The EPUB format covered in this lesson plan is the successor to DAISY DTBooks (the accessible digital document format recommended in Rose’s Universal Design for Learning). Becoming familiar with the creation and use of EPUB documents could be your students’ first step towards preferring EPUBs (instead of, or in addition to, PDFs) for the distribution of journal articles from scholarly repositories. The lesson plan consists of four structured activities that are intended to teach basic concepts related to digital publishing, text accessibility, reflowable text, and e-book formats. Instructors can lead the sessions via lecture and demonstration, or the participants can proceed independently by viewing the instructional videos here. These videos include narrated walk-throughs of all the tasks mentioned in this lesson plan; here’s an example taken from the fourth video:
Each of the four short activities can be accomplished in as little as 15 minutes, provided that all needed software has been previously installed (see Preparation section) and students are familiar with the use of Microsoft Word and web browsers. However, instructors may wish to bracket the presentation of each activity with deeper discussion of related concepts (e.g., accessibility, markup languages, visual rhetoric). These four structured activities are intended to provide the prerequisite knowledge students will need to create their own EPUB documents. It is recommended that these activities culminate in a fifth, unstructured activity: an open-ended “MakerSpace” project in which participants are encouraged to design and create their own template-based EPUB document.
This text is designed for instructor use with advanced high school students who are already adept with desktop publishing tools and concepts; undergraduates in courses that may require knowledge of digital publishing methods; graduate students and postdocs interested in expanding their knowledge of accessible digital publishing methods; or faculty and staff interested in expanding their available options for digital document distribution.
Advanced high school students, junior college or vocational students, university students, and adult learners
As a digital humanities project, this lesson plan pertains to any situation in which digital publishing is important, such as Journalism (“digital edition” newsletter), English (poetry collections or prose books), Data Collection (scrapbooking), Art (photo albums), or other possibilities.
Participants will be able to add metadata to an existing Word document, convert that document into an EPUB, view it in several reading modes, then listen to it as an audiobook.
In addition to a working knowledge of Microsoft Word and a GoogleDocs account, the instructor should also prepare or obtain a suitably designed Word document to use as an example (see Additional Instructional Materials below for a sample file). Audience members should have basic familiarity with the use of Microsoft Word, Google accounts, and an interest in digital publishing. These software applications should be installed before the activities begin:
Microsoft Word (desktop version, not the online application)
A modern web browser (with Internet connectivity and a Google Drive account)
EPUB-compatible ebook reader software (such as Apple iBooks software or the Microsoft Edge web browser)
VitalSource Bookshelf ebook reader software (available for both Macs and Windows)
Engaging in the activities will require a computer workstation (Mac or Windows) with Internet access. This workstation should have the following applications installed: Microsoft Word, a web browser, and EPUB-compatible e-book reading software (such as Apple iBooks, or Microsoft Edge web browser with built-in EPUB compatibility), as well as the free VitalSource Bookshelf desktop or mobile reader software (for Mac or Windows).
Activity One: Learning About Metadata
Note: The key to this step is the use of a properly designed Word document, so that the basic EPUB features work as expected. The Word document must use Word style formatting instructions to format all major headings, with Heading 1 used before other Heading n styles, and it must be structured through the creation of a Table of Contents.
Online self-paced tutorial for Activity One is available at the contributor’s site.
Many digital assets (e.g., digital song files, digital photographs, e-books) contain hidden information known as metadata (literally, “the data about the data”). Metadata is embedded descriptive details, such as the name of a song or a book’s publication date. This information is accessed by the “Search” function of online bookstores (e.g., Amazon.com) or music services (e.g., iTunes). Any time that you publish a document with the intent of distributing it to other people, you should first make sure that your metadata is complete and correct — if not, potential readers, listeners, or viewers may not be able to find your document!
(The instructions in this section assume the use of a Mac OS computer. These tasks can also be done on a Windows PC, but some steps may vary slightly from the instructions given.)
Launch a desktop version of Microsoft Word software (do not use the online app), then use it to open the Word document supplied by your instructor. If no file was provided, download a sample document from Additional Instructional Materials below.
From the bottom of the File menu, click on Properties.
From the resulting dialog box, click on the Summary tab. Note the fields that have already been filled with descriptive information, such as Author and Title. In the field named “Company,” take credit as the book’s publisher by typing “YourName’s Books” into the text entry block,
Click on the Custom tab. In the Name field, enter “EasterEgg;” then click into the Value field and type “This is my custom info.” Click the Add button to create your custom metadata, then click OK to close the Properties dialog box.
Save your document to preserve the new metadata.
Activity Two: Converting Word to EPUB: Free Methods
Note: This section presents two ways of achieving a similar result. (Each conversion option will produce slightly different results.) Each method is relatively simple and takes very little time, so you may want each participant to try their hand at both methods. A third method (using Adobe InDesign) is mentioned but not discussed in detail.
Online self-paced tutorial for Activity Two is available at the contributor’s site.
