Technical Support for iPads Used in a College Course


Preparing curricular materials in a format compatible with iPad

The iPad is compatible with a number of file types useful in delivering curricular materials. However, one must keep in mind that specific software (apps) may be needed to handle specific file types. That is, additional apps other than the built-in iPad apps may need to be installed to handle the desired file formats (the built-in apps are iPod [for music files], Videos [for video files], Safari [web browser], Photos [for image files]).

Document and Presentation files

Word documents (.doc and .docx), Pages documents (Apple), Adobe PDF documents, EPUB format (.epub) documents, PowerPoint presentations and Keynote presentations (Apple) are compatible with iPad. The free iBooks app is compatible with files in PDF and EPUB formats. The GoodReader app is compatible with all formats mentioned above except EPUB. The Keynote app is compatible with PowerPoint and Keynote formats. The Pages app is compatible with Word and Pages formats.

It is not possible to edit document text with iBooks, but there are tools for annotating EPUB format files (highlighting text, adding notes). The GoodReader app is strictly a document reader (no editing), except that PDF format files can be annotated. Editing is possible on the iPad with the Pages and Keynote apps.

It is assumed that the reader is familiar with methods for creating documents and presentations in the formats mentioned above, with the possible exception of the EPUB format.

Converting Files to EPUB format

There is free software available on the Internet that can be used to convert documents to the EPUB format.


Sigil will convert documents in HTML (web page) and TXT (simple text) formats to EPUB. SIGIL can be used directly as authoring software to create a document in EPUB format (in other words, it can be used like a word processor, or more accurately, like a web page editor).



Calibre will convert documents in CBZ, CBR, CBC, CHM, FB2, HTML, LIT, LRF, MOBI, ODT, PDF, PRC, PDB, PML, RB, RTF, SNB, TCR and TXT formats to EPUB. Some of these formats may not be familiar, but note in particular that Calibre will convert PDF to EPUB.


Advantages and Disadvantages of the EPUB format

The EPUB format is particularly suited to mobile devices, that typically have much smaller display screens than a computer. This is especially the case for the iPhone and iPod touch, where the display screen is much smaller than a typical page of text. In technical terms, the EPUB does away with the concept of a static page in a book. Instead, text flows to fill the available display space, while maintaining a text size that is easily read. Thus, an EPUB format eBook will contain many more "pages" when displayed on an iPhone than on an iPad. But in both cases, the text will be large enough to be easily read and without the need to scroll a large page up and down or left and right, in order to read all text on the page. The flowable text model also provides the option for selecting a large text size for the visually impaired reader. For example, iBooks provides a graded series of 11 sizes for text display.

The EPUB format does support the inclusion of images in an eBook. However, working with images presents some challenges in this format. This is particularly true if the eBook is to be delivered to smaller mobile devices, like the iPhone. Inclusion of images that are natively larger than the screen display of the mobile device may result in display of only part of the image or the splitting of the image between two "pages."

If page layout is important for a particular document, EPUB may not be the best choice of file format. The flowable text model is not suited to sophisticated page layout, where images need to be placed on the right side of a page, or where text boxes are desired. In these cases it is better to go with a PDF format document, where the static page is preserved with all layout elements.

The EPUB format may not be a good choice in situations were page numbering of an eBook is important. There may be cases where the instructor would like to reference a particular place in an eBook. But this can be challenging with an EPUB eBook because there really are no pages to reference. One way around the problem would be to divide the text into relatively compact sections and include all sections in the table of contents for the eBook. Then it would be a relatively easy matter to access a particular part of the text via the table of contents.


Audio files

The iPod app built-in to iPad is used to play audio (music) files. This app will play audio in .m4a and .mp3 formats. Music files purchased in the Apple Store are in .m4a format and these are restricted legally in distribution only to devices owned by the purchaser. Use the .mp3 format for audio files created for a course. Audacity is free software, available on the Internet, that can be used to record audio and save it in the .mp3 format.

We have not identified a wireless method of downloading and saving .mp3 audio to the iPad. To load .mp3 audio to the iPad, first copy the audio files to a computer. Using iTunes on the computer, add the audio files to the iTunes Library. Then sync those audio files with the iPad (wired transfer via the USB port).

Video files

The Videos app built-in to iPad is used to play video files. This app will play video in .m4v format. QuickTime Pro software can be used to encode video in .m4v format from video captured in .mpg (MPEG-2) format. There are plug-ins available for QuickTime Pro that allow encoding from other source formats, such as Windows Media (.wmv).

