1 Introduction

Education includes creation of material as well as consumption, completing assignments and taking notes as well as reading textbooks, for example. One of the benefits of electronic books is not having to carry the weight and bulk of printed materials, but a more significant benefit will be the integration, usability and interactivity of the materials. The Open Web Platform [OWP] offers the technology to achieve this promise, and advances in the technology will make it more and more possible. ePub 3 [ePub3] provides a packaging and metadata mechanism that allows these technologies to be easily distributed and used.

We suggest a use case that captures the spirit of this advance and then suggest Open Web Platform technologies that may be needed to achieve it, suggesting they be supported in revisions to the ePub standard.

2 Use Case

Joe has purchased a digital text book for his chemistry 901 course and installed it on his tablet. Due to the advances in ePub 3, not only can he easily read the text, zooming to his preferred font size and viewing images in color, but he can watch embedded videos showing chemical reactions, and manipulate chemical equations and models to learn as he works through the text.

Periodically the instructor requests that the students complete an assessment to see how they are doing. These assessments have been prepared by the teacher but incorporated into the digital text, so they can be completed from within the reader environment. Upon completing the assessment, where-ever and whenever is convenient, Joe marks that he is done. The results are shared with the instructor and logged on Joe's private course web site for himself and the instructor.

Upon completing the assessment, Joe is able to review the exam from within the text, which now provides answers as well as relevant material for the questions that caused Joe difficulty.

The interactivity, integration and usability of the text enhance the learning experience for Joe yet also make it easier for the teacher to manage the teaching process.

3 Goals

Implicit in this use case are a number of goals:

  1. Creating and editing content should be simple, as simple as creating text without concern for formatting or technical standards.

  2. The user of content should be able to share material without leaving the learning environment. Examples can include sharing a completed assessment with an instructor, or saving notes or other new content on a server, in the cloud or elsewhere.

  3. A "text" should be capable of including interactive materials, including assessments that can display additional learning material upon completion.

  4. Work should not be lost when created, so saving versions of the material should be possible.

  5. Documents should be safe and secure from other documents.

4 Technology implications

The ability to easily create content suggests that a user or teacher should be able to create notes or other material as simply as working with text, perhaps using markdown [Markdown] or a similar approach. Assessments should be enabled by the advances in HTML 5 form support as well as Javascript.

Integration with back-end servers and the cloud should be transparent, and backed with offline support. Offline support is a current topic in the Open Web Platform community and the results should be incorporated in ePub.

Storage and versioning are essential but the details should be layered behind an API so that the exact mechanisms can be adjusted simply. One possibility is to define appropriate ePub metadata to enable different version control systems such as git or others without requiring specific coding or configuration.

The ePub 3 standard already supports much of the Open Web Platform, including support for Javascript and we expect the depth and breadth of this support to continue to increase. Currently ePub 3 authors routinely take into account backward compatibility for systems that do not support interactive functionality (such as for eInk devices). We suggest that there is a natural market segmentation, where simple "reading" might require backward compatibility, but new "packaged applications" such as interactive text books may not (though they may also be offered in plain text versions).

5 Next Steps for ePub 3

ePub 3 is a significant advance for publishing, adopting HTML 5, SVG, CSS and Javascript technologies to enable new functionality. Continued advances in the Open Web Platform should be supported by ePub standardization to enable advanced interactive functionality, especially integration of offline and on-line content.

Authors of ePub documents are familiar with the needs of usability and accessibility, a strength that should continue.

An ePub package can contain files beyond the text files for chapters, it can include exams and other materials useful for education, displayed when appropriate. Content authored on the device may require versioning and sharing beyond the device.

6 Conclusion

We propose that the ePub standard be updated frequently to incorporate advances in the Open Web Platform.

We suggest that sharing and off-device storage and versioning of user authored content be standardized sooner rather than later.

The use case we offer goes beyond the technology, indicating the power of the disruptive learning innovation enabled by this technology. An example is enabling remote education, allowing many non-consumers to take a course they could not before.

7 Resources

[ePub3] http://www.idpf.org/epub/30/
[Markdown] http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/
[OWP] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Web_Platform