This post first appeared on Jen’s blog.

I’m excited to attend this next session “Metamorphosis of the Biology Textbook” with Morgan Ryan and Gaël McGill, Ph.D., co-creators of E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth, a new textbook created via iBooks Author and available on the iBooks bookstore (free).

The vision of the project was to create a series of vibrant textbooks in a new, media platform. The textbook is a standard Biology textbook, 41 chapters across 7 volumes. They wanted it to be standards based and familiar, but at the same time different than what people have seen before. Morgan tells us that what is great about an e-Textbook is that it allows the author to regularly update their content. Instead of printing a new volume, you can input new material.

In addition to the textbook, they also have included an iTunes U course in conjunction with the text. They can even gamify the course with badges. Very cool!

The Power of Scientific Visualization

Screen shot from E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth. The text discusses a previously unknown species of carpenter ant collected by E.O. Wilson in Gorongosa National Park during a textbook development expedition to Mozambique in the summer of 2011

Visualizing content is powerful in a teaching medium. It should not just be used to engage students, but strategically to impact learning. Gaël is now demonstrating for us several elements of the book. He says that it incorporates pedagogy, science, art, and design. Using iBooks Author, you can incorporate elegant design into building a textbook. With an eBook format, students are welcomed into the book with a short video. It’s simple, yet elegant. Just looking at the book, it is beautifully designed. The structure, colors, and layout are really striking. Gaël points out that the widgets in iBook author can be very basic or advanced and incorporate coding language.

Gaël says that he wants to empower students to consume data at their own pace. This can empower learners as they explore data and information. He says that in the book, they shifted the control of navigating the data to the students, not the textbook or even the teacher. I love tools that empower learners. In addition to included student guided directives, they also included well constructed documentaries for students to watch. He also emphasizes, however, that this is not a replacement for the lab experience!

I have to say, for me, this is a great example of what an eTextbook can be! It’s truly engaging, interactive, and exemplifies a variety of consumption and teaching methods.