thoughts contained to one medium. Any notes and glossary terms are also added to revision cards which students can use to review the information. As most of my students would make very similar cards anyway this will save some students a significant amount of time.

Any notes added to the text end up here and are ordered by subsection.

Any notes added to the text end up here and are ordered by subsection.

The revision cards give glossary terms and the notes you have added.

Students can test themselves or each other using these cardsSo let’s summarise my findings. Students don’t use textbooks on a day-to-day basis (and they don’t use iBooks either), however they are more open to use the interactive features of an iBook to aid them with revision and review. Using the glossary cards as well as the Explain Everything review videos allow for multiple ways of enhancing revision. Creating your own textbooks allows you to tailor the experience to your own students, enhancing engagement if you target it correctly. The main benefit will come during exam preparations though which we haven’t quite reached yet. Whilst a significant piece of work I think the investment of my time was worth it, and it is something I would consider doing again for other examination classes.

VideoScribe workflow and comparison with Explain Everything

Recently I have been exploring an iPad called VideoScribe  (see also the desktop version which I haven’t tried yet here: to see if it could bring anything to the table for flipped class or revision purposes that Explain Everything couldn’t. I created a revision video for my Year 11 group using the app which I uploaded to YouTube.

I am going to take you through my work flow and at the end discuss whether or not I like VideoScribe better than Explain Everything.

Creating Images

VideoScribe uses Scalable Vector Graphics (.svg) files and overlays a hand to show the image being drawn. It comes with a number of images but aside from arrows and the like, few of them would be useful to educators. You can also add normal image files but it takes away from the charm. I used iDraw to make my images.


My .svg files made in iDraw.

I then exported these as .svg files to my Dropbox.


Easy export to Dropbox. .svg files seem quite small so don’t take up too much space.

 Creating Presentation

As VideoScribe also links to Dropbox I could then easily import the files into the application. It is a shame (or maybe I haven’t figured it out yet) that you can’t export straight from iDraw into VideoScribe.


Connecting VideoScribe to Dropbox. Annoyingly this has to be done every time you want to use an image.


The list of .svg files in my Dropbox account is shown as a rather clumsy list.

Once you insert your file you can resize it, change its orientation and adjust the length of time it takes to draw the element. You can also order the element in respect to the other elements. It is straightforward to add text and arrows and order them in a similar way. Much like Prezi you can set a field of view (frame) that shows as the element is drawing.


You can resize, rearrange, move and do a number of other things to any file you import.


Use the camera icon to set your view giving you a frame very much like in Prezi.

Adding Sound

You can overlay the entire presentation with a soundtrack (either from one of the royalty-free musical tracks included or your own). You can also record a narration to go over the top. The problem with this is that the presentation doesn’t run at the same time as your narration so it is hard to keep track of where you are and you can only overlay one voice over so it all has to be done in a single take. As I am incapable of doing that, I rendered the movie and exported it to my Camera Roll. I opened up iMovie and opened up the file. I then used the iMovie audio controls to overlay the narration. I then exported from iMovie to YouTube.


Recording narration in iMovie


The finished product showing the different audio components.


As you can see there are more steps to this process than to a similar process in Explain Everything. I don’t think that VideoScribe is as suitable for annotating images and web pages as EE, however the finished product feels slicker and more characterful. I like having discovered iDraw as a result as it seems a better drawing program than the ones I had been using. I think for revision purposes (or for showing off) VideoScribe is better than EE; for new content and internal material EE might well be better. Prezi is still better for presenting when you are actually present.


It has been a little longer than I wanted to since my last post, but it has been pretty manic the last week or so and I haven’t gotten round to adding my next App. As such this is also going to be quite a short one, looking at an app for testing for various forms of colour blindness called ColorTest. It is an app that whilst very limited in scope (it shows examples of Ishihara colour vision testing plates), but has been useful when discussing genetics in general, and X-linked characteristics in particular.

The first of 24 testing plates in the app

There are 24 different plates testing for the various forms of colour blindness. when you click next it says what a person with colour vision would see and what a person with impaired colour vision might see.

An example of the explanation under a plate.

Pro: It does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it well enough. There are obviously internet sites that do this just as well but at least this free app has no adverts.

Con: The teacher has to provide the genetics background, but then it never sets out to explain this.

Using Notability in the classroom

This post is going to look at a more general iPad app that is used both by myself on a day-to-day basis and by my students. This app is Notability. As in my last post I will discuss some of the features of the application and then look at some the practicalities.

The starting page of Notability, with the ability to organise your notes into different folders as well as the various export functions.

