Tag Archives: ebook

10 Free Tools for Building Blended & Online Learning

As internet connections improve and costs of classroom hours increase, it’s becoming increasingly important to offer some form of blended or totally online materials to enhance courses.

In this posting I’ll introduce some useful free and freemium tools that can enable any teacher to start creating content for online delivery.

You can find more tools like these in Digital Tools for Teachers

1. Perusallhttps://perusall.com/

PerusallThis tool enables teachers to build onto more traditional course book based courses and add a blended element. Once you have created an account you can upload PDF documents and add them to courses. You then give your students a code to register on the course and they can access the texts, make notes and annotate the text and build discussions around them. The site also generates a ‘confusion report’  which can show you where they are struggling or having problems with the text. You can deal with the problems in the next class. When you register as a teacher you need to tell the site which school you teach at. You can try a live demo of a course to see how it works at: https://app.perusall.com/demo

2. NowCommenthttps://nowcomment.com/

NowCommentThis is a very similar tool to Perusall, but it’s completely free. and works around any web based text. You can create classes and groups and add students to them and then create and assign texts from the internet as reading activities. You then create questions and comments linked to specific parts of the text which your students engage with as they read. This enables you to create an online dialogue around the text and get your students sharing and exploring their views around the text.

3. Teachablehttps://teachable.com

TeachableYou can use Teachable to create and sell your own online courses. There isn’t much in the way of interactive exercise types available, but you can add videos text and allow comments. There is a built in payment system so this takes a lot of the headaches out of getting started. Teachable take 10% if you are working with a free account. If you find that you are selling a lot of courses you can switch to a paid account with a fixed fee to reduce the charges. This is a great way to start becoming an independent course designer.

4. CourseLabhttp://www.courselab.com/view_doc.html

CourseLabCourseLab has been around for a while now and is a free tool for authoring your own interactive digital content. You don’t need any coding skills, just use the drag and drop editor to create a wide range of multimedia interactive activities. This really is quite a powerful tool capable of designing a wide range of quite complex interactive activity types that include context specific feedback and a number of other features like scoring and timing, but there is quite a steep learning curve when you firs start using it. If you want to get serious about building complex online courses then it worth putting in the time. The activities it generates comply to the SCORM standard so you can import them into Moodle or any other standard compliant LMS.

5. DocentEduhttp://docentedu.com/

This is a great tool to start creating web based materials. You’ll need to have a Google account and   use it to sign up. Then you can use the Chrome extension to build interaction around webpages or documents. You can add videos from YouTube to enhance content or you can add discussion, questions or insights. You can make up to 5 activities for free, after that you have to sign up for an account, but it is reasonably cheap. There is also a schools option.

6. Edhttp://www.edapp.com/

Ed LMSEd is a really impressive course creation and LMS tool for creating highly interactive and touch responsive learning content for mobile devices. It has been designed to work on both iOS and Android devices and produces media rich learning activities. You can drop in video, images, text or audio and create a really wide range of interactions around them. Many of the activity types are ideal for developing communication skills. On the free trial account you can create up to 10 lessons. After that you have to pay per user per month, so this is a great tool to create commercial learning materials, but you have to make sure you will be generating some income.

7. Kotobeehttps://www.kotobee.com

KotobeeThis is a completely free authoring tool you can download to create interactive ebooks for delivery on either Android or iOS tablets. The tool goes beyond just creating a ebook, you can add quite a range of interactions to your books as well as video and audio files, so this is a great tool for creating a genuinely digital etextbook. As well as running on tablets the ebooks and activities you create can also be exported to the computer desktop or exported as native apps for Android or iOS (You’ll need to have Apple or Google developer accounts to do this.) This is a great tool for the truly digital classroom.

8. Close Test Creatorhttp://l.georges.online.fr/tools/cloze.html

Cloze Test CreatorThis is a very simple tool that enables you to instantly create cloze test activities based around any text. Just copy and paste a text from any site or document into the main field and click on submit. You can produce either plain text cloze tests or interactive ones. The site will also allow you to choose the types of words that are extracted from the text, so you can for example just remove articles or prepositions. When an interactive cloze has been created you can type in the missing words and the site will highlight the words in red if they are incorrect. The activities this tool creates can’t be saved, so there is no copyright infringement, but that also means that you can’t create and distribute the activities to multiple students. You can show students how to use the tool to create their own revision tests though, so it’s still very useful and works well on an interactive whiteboard.

9. Gnomiohttps://www.gnomio.com/

GnomioThis is a free hosting service that enables you to create your own free Moodle installation. Once you have created your platform you can build multiple classes and courses with a really wide range of interactions including a plugin for the http://bigbluebutton.org/ synchronous webinar platform. This is a great service that could enable you to create your own online school to deliver lessons or training. The free version of the site does carry some advertising, but for a small monthly or yearly payment you can get the ads removed.