After conversion to the EPUB (not an acronym) format, your Microsoft Word document could be made available through an online bookstore or within a library’s electronic document repository. EPUBs are compatible with physical e-book readers such as iPads, Nooks, and Kobos as well as e-book reader software including iBooks, Adobe Digital Editions, and VitalSource Bookshelf. Such software is available at no cost for Windows PCs and Apple Macintosh computers as well as most smartphones. To convert a Word document into an EPUB, most professional book designers would open your Word file using a high-end graphic design program such as Adobe InDesign, but this activity will focus on two no-cost options.
We’ll begin by using a free online conversion service. Use a web browser to visit one such service, Online Convert.
Find the Ebook Converter section of the website, then choose “Convert to ePub” from the drop-down menu. From the “Drop Files Here” box, use the Choose Files button to locate your desired Word document. (The file whose metadata you modified in Activity One.)
When the upload analysis is complete, click the Start Conversion button.
When conversion is complete, the resulting EPUB should automatically download. Find your Downloads folder then locate your first EPUB, but don’t click on it yet.
Now let’s use Google Drive storage space and GoogleDocs to export another EPUB. Use your web browser to go to Google Drive then log in with your Google account.
Click on the “New” button, then choose File Upload. Navigate to the Word document that you edited in Activity One then upload it to your Google Drive.
When the upload is complete, close the pop-up notification. Double-click on the thumbnail mage of your new document to view the document. Scroll down through the entire document to familiarize yourself with what you uploaded.
Click the button at the top of the viewer to “Open with Google Docs.” This may take a few moments to convert.
From the GoogleDoc File menu, use the “Download As” option to select EPUB Publication.
Activity Three: Using an EPUB: Customized Viewing
Note: The value of reflowable text is demonstrated through its role in enabling user-driven modifications to how the EPUB is displayed.
Online self-paced tutorial for Activity Three is available at the contributor’s site.
Just as you can view a PDF from within several different software programs, there are also a variety of options for enjoying the contents of an EPUB file! Books, magazines, cartoons, posters, photo albums, and other types of graphic communication vehicles all work well in this format, and you can easily view EPUBs on a smartphone. Unlike a PDF, the words and images within an EPUB can reflow to fit different shapes of viewing screens. Instead of being locked into the design of a printed page, EPUB readers can modify text size, typefaces, and select from different color modes for text and backgrounds.
(The instructions in this section assume the use of a Mac OS computer. These tasks can also be done on a Windows PC, but some steps may vary slightly from the instructions given.)
Locate your most recently created EPUB in the Downloads folder, then double-click it to launch your computer’s default EPUB reader. If you don’t have an EPUB, you can download a sample EPUB file from the Additional Instructional Materials section below.
If nothing happens or the file does not open successfully, you’ll need to select an application manually. (This is also how you would choose to open to EPUB in a reader other than your operating system’s default choice.) Right-click on the file, then use the “Open With” option to choose a compatible software program, such as Apple iBooks or Microsoft Edge web browser.
Once you have successfully opened your EPUB in a compatible viewing program, try making your viewing area wider or more narrow, then taller or shorter. (If you’re viewing the EPUB on a smartphone, try rotating the phone 90 degrees.) You should observe that the content of the EPUB adjusts (“reflows”) to always fill your screen.
Each EPUB reader has its own way to adjust the size of the text. For example, if Apple iBook readers move their pointers to the top of the window, it will reveal an icon showing two capital letter As of differing sizes. Click this icon to open a dialog box for adjusting text size. Try making your current text size larger, then smaller. Adjust it until you like the size at which the text is being displayed — it’s under your control!
Within the same dialog box, you should find other user-adjustable display options. Try selecting other color combinations to see which contrast level is right for you. If your EPUB reader also offers multiple typeface options, try them out as well. Typeface preference and other viewing options will vary based on your vision capabilities, dyslexia, or other conditions.
Activity Four: Accessible EPUB: Read-Aloud Mode
Note: Compatibility of the EPUB format with assistive technologies (such as screen reader software and refreshable Braille terminals) is described in this section; document navigation is also mentioned.
Online self-paced tutorial for Activity Four is available at the contributor’s site.
This activity is meant to follow directly from Activity Three, so you should still be viewing an EPUB from within a compatible software program. Now, we’re going to learn how to use the EPUB built-in navigation menu, then we’ll learn about listening to EPUB contents by using a screen reader. “Navigation” is the ability to jump around between the sections of a long document. Every valid EPUB file contains a navigation menu (think of it as a built-in Table of Contents), but each EPUB reader differs slightly in how you can access this menu.
Find the icon within your EPUB reader that indicates the navigation menu. For example, readers using Apple iBooks can move their pointers to the top of the window to reveal an icon with 3 dots and 3 lines (that kind of looks like a Table of Contents). Click on that icon to pop open the EPUB navigation menu.
Very short documents might have only one item listed in this menu, but longer documents should provide clickable links to different sections (such as the start of new chapters or subheadings within chapters). Click on a section that’s about halfway through the document, then note that you are now viewing that page of the EPUB. Reopen the Navigation menu, then click on the first entry in the list to return to the start of the EPUB.