If the GoodReader app is installed on the iPad, .m4v video can be downloaded wirelessly from the Internet, using the built-in Safari app. To play stored video on the iPad with the built-in Videos app, it is necessary to use iTunes on a computer to sync the video to the iPad.

Incorporating audio and video into an eBook (.epub)

It is possible to embed audio and video into .epub eBooks. The process is fairly straightforward but requires the knowledge of coding in HTML (the code language of web pages). iBooks supports HTML5, specifically the new <audio> and <video> tags. The code is simple and an example is provided below. In this example, the code embeds an audio file by the name of Le mulet.mp3. Between the <audio> and </audio> tags, a text message is added, which will display when the eBook is opened with software that does not support HTML5 (e.g. Adobe Digital Editions). To embed a video, just change the code by using the <video> and </video> tags. The video must be in .m4v format.

<audio src="Le mulet.mp3" controls="controls">
There is an embedded audio here that is not supported by your software.

Sigil can be used as the starting point in creating an .epub eBook with embedded audio and video. The text of the book (and images if desired) is added using Sigil and then saved in .epub format. It is not possible to code the <audio> and <video> tags with Sigil because this software will strip out these tags when the file is saved. The embedding code must be added by "hand" coding. The instructions here are for PCs: first change the file extension of the file created by Sigil from .epub to .zip (ignore the warning when you do this). Open up the zip file and there should be a folder named OEBPS. Open OEBPS and inside open the folder Text. In the Text folder there will be one or more files with the extension .xhtml, which are the files containing the text of the eBook. Copy these files and paste them to a location outside the zip file, where they can be edited. Open the text file where the audio or video is to be embedded (you can use Notepad, but a better choice would be a web editor that handles .xhtml files, like Dreamweaver). Add the embed code to the text file and save it. Then copy that file back into the zip file, replacing the file of the same name in the Text folder. You must also copy the audio or video file into the Text folder. Then change the file extension of the zip file back to .epub and you are finished.

Below are links to two .epub eBooks, one containing an embedded audio file, the other an embedded video file. To try these out with iBooks, load this page in Safari on your iPad and open with iBooks when prompted.

eBook with audio

eBook with video

More complete instructions for adding audio and video to an eBook are available here.


Distributing curricular materials

A convenient method of distributing curricular materials is by web server connected to the Internet. The server must be configured to recognize the various file types employed in the course. That is, the MIME type for each file extension must be registered on the server. Most of the file extensions will likely already have been configured for the server, except, possibly, .epub. To configure a web server for .epub files, give your server administrator the following information: MIME type for .epub is application/epub+zip

After files are copied to the web server, a web page is created, containing hyperlinks to the various files. If the files are to be protected by restricted access, consult with your IT department on the appropriate methods. The hyperlinks on the web page should be coded to open the files in a new browser window (e.g., <a href="http://your address" target="_blank"> ).

All of the file types mentioned previously, except .mp3, can be downloaded directly to the iPad from the server by loading the web page in the Safari app on the iPad. However, an app that can handle the specific file type must be installed on the iPad. Alternatively, files can be downloaded to a computer first, using the web page hyperlinks, then transferred to the iPad using iTunes on the computer. Other methods of copying files to the computer may be used as well if a web server is not available.

Demonstration Links

Load this page in your iPad to try downloading small demo files

Word Document (you must have GoodReader or Pages app installed)

Video (.m4v) (you must have GoodReader app installed - or download to computer and sync with iTunes)

PDF file - (you must have iBooks or GoodReader installed)

PowerPoint file - (you must have GoodReader or Keynote app installed)

EPUB eBook - (you must have iBooks installed)


Managing the iPads and Purchasing Apps

A main issue in your iPad management will be the method of installing software. The iPad (iPhone and iPod as well) is designed for the consumer market. Furthermore, software (apps) for the iPad is marketed through the iTunes App Store, which is designed to serve individual consumers. The challenge then is to come up with methods for managing software in the educational environment, particularly if the iPads are owned by the educational institution rather than the students. Fortunately, Apple recently instituted the Volume Purchase Program (VPP) for purchasing apps in bulk.

There are two approaches to managing apps purchased via VPP: 1) apps are installed by technical personnel 2) apps are "gifted" to students, who in turn install the apps on the iPads. Method 1 or 2 can be used with iPads owned by the educational institution. Method 2 must be used if the iPads are owned by individual students. Method 1 is a "locked-down" approach to managing the iPads, which may require technical personnel to periodically service the iPads when updates to various apps become available.




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