10. Expertise.TVhttps://expertise.tv/

ExpertiseTVThis is a great tool if you want to start making money by training or mentoring online. It has everything you need to set up, sell and deliver a complete mentoring service including lead capture and a video conferencing and webinar platform. It’s also free, but if you do start selling courses or training sessions then the site keeps a small percentage of what you make. Unlike many webinar type platforms there’s no whiteboard or presentation space so it’s more like an enhanced version of Skype, but you can build you own landing page and develop a community on the site. There are lots of video tutorials to tell you more at: https://expertise.tv/content/Quick-Start-Videos

I hope you find one or two of these tools useful for creating your own courses or content. Remember though that finding the right tool is important, but how you structure and design interaction with the content is way more important. Taking classroom activities and materials and placing them on a web-based  platform and expecting them to work is sure way to disappoint students. You need to think carefully about how the student will engage with the materials and how the materials relate to each other to ensure that your materials don’t just test the students’ knowledge and abilities, but that they guide and enable the student to hypothesise and make and confirm deductions in order to encourage deeper levels of autonomous learning.

You can find more tools like these in Digital Tools for Teachers


Q&A With Kotobee Founder Ayman Abdel-Rahman

logoI was looking for a free tool I could use to publish ebooks to the Android platform when I came across Kotobee Author. I downloaded a free copy and discovered how easy it was to use and how versatile. In this interview Ayman CEO of Vijua talks about the Kotobee Author, its many features and how it can help aspiring writers, publishers and educational institutions.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Kotobee is a comprehensive solution for creating interactive ebooks and libraries in different formats, supporting all platforms.

Who is your ideal customer?

multiplatform-1Well, Kotobee really fits anyone wanting to create an ebook, putting aside all the tiny details. But ideally, our customers would be educational institutes (training, universities, schools) and ebook distributors.

What are the pros and cons of producing an app version of an ebook as opposed to a standard ebook for the iBook Store?

We get asked that quite a lot actually. For an app to work as an ebook, an embedded-reader is required. That is, an engine responsible for running the ebook file, providing common functions like search, note-taking, bookmarking, etc. That’s one of the things offered by Kotobee. Having an embedded-reader gives you the advantage of doing whatever you like with the interface. You can control the design, layout, functionality, etc. An app can have your own logo and name, hence stronger branding – something that is not possible with standard ebooks. The embedded-reader however increases the size required for download.

Library CustomizationA standard ebook for Apple’s iBook Store will give users the luxury of accessing all their ebooks from a single app, i.e. Apple iBooks. Publishing to the iBook Store is free, in contrast to the App Store, which charges $99 annual. Ideally it would be best to publish to both formats.

What ebook formats can be created using your solution?

The ebook formats supported by Kotobee Author, our creator software, are EPUB, Kindle (MOBI), HTML5 web apps, Mobile apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, desktop apps for Windows and Mac, and SCORM components for an LMS. All these formats are actually free to create on Kotobee, with the exception of mobile apps.

One of the services you provide is a branded e-library. What are the benefits of this service and what kind of customer is that aimed at?

Kotobee libraryThe Kotobee library solution is targeted at institutes who want to have their own platform for serving ebooks or courses to their users, instead of publishing ebooks individually. So the institute will have their own branded library app to offer to their students. The institute can then dynamically publish books to the library from a friendly administrator panel, plus they control users’ access to the library. User permissions can be assigned to specific books or book categories. Their library app would be made available for web, desktop, and mobile.

Our library solution is a significant investment and provides a full end-to-end solution for institutes.

With the library app you can:

  • Publish books dynamically (individually or in bulk) and edit them on the fly.
  • Collect statistics on book view and downloads.
  • Create book categories and genres.
  • Add users to the library, with different access permissions.
  • Limit the number of devices to be used per user, for security reasons.
  • Customize the look and feel, and enable only the components you need.
  • Assign different administrators and authors to your library.
  • Export the library to multiple formats.
e-Books have been slow to make an impact on the educational market. Why do you think this is?

Kotobee Reader AppThat’s a good question. We are actually seeing ebooks catching up really quickly in the corporate training sector, but not so much for large educational entities, that are long established and deeply rooted. Changes with such entities are slow. That explains why we are finding the majority of requests coming from small or new institutes, rather than established ones. Large entities are interested in having solutions that integrate with what’s already in place, rather than replacing it. Our SCORM ebook format is kind of popular actually even with older universities, because that simply plugs into their systems without any risk of change.

What do you view as Kotobee’s greatest achievement so far?

We’re proud to be offering the most comprehensive white-labeled ebook solution available today in the market.

What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?

