I am beginning a series of reflections on the ways in which an Apple iPod can be incorporated in education. How many parts this series will have is unknown at this point. However, one sure bet is that many different integration ideas will be shared. The assumption here is that one of the following iPods is being utilized: a 5th Generation iPod, a 3rd Generation iPod Nano, or an iPod Touch.
This first part will focus on using an iPod as an audiobook reader. Teachers have often used audiobooks to assist students in developing reading skills, to model good reading and to assist students in understanding the meaning within the text. Whether it’s book on record, books on tape or audiobooks on CD, teachers have tried to help students understand the content of text by appealing to multiple intelligences. Accessing audio helps students follow the text as it is being read to them. However, the difficulty with the traditional use of audiobooks is that the text is always separate from the audio and while students have always been able to take the text with them, they’ve never really been able to take the audiobook version with them.
In comes the iPod. With these newer devices, students can access the text and audio 0f a book at the same time from the same device from anywhere. Let’s deal with each piece separately. In terms of the text, if a teacher is using books in the public domain, they can access the text from ManyBooks.net. Unlike the Gutenberg project, ManyBooks has public domain books already formatted for various handheld devices. If a student or a teacher downloads a book for an iPod, Manybooks will provide it in iPod Notes format. The text will be divided into various files and each file is linked to the file that comes before it and the the file that comes after it. ManyBooks does this because there is a limit to the number of characters allowed in one iPod notes file but no limit to the number of “Notes” files than can be uploaded to an iPod. Once the files are downloaded to a computer, the files have to be copied into the “Notes” folder on the iPod. iTunes is not used in this file transfer but one iTunes setting is important in order to access this “Notes” folder – in iTunes, click on the iPod and ensure that the “Enable Disk Use” box is checked off. This will allow a student or a teacher to access the “Notes” folder through Windows Explorer on a PC or through Finder on a Mac.
In terms of the audio, Mp3 files can be downloaded and uploaded to an iPod just like music is uploaded. The question is, however, where can we get free audiobooks? Once source is LibriVox. This site hosts free public domain audiobooks that are read by volunteers. These are not professional readers but then again, they are human voices reading the text. Another option is convert the text to audio. If a school district subscribes to software such as Premier Assistive, text can be converted to voice (the voices are computer voices, not human voices). A free text-to-speech service is SpokenText.net (also computer voices). These files will all be converted into Mp3 format. A nice feature of the iPod is that when an audio file is paused, it will remember where you left off so long as another file of the same format is not played. If a student or teacher has audiobooks and music on an iPod, it may be in their best interest to convert the Mp3 file into an audiobooks format (M4b) using the the free MP3 to iPod Audio Book Converter.
The power of the iPod will make itself apparent once the two files are on the iPod. Once the files have been uploaded to the iPod, a student can then start the audiobook and then open the text version of the book in the “Notes”area of the iPod. This allows the student to read and listen to the book at the same time. This is especially powerful when working with student with special needs or ESL students who need to have reading modeled for them or for all students when they are reading difficult texts such as plays by William Shakespeare.