If your computer or smartphone has speakers or headphones, try listening to your document instead of reading it! Each EPUB reader differs slightly in how you can convert text into computer-generated speech. For example, readers using Apple iBooks can click on the Edit menu (at the top of the screen) then use the Speech option to select Start Speaking. Listen for a short time, then choose Edit > Speech > Stop Speaking when you are done.
Be aware that iBooks does not provide a true “screen reader” experience, as it lacks control functions and cannot read alternative text for images, graphics, and tables. Instead, let’s try another option: the free VitalSource Bookshelf (for Mac or Windows). Quit iBooks, then locate the EPUB in your Downloads folder. Right-click on the file, then use the “Open With” option to choose VitalSource Bookshelf.
The VitalSource Bookshelf software should be displaying the first page of your EPUB. Right-click on the first word from the book, then choose “Read aloud from here” from the contextual menu. This will cause audio controls to appear at the bottom of the screen.
While the book continues to be read aloud, click the gear icon shown to the right of the playback button. In the resulting dialog box, be sure to check the “Read alt text” option, then close the box when you are done making adjustments.
Notice that when an image appears in the text, the VitalSource Bookshelf app reads a description provided by the author that is not displayed on screen. This is an example of “alternative text,” more commonly referred to as alt text. Continue to listen until you have an understanding of the read-aloud capabilities of the EPUB format when paired with a capable reader! Click the pause button to halt playback when you are ready to stop.
Activity Five: Make Your Own Digital Publication
Note: After having accomplished all the structured activities in the earlier activities, participants should be capable (with some assistance) of producing their own EPUB by starting from a document template. (View the Microsoft Word document templates on the project page maintained by the author or via the links in Additional Instructional Materials below.) Some students may want to improve upon the EPUB produced by the methods described in this lesson plan (by adding a cover image, for example). Such edits can be accomplished with the free application Sigil.
That’s the end of the well-structured problems, so now it’s time to get creative!
First, spend some time thinking about what you’d like to share with others. It could be your scrapbook of memories from a recent vacation (provided that you can download the photos from your phone or a Cloud service), a poetry journal, a photo book about our National Parks, or just an accessible way to share a recent school research paper.
Then, start with a template to create your EPUB publication:
Start by entering the author name, document title, keywords, and other metadata in the Properties dialog box of your Word document.
If your document is long enough to benefit from navigation points (i.e., section starts listed in a Table of Contents), make sure that the title of each section is styled using Microsoft Word Heading 1 style; major subsections of each chapter should be given the Heading 2 style. Avoid the styles “Title” or “Subtitle,” as they will also end up in the navigation pane.
Once you’ve styled some text using Microsoft Word default Heading styles, you can then edit the style definition to give the appearance that you like. Change the appearance of each style by using the “Modify Style” command available from the Styles Panes. Non-heading text should use the Normal style.
Create bulleted or numbered lists only through the functions available in Word.
Add alternative text to graphics by right-clicking them, then choosing “Edit Alt Text” from the contextual menu.
Avoid the use of tables whenever possible, as making them accessible requires additional steps not covered in this lesson plan.
To easily replace the photos shown in the templates, control-click the image then choose “Change picture…” from the resulting contextual menu. If you add additional graphics to your document, be sure to place them as “blocks” (inserted at the cursor point, on a line by themselves). Flowing text alongside a photo requires more sophisticated techniques that are not covered in this lesson plan.
The template you’ve used should contain a Table of Contents (TOC), which is necessary to create a structured (navigable) document. Find the page containing the TOC, then control-click it. From the contextual menu, choose “Update Field,” then click “Update entire table” from the resulting dialog box. Once you’ve created and/or updated the TOC, you can feel free to delete it as your last step prior to conversion — the visible TOC may disappear, but the document structure will remain. NOTE: Google Docs will automatically remove the TOC during the conversion to EPUB.
Save the file, then upload it to Google Drive for conversion to EPUB.
In the spirit of a typical “maker space,” these exercises are intended to be informative and exploratory. As a result, this lesson plan does not include a formal quiz or test. Instead, participants can self-assess their performance on these well-structured tasks through completion of this checklist:
I am now familiar with the e-book format named EPUB.
I am now familiar with the descriptive data known as metadata.
I can change some metadata (such as author and title) in a Word document.
I can convert a Word document into a Google Doc, then export to EPUB.
I can open an EPUB and view its contents.
I can open the Navigation menu in an EPUB, then go to a different section.
I can make the text in an EPUB larger or smaller as I view it.
I can change the reading mode (color scheme) of an EPUB.
I can change the typeface used to display an EPUB document.
I can can use iBooks to read an EPUB aloud.
I can use VitalSource Bookshelf to read an EPUB aloud.
I can adjust the speaking speed of VitalSource Bookshelf.
I can activate the reading of alt text in VitalSource Bookshelf.
Creating an EPUB is not only easy and fun, it also results in a more accessible alternative to the usual PDF file! Although the number of online libraries that offer EPUB document downloads is growing, greater awareness of the EPUB format is needed. By conducting this E-book MakerSpace lab session, you are helping to promote the digital book format that was developed with — and is the preferred choice of — the broad community of assistive technology users.