Kotobee adA marketing mistake we had made in the past, is not providing a free value for users in Kotobee Publisher, Kotobee Author’s predecessor. Although we provided a free trial, this was not sufficient. To capture users and make effective exposure for your software, you really need to provide a free value to the users. This made exposure for Kotobee very slow. In Kotobee Author, we’re providing a good free package, for commercial or non-commercial use, without asking for anything in return. This has increased our customer loyalty and exposure through word of mouth.

How do you intend to change and develop Kotobee for the future?

Kotobee uiCurrently we are extending our ebooks’ SCORM components, to introduce new integration capabilities with LMS for universities and schools. We will also be creating support for built-in payments inside libraries, for example users can assign prices for ebooks and receive payments immediately into their accounts.

I know you are based in Egypt. Can you describe the startup scene in Egypt?

Egypt is a promising region for local entrepreneurs starting their ventures. The resources exist to initiate projects with zero-investment. These resources include various investment programs, co-working spaces, affordable offices, and a number of annual startup events to help network with key people. At the time of writing, a government-based fund exists to assist tech-based startups in different ways, leveraging up to 70% of their costs.

AymanAyman Abdel-Rahman is a digital publishing enthusiast with 10 years of experience in the ebook industry. He graduated from the University of Waterloo, Canada, with a Masters degree in Computer Engineering in 2006. Ayman spent his childhood in Kuwait, a few years in Canada, and currently settled in his home country, Egypt. He established Vijua in 2011, after the Egyptian revolution. Coming from a technical background, he is a certified project management professional (PMP) and is currently the managing director of Vijua, with particular focus on the Kotobee platform. Before establishing Vijua, Ayman was managing the Media & UX department at The Book Depository in Cairo. Ayman likes to write about ebook technologies in the Kotobee Blog and answers related questions on Quora.


Kotobee – The ultimate free epublishing tool

multiplatformI’ve been a long time fan of Apple’s iBooks Author. It’s great for producing interactive books and lesson materials for the iBook Store or to export as PDF for other platforms, but more recently I’ve become frustrated with the inability to publish interactive books for other platforms particularly Android and Windows.

I tried a number of tools but just wasn’t satisfied until I found Kotobee Author. Like iBooks Author it is free to download, but it will run on most platforms so you don’t have to be a Mac owner to use it, but what’s really great about Kotobee is its ability to export to so many different formats and platforms.

How do you use Kotobee Author?

When you first download Kotobee it looks pretty much like any other WYSIWYG editor, but it has so many more great features.

Kotobee-textYou start by setting up your book structure and adding a cover image in the left side. This is simple to do, just write in the names of the chapter titles and click image editor to add a cover.

You can then add subsections to each chapter and start typing or copy paste in your text. You format the text as you would with any other text editor and it’s easy to change fonts, styles and add tables.

Kotobee-interactionThe real fun starts though with the right hand column of the editor. This is where you can start to add media such as images, audio, video and 3D objects and different types of interaction.

Kotobee-multiple-choiceThere are three different standard types of interactive questions that can be used within the Kotobee books. These are multiple choice, true false and multiple select. The questions are very configurable so you can add in feedback depending on students responses and also add in images to the questions types.

If you want to take a more professional approach to building in interactivity Kotobee supports a number of widgets as well as html5 content.

Kotobee-experienceOnce you have completed the content of your book the next step is to customise how your readers will be able to interact with the book. Again there are lots of option here to really enhance the way the reader experiences the book, such as text-to-speech, adding annotations copying parts to their clipboard and sharing through social media.

Kotobee-exportFor me the real surprise comes when you have finished your book and you want to export it.  You can export your book into most of the standard word processing formats such as Word, PDF, Epub and .mobi, but can also export it as a desktop application, enable it to run on an LMS such as Moodle and make it a tracked part of of a course, or make it into a web based application that you can upload to a server.

Creating a mobile app

Kotobee-mobileKotobee books can also be exported as iOS, Android or Windows native apps and sold within their relative market places. For this you would need to have your own account on those platforms and there is a charge from Kotobee, but they will also help you get your app through the approval process and that can save you a considerable amount of time.

Creating a digital library

Kotobee-libraryOne of the final options Kotobee offers is the ability to create your own library for your students and add books to that library. This is a great option for schools that want to go completely digital with their course materials and books and the library can be branded for each individual school.

What I like about Kotobee
  • I think it’s a great free tool that’s quite quick and easy to learn.
  • It’s great to be able to export to so many different formats, especially if you work in a BYOD environment.
  • Adding media and interaction is very simple so teachers could use Kotobee to create digital worksheets for classroom use or as interactive homework assignments.
  • Kotobee offers a lot of great ways to manage your content once it’s been produced.

Basically I think this is a great tool for both the individual teacher to create interactive materials or for a school that wants to get away from paper course materials and move into the digital age.