May 24, 2018

Problems with the use of images in open textbooks

If you have downloaded my open textbook, ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’ in pdf or Modi format for the iPad or Kobo, you may have noticed that many of the images I have liberally used throughout the book do not fit on the page or have become separated from their ‘frame’ (the green and black lines before and after the images), in the downloaded versions.

The problem

Here is an example (I have reduced the size of both images):

This is the html version that you would read by going to the book site (

Original html web version

Original html web version

Nice, isn’t it? And this is how it appears in the pdf version:

pdf version

pdf version

You can see the image has been removed from the frame and dropped into the next page.

The same kind of thing happens in the iPad and Kindle versions, only worse, because the screen size is smaller. I realise this is not a unique problem and one faced every day when moving materials to mobile devices.

The reason

This happens primarily because the html version read on computer screens or laptops scrolls, while the pdf and mobile device versions are paginated. What fits nicely on a scrolled screen does not always fit a paginated version because the image is too large to fit within the remaining page space, so it is bounced to the next page. This is made worse by my having artistically framed the images. The frames are independent objects from the image though so do not move with the image when it is ‘bounced’.


OK, I should have known this would happen, but I didn’t until after I finished the book. (This is one form of experiential learning that I don’t recommend). One way to minimise (but not eliminate by any means) the problem would be to avoid putting in frames for the images (the frames were suggested by a highly professional graphic designer) and keeping the in-text images much smaller. However, reducing the size of the images is not always desirable, especially with complex or detailed images.

In the end, it is a software problem needing a software solution, such as the ability to integrate frames around images, and to resize images to fit the pagination or to move paragraphs around the image until it fits the page.

The dilemma

So what should I do now? The html version works beautifully, but even reducing the size of graphics and moving them won’t solve the problem for the exported versions, because each exported version is different in the way it handles the lay-out. I could go through the whole book and remove the frames but there are over 100 images and graphics throughout the book.

Should I leave the frames? I can’t leave them on the html version and remove them from the other versions because the other versions are direct and complete exports of the html version. I also can’t edit the pdf version independently of the html version without creating a whole shadow site.

Is there a way to ‘fit’ frames to images in WordPress? if there is please let me know!

Does it matter?

This is where I really need your advice. OK, so it isn’t perfect as a pdf or on an iPad, but is it good enough? My wife says I’m crazy to worry about this (‘It’s the content that matters’), and my best friend accused me of being a compulsive-obsessive personality (that’s what good friends are there for, to tell you the truth), and he said if people don’t like it, they can use their laptop, but my wife and my friend are not the audience for this book. You are, and if this is a problem for you, I need to know.

So what’s your advice on this? Don’t worry about it, or find a solution, and if so, what?

Welcome back and a review of online learning developments in July and August

UBC campus fall

Here in Canada, tomorrow is the start of a new academic year. I know, because our garbage cans are full and the back lane is full of discarded furniture as the new students move into new lodgings behind our house and all the garbage and awful furniture left by the former student residents is thrown out. Next week the student parties will start.

On a more positive note, I hope you all had a wonderful summer, turned off your digital devices for as long as possible, and enjoyed the fresh air. So for those who are mentally healthy but feeling a little lost about what may have happened in the blogosphere in July and August, here is a quick summary. (Just click on the links for the articles of interest).

Productivity and online learning

With governments everywhere concerned about getting more for less in education, the focus is turning increasingly to whether online learning can improve productivity in higher education. The mania around MOOCs is largely driven by the promise that these will enable higher education to reach the masses at a much lower cost. But for every action there is a reaction, and MOOC mania is resulting in some hard questions being asked about what productivity in higher education really means.

I started a conversation about this with a post about the need for more theory or, as Stephen Downes suggested, clearer models of productivity in online learning, and followed it by looking at whether flexible learning leads to more productivity, and if so, how it would be measured. Sir John Daniel provided a review of William Bowen’s book that aims to answer the question: Could the growth in online courses slow the rising cost of college and help solve the crisis of affordability?

Thus the publication in August of Tom Carey and David Trick’s report for HEQCO (the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario) on productivity and quality in online learning was very timely. I reviewed and critiqued the report, and Tom Carey has used this blog to provide some thoughtful reflections that were more speculative and hence not included in the report. In particular, Tom has raised the important question of what elements of online learner support can be scaled up without loss of quality, and what should not or cannot be scaled so easily. (There will be more discussion of this issue in later posts on this site).

Lastly, I questioned why many universities and colleges charge more for online courses, arguing that if done properly, online learning should cost no more and indeed can be done less expensively than on-campus teaching..

The issue of productivity and online learning will be the topic of further posts on this site through the fall, as I strive to identify models and principles of educational productivity and the role of online learning.


The mania continued during the summer, with San Jose State trying a new model to improve – somewhat successfully – their completion rate for MOOC-based credit courses. What the research shows is that learners taking MOOCs are often very different demographically from those taking credit courses in state universities (surprise, surprise).

WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) has published a series of blog posts over the summer reflecting experiences in MOOC development, delivery and accreditation.

In a very thoughtful paper, Michael Peters attempts to set MOOCs within ‘a wider set of socio-technological changes that might be better explained within a theory of postindustrial education focusing on social media as the new culture.‘ This is one of the best papers I have read about where MOOCs fit into the broader ecology of education and society.


