Student Created eBooks: Good Idea or Lazy Ploy?

Yes, I have dabbled with creation tools and having students curate their own content.  I love the idea of having students create a culminating work that they can be proud of.  The logistics around it however are a bit daunting–and I’m not going to lie, anyone who says, “have a student create their own ebook!”, is in la-la land if they think that it is easy to pull off. My earliest attempt was with my class wiki through the Wetpaint portal.  Though I effectively used Wetpaint for 5 years, they no longer support education websites that are free of ads (without first paying a steep cost) so I bailed. I know that a wiki and an ebook are different modes to get information to viewers, but conceptually, it is the same in that students research topics, organize their thoughts, curate their work, find images that relate, can add links/video, and then submit it for teacher approval and student viewing.

Nevermind the bit about having to teach the students how to use another app, which can take a day or two to teach, but then to walk around and answer every single student’s tech issue while completing the assignment can take away from the original objective. I am a social studies teacher first.  I know it can be exciting to implement new tech in the classroom and show kids the things that they can do with it, but that is not my primary function. I have a lot of content to get through in a short amount of time, and let’s face it, technology can be a time-suck.

Wetpaint wikis allowed for my students to edit the class webpages and add content to a page for later use.  At its core, it is a great idea for a project that is student lead and one that students can use to review for the future. Whether you are using iBooks author (good luck), Wetpaint wikis, or some other culminating/curating platform that students lead the creation of their class content, here are a few things to remember:

  • Students need clear guidelines about the topic that they are to researching. You can not give them cart blanche and expect them to get focused. At the very least, provide a list of topics and have them choose.
  • The students must already be familiar with the platform that they are using. It is going to take class time to introduce the platform to the kids.  I have learned that I can not expect kids to “dabble with the app” and come back to class knowing what to do as an appropriate homework assignment.  It becomes the teacher’s responsibility to show the kids.
  • Are the students creating an etext, or are they creating a study guide?  I think that the word ebook is getting thrown around too much, and I am not even an author (well I am trying).  But is it wrong to suggest that unless there is an ISBN or ISBE number attached to the work, that what the students make is no different from a flip-book that you would make in class? I do think that teaching the platform to kids can have a big benefit if the objective is to show them that they can publish or make content available to the masses. And I think that it is important for teachers that we reiterate how critical it is that their work be reviewed and edited before submitted.  This brings up my next point.
  • If student work is going to be submitted for the entire class to see and use as a study guide or review, all of that content better be right. I think that teachers may overlook this part because of the process that must come next, and that involves the proofing and editing of everyone’s work, and fairly quickly I might add, especially if the kids are using it to review for class.  The logistics of this step and time dedicated to it are a very big time investment.
  • Source materials: If you want to help eliminate some of the mentioned problems above, have links to “pre-approved” sources that they kids should stick to, only after you have showed them how to cite their work.

In conclusion, I think student created ebooks are just another way of doing a posterboard presentation.  All of the criteria and materials have to be already in place and a rubric clearly defined.  I think that it can be a fun project (and much more complicated using an e-platform) but I  would prefer to limit an activity such as this to a single unit or even topic. I sometimes feel that tech teachers think that they have found the holy grail in having student created work, and in reality it is a cheap ploy in simply jigsawing the materials so that the teacher does not have to lecture and explain. I have yet to be dazzled by the magic fairy dust. For now, the students in my course need content presented to them clearly and in one place. I don’t know if I can afford much time for kids to make their own eBook.  But, every class is different, and I guess the most important thing that a teacher must ask first, is “what do my students need to know.”

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