iBook Publishing in an Intermediate / Advanced Photography Course

I am a junior faculty member in the Department of Art and Art History, where I teach studio art courses focusing on photography. My ITEL (Tablet Computing) grant allowed students in my Intermediate/Advanced Photography Course (ARTS-230/330) to explore iBook publishing using the iPad.

Technical instruction in this course typically focuses on several key hardware devices including dSLR cameras, film scanners, and inkjet printers. In several recent semesters, we have also explored digital publishing, with students creating a publication (formatted as a PDF) using the relevant components of the Adobe Creative Suite (Bridge, Camera Raw, Photoshop, and InDesign.) In the past, these publications, though digital in format, have been conceived as digital simulations of a physical book. In the current semester, this aspect of the course was replaced by an exploration of digital book publishing. This component of the class focused on the use of iBooks Author to produce iBooks for the iPad (.ibooks file type). Though related in many ways to the pdfs that students have produced in the past, this work differed in that it encouraged students to engage with those aspects of digital publishing that differentiate it from traditional ink and paper publications. Students incorporated video, sound, widgets, hyperlinks, and other components that are particular to the form.

My primary interest was to see whether the exploration of this publishing format would enable students to produce work of greater conceptual sophistication. Now that we are all photographers, what differentiates a serious photographer from an amateur is largely a question of how one approaches the tasks of framing a project and deploying the images. The single image’s importance is diminished, while other issues related to the conception of a project and the sequencing of images is elevated. Publishing (traditional and digital) is a valuable vehicle through which to address these issues. In our course this semester, I found that requiring students to make an iBook compelled them to confront these issues head on. I think it was valuable to the extent that students quickly discovered that a sequence of “greatest hits” pictures is not nearly as compelling as a carefully conceived, conceptually tight sequence of images.

There were 14 students in the class. Each students produced two iBook projects during the semester, so I have 28 iBooks reflecting the students’ work. These examples are, in some sense, a kind of data. Regarding more concrete/objective forms of data, unfortunately the response level to the surveymonkey questionnaire was quite low, less than 25% participation. As such, it is difficult to draw any conclusions about students’ estimations of the publishing aspect of the course.

I think my teaching will certainly benefit as a result of this experiment. I plan to teach students how to make a digital publication using iBooks Author or Adobe InDesign, the program I have used in previous semesters. I will also use the iPad as a means of sharing with students, on the large classroom monitor, contemporary works of art that have been produced specifically for the tablet.

Regarding challenges, I found myself quite frustrated early on by a couple of issues. One, we had 14 students and 5 iPads, so it was initially quite difficult to sit together and have a conversation about work on the tablets, since students had to share them in a way that was less than conducive to careful looking and consideration. (Later, connecting a single tablet to the large classroom monitor via HDMI resolved this issue to some extent.) Two, the digital rights issues on certain items that I wished to share with the class proved to be a real hassle. Lastly, on a personal level, I have some significant reservations about the constant cycle of newness/obsolescence that these devices are one manifestation of. Interestingly, at the beginning of the semester, the work that we were doing was only possible with the iPad itself. By the semester’s end, with OS 10.9 more ubiquitous, the iPad became less critical as a display device because 10.9 has a built in capacity to read .ibooks files and to simulate the iPad experience of digital publications.