eBook Makeover

Back to Makeovers

About the eBook Makeover

The goal of this makeover was to transform Word documents that students would read into more interactive learning experiences. Documents used in this makeover were contributed by Air Washington. Tools used in this makeover include Calibre, an open source application for ingesting content and converting it to an EPub and VitalSource for the EPub delivery. The makeover requirements were developed, implemented, and supported by SkillsCommons.

eBook Makeover

We recognize that digital content presents many distinct challenges and opportunities such as:

  • How to Print
  • Download and Offline Use
  • Scalable Distribution
  • Collecting and Securing User Data
  • Usage Reporting and Analytics
  • LMS Integration
  • Support for Gradable, Interactive Content
  • Licensing and E-commerce
  • Multi-Devices such as Laptop, Table, and Phone
  • Institutional Branding


Many grant submissions include files in Microsoft Word or PDF. While Microsoft Word format is useful for editing, it does require Microsoft Word or another application to read the file. Microsoft Word documents can be saved in several formats (including PDF) to address some shortcomings and provide some flexibility into how content can be delivered to students. Better still, the industry has a specific format that has many benefits for educational content: EPub3.

EPub3 is an industry standard for formatting content that address all the challenges. When we join a digital format such as EPub with a control and delivery platform such as the VitalSource Bookshelf, we can address the challenges and leverage the opportunities. For example, using Bookshelf allows for a distribution of the latest edition to be managed centrally via the cloud while also offering fine-grain usage data, neither of which are available as easily using print or even a downloadable file.

For this makeover, we have converted some submitted documents into a single EPub. We used an open source product, Calibre, to convert the documents. There are a variety of free and commercial products to help with these kinds of conversions.

To take the conversion further, we ingested the EPub into an eReader.  This is a multi-device application that, in conjunction with EPub, offers many benefits:

  • Read online, offline, or mobile.
  • Option to print paper copies.
  • Accessible for users with varying abilities.
  • Robust search tools.
  • Interactive content and rich media.
  • Send assessment grades to learning management systems.
  • Create notes and highlights that sync across all devices.
  • Shares notes or follow others.
  • Manage multiple courses and books.
  • Digital rights management for flexible / sustainable licensing models.
  • Usage reporting.



Accessible version of this video


This is a very large collection of  Word docs and PDFs  on Digital Logic in Electronics/Avionics  by the project Air Washington.

The content of the files were organized into a single EPub presentation that you can “page through”.

How to view the ePub – Note that these viewers offer the convenience of a browser, but may not provide as rich a reading experience as the native applications for Mac and Windows above.

  • MAC – On a Mac you can use the iBooks application that comes with your operating system.  Simply download the ePub and then open (or double-click on) the ePub file.  This should launch iBooks and show the book.
  • Windows – On Windows, there are a number of free eReader.  One such product is Adobe Digital Editions.  Install the reader then download the ePub and open it in the reader.
  • Browsers – You can also view an ePub in certain browsers such as Chrome or Firefox. You can find more information here: How to Read .ePub Ebooks on Firefox and Chrome [Quicktip]
  • VitalSource Bookshelf Reader – You can also use the VitalSource Bookshelf reader.  This will be invoked when you visit the ePub Demo course within the LMS.

Increasing eBook Capabilities in an eReader Platform

The EPub is nice, but we can go further by delivering the EPub inside a platform such as VitalSource’s Bookshelf. The EPub is ingested into the VitalSource platform and wrapped in digital rights management (DRM). DRM means that only those licensed to view the material can view it. DRM can be made “open”, but it also can be used to support a commercial business of access to value added content for a fee. This kind of business models may play a role in helping sustain SkillsCommons over time.

To see the eReader version (VitalSource), we have folded it into a Blackboard Learn course, although it could be viewable outside an LMS. To launch Bookshelf and view the book, log into the ”EPub Demo” course and the content area and click on the link.

Instructor Account Credentials
Username itaaccct
Password itaaccct

Here is a picture of the content area in the EPub demo course.  There is a folder of links called “Content”.  In this folder, the first link is to the EPub file.  Clicking the link will likely download the file to your machine and then you can read it with an EPub viewer for your computer.  The second link is the launch the EPub as delivered thorugh VitalSource Bookshelf.  Blackboard Learn was configured to work with VitalSource and passes identifiers for the book, school, course, user, and whether the user is an instructor or students. Bookshelf processes all that information and shows the appropriate content.


Picture of content area in ePub

Here is a picture of the EPub file as read in a Mac OSX native reader:

Picture of ePub file as read in MacOSX

Here is a picture of the epub as read in the VitalSource eReader.  The left-hand side will show a table of contents, stored highlights and notes, and other features.

picture of the epub as read in the VitalSource eReader.

Air Washington

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