E-books for professional development and support
Within the last year we have integrated an e-book library to help provide professional development and support. The e-book library started off with a hand full of titles. The library had grown to a modest fifteen titles by the end of the 2011–2012 school year. During this first year we saw over two thousand downloads of these fifteen titles.
I think our e-book support site has been successful because it provides on-demand information to campuses. Our e-books provide both basic and in-depth information. Each e-book integrates pages of screen captures. The old adage that a picture speaks a thousand words, works very well. Screen captures help convey most of the basic information. Text that accompanies each step and screen step is basic where it needs to be, and detailed where it is necessary. Basic information helps convey the process. In-depth information helps to elaborate on points that are not clear. More information is often added when we need the reader to understand the reasoning and policies associated with a step or process.
E-books have several advantages just like environmental print, and many more not available. Our e-books reference material within the book, like vocabulary terms. They also reference external online sources. These references help readers understand some of the more technical terms and references. E-books can be easily updated as technology or sources change. Readers can download the latest version at any time. Updates incur no additional cost. E-books can be highlighted and book marked. Notes can be attached. This helps the reader annotate points where we might not have been as clear.
The development of e-books is very labor intensive. It often entails a methodical process of walking through a piece of software one step at a time. The most important steps need to be identified. Most steps can be brief because screen captures provide a great deal of information. Other steps require more information so the reader can understand how or why something is done. The development often takes into consideration that there is more than one way to do the same thing. These alternate steps need to be included.
A process often requires the use of another process not associated with the software. This needs to be made clear and a supporting e-book should be available to accompany this process if it is complex. If the process is simple it can be included as a separate chapter for reference. Without this support of external processes the point of the e-book will not be complete when the process is crucial to the rest of the instructions. If a teacher needs to encode a video and he or she does not know how to do this, then the process comes to a complete stand still. Editing a book has to be done along side the process so that no step is left our or insufficiently explained. The process is slow and laborious but essential if an e-book is to provide consistent reliable support.
The author has to be proficient in the software and has to place himself in the mind of the reader. Most readers will be new to the software. It is important for the author to write the instructions in a format where a non-technical person can understand the steps, process and terms. An understanding of the reader’s role is very important. We are teachers supporting teachers. We find this is a very useful connection. We are able to tailor our support around teacher terminology and actual classroom experience. The book is often produced after we have met with teachers and learned how to address some of their needs. These are often included with each step as additional information to help clarify what teachers have questioned us about during training.
We try to provide e-books for a variety of devices. The EPUB format is the most widely used standard format that can be used on any e-book reader. We also produce e-books in Apple’s iBooks format. This format helps us to provide additional resources in a format that is easy to use on the iPad. There are many teachers that still prefer environmental print. We help them by providing similar instructions in Portable Document Format(PDF). Finally, not all teachers have e-book readers. Teachers may not want to keep these instructions on their computer. We provide a web page that provides the same steps available in PDF versions. This site is searchable and divided into categories.
Why so many formats? We want to provide teachers with flexible support standards. The goal is support. Support works best when it is available in a variety of formats like person to person, video, phone, and e-book. We have found that teachers like the variety of options. They are easily able to find the one that falls within their comfort zone.