Notability, as the name might suggest, is a note taking application. And cutting to the chase a little, it is a really good one. Like most iPad users I started of using Notes for making ,well, notes. The lack of handwriting recognition and just the general clunkiness of it drove me to have a look at number of other Apps which included Penultimate, Notify and Evernote (which is its own case and has some excellent applications (as it can be independent of an iPad) once I get my head around it fully). Notability came out ahead in part because the students at my school had it in their starter App pack, and I thought it essential that I found out what I could do with it. Making and organising your notes is straightforward, as is exporting to various other applications (be it email, DropBox or attached to a Tweet).

Using the Magnify tool allows you to not fill a page with just a sentence…

When using Notability to make notes you have the option to use the keyboard (which is a little annoying as it covers half the screen as in most iPad Apps) or write using the pen function. This is easiest with a stylus (although my handwriting, which is bad at best, gets worse), although some of the students manage to very neat notes with their fingers. Initially I struggled with Notability as I had not figured out how to use the magnify tool which zooms into a section of the page you are writing on and allows you to write smaller text more easily.

It is fairly straightforward to insert an image and add a caption.

Notability easily takes images from your image roll and allows you to put them into your note, allowing you to resize it and edit certain features. It can also take direct links from the Internet and insert them into your text as an image.

This is a direct link to YouTube in my note.

Now to the part that I think most of my readers (and thanks for bothering to read my first post BTW) are interested in, which are the applications within the classroom. As a teacher I use it for general note taking but it really comes into its own when marking electronically submitted work on an iPad. Any Word/Pages file can be saved as a pdf (using the Pages app in my case, though I am sure other conversion tools are readily available) and imported into Notability where it is straightforward to mark on to the pdf. You can the send the student their marked work back whilst retaining a copy for your records.

None of the students in my school have had a great deal of training in using this app but they can do great things with it. I have seen students produce practical reports produced by Notability including images of the experimental set up and their results. One thing it cannot do yet is allow a video clip to be inserted into it directly, but you could imagine students uploading a video clip and sticking the direct link into their work. At the moment many students are still figuring out what their favourite method of taking notes is, but as it develops I am certain that many more exciting uses will come up. I will keep you up to date!

Pros: Easy to use, powerful note taking application with many export options

Cons: No video import, no graphing functions (students would have to produce a graph by hand or in Numbers (though that has its own issues) and import it into the app).


The first iPad application that I will look at is a Science app. I will try to alternate between dedicated science apps and the application of more general apps to science education. I have chosen to look at a little-known app called BugSim first (BugSim) . This free app can be used to teach the theory of natural selection.

The opening screen

It is not going to win any beauty prizes but it can demonstrate aspects of natural selection to students. It comes with a couple of preset scenarios as well as the ability to set up your own scenarios. It is based on a 1989 paper about using genetic algorithms to model natural selection. There is a certain amount of food in the environment, and the food regenerates at a certain rate. Both of these can be controlled using a slider before you start the simulation or during. You can also change the initial population size as well as the mutation rate of the “bugs”.

The simulator when it is running

The bugs need to eat a certain amount of food per time unit by passing over it. If they fail to reach this target, they die. The bugs can move into any of 8 directions depending on which of their genes are turned on. If all 8 movement genes are turned on the bug can move into any direction when it moves, and as such ends up staying in one place. If only one movement gene is turned on (say move left), then the bug can only move left. It is beneficial to stay in one place if the food regenerates there quickly; however it is suicide if the food does not generate in one place but at random across the screen. This is where the natural selection comes in.

Simulation running with a “Garden of Eden” in the top left.

Now let’s consider how this would work in a classroom setting. The student can set up a scenario of their own choice, or using instructions from their teacher, set up a specific scenario. They run the simulation and note what is happening. They can take screenshots whilst the simulation is going on to generate a timeline. Once the first scenario has played out another scenario can be started and the two results compared. Questions could be to explain why the outcomes of the different scenarios (e.g. one with random food distribution and one with a centralised food source called “garden of Eden” in the application) were different using the theory of natural selection. This could also be used as an initial discussion point leading into the theory of natural selection.

Pros: Excellent algorithm, multiple scenarios and options to generate new scenarios.

Cons: Not the prettiest, needs explanation before the students find it easy to work with.


Welcome to this new blog that will discuss educational technology (both that which has been around for awhile, and that which is on the horizon) and looks at judging at its impact on secondary education with a specific slant towards science and biology teaching.


I am a Biology teacher who is currently working in a leading independent school in the UK. The vast majority of my students have been issued with iPads on a 1:1 basis so many of my future posts will be slanted into this area. If any readers have any requests for reviews and uses of specific technology, let me know and I will have a look.

Alex van Dijk


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