Michael Geist reports that AUCC (the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) has just developed guidelines ‘that offer more detailed, specific recommendations for many common copyright uses within education environments.‘ I argue that through its legal action against York University, Access Copyright is deliberately clouding the clear principles around fair dealing laid down by recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions, and that as a result the AUCC guidelines appear to be more restrictive than necessary.

Building successful consortia

One way in which productivity could be improved is by avoiding waste and duplication in online learning, with universities and colleges working together rather than in competition. Two publications came out in the summer that looked at what made for successful collaboration or co-ordination across state /provincial systems.

WCET’s e-Learning Consortia Common Interest Group collected profiles and contact information for 48 consortia in both the USA and Canada (more are likely to be added.). For each consortium that responded, the profile includes their mission, a brief description, services that they offer, initiatives and interests, organizational documents, and contact information, including websites and social media.

University Business published an excellent article in August that sets out how four states in the U.S.A. – Georgia, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Florida – are co-ordinating their higher education online offerings from state institutions. I provided an extension of examples in Canada.

And apparently there was a meeting in Toronto in July between Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MCTU) bureaucrats and university and college presidents at which the setting up of a not-for-profit consortium to develop and deliver online degrees and diplomas across the province was discussed. However, this is strictly a rumour – there has been to date no official announcement about this.


Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the USA, will hand out to students 31,000 free iPads in September under a new $30 million program launched by the district. The plan is that all 640,000 students in the LAUSD will receive their own iPad by 2014.

Calls for papers

Two interesting calls for papers came out in the dog days of summer:

Forthcoming conferences

Myself, I’ll be speaking at:

End note

There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now you can get on with your real work: educating students and changing the world. Good luck!

And if you have anything to add to significant developments over the summer – this is a very personal list – please do so. Sharing is good.

Los Angeles schools to issue iPads to all students


Weiss, T. (2013) Los Angeles plans to give 640,000 students free iPads, CITE World, July 25

I don’t normally cover k-12 developments, but this one seems pretty significant. Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the USA, will hand out to students 31,000 free iPads in September under a new $30 million program launched by the district. The plan is that all 640,000 students in the LAUSD will receive their own iPad by 2014.

Initial focus is on the digital divide 

Mark Hovatter, the chief facilities executive for the LAUSD, reported:

“We’re targeting kids who most likely don’t have their own computers or laptops or iPads. Their only exposure to computers now is going to be in their schools. We started in schools in neighborhoods where kids didn’t have that much exposure to computers in the past. “

Pre-loaded content

Each student is receiving an iPad pre-loaded with educational applications and other programs that will be used by the students in their studies.

The rationale

1. Tech-ready workers

The most important thing is to try to prepare the kids for the technology they are going to face when they are going to graduate….Workers today in every field, including construction and automotive education, require skills with computers and related technologies, said Hovatter. “We are making sure that everyone is able to take a test electronically. Even in construction, you can’t do those jobs now without having some familiarity with computers. Whatever jobs kids want to have, technology is likely involved. You’re just not going to be able to do well in society if you don’t have some experience”

2. More interactive learning experience

Using the iPads, students and their teachers can better plan and synchronize scheduling, share reference videos and news events, use interactive lessons, and conduct digital reading tests that can be adjusted based on each student’s performance and reading levels.

3. Access to e-textbooks

digital textbooks will be delivered to the iPads through an arrangement with educational books publisher Pearson. Students will also be able to read other books for class assignments using the devices. The digital books also will help the district save money over buying traditional paper-based textbooks, but that wasn’t a main goal of the project.


These are early days, and the $30 million covers only the first 31,000 tablets. The article and other press releases say nothing about teacher preparation, which from past experience will be critical for success. So lots could go wrong.

Nevertheless, university and college instructors should ask themselves: ‘Am I ready to teach students who will arrive tech savvy and expecting me to teach in a tech savvy way?’ It won’t be long before all our students will expect this – if not already.

Thanks to Richard Pinet for directing me to this.

Exploiting the affordances of the iPad at Lynn University

Students at Lynn University

Tilsley, A. (2013) iPadU Inside Higher Education, January 15

This is a report about Lynn University, a private nonprofit university based in Boca Raton, Florida, moving its core curriculum  to the iPad. The significant point is that the university’s unique core curriculum is delivered through ‘challenged-based learning‘, a method developed by Apple ‘that focuses on using technology to apply course content to real-world problems‘, through the use of iPads.

In a pilot earlier this year students in a section using the iPads learned more than students who received the same curriculum content in more traditional methods – and were happier.

In fall 2013, all incoming students will be required to purchase an iPad mini, which will come loaded with the student’s summer reading and core curriculum texts, created by Lynn faculty. The iPad mini, at $495, will cost half as much as students were paying for print versions of their course readers, and they will get to keep the device.The iPad will be used across all classes.

All faculty have been given iPads and are receiving training on how to use them for teaching within the core curriculum. About 50% of the content will be common to courses, with faculty adding the remaining 50% themselves. Although there is a common framework for applications, faculty have considerable freedom to adapt their teaching as they (and the students) become more experienced in using the iPad.

The university had to spend approximately $1 million in upgrading its network and software (somewhat helped by the media requirements for the televised Presidential debate between Obama and Romney that was hosted at the university in October 2012.)

Other universities that have launched iPad initiatives include:

  • Seton Hill University
  • Dartmouth College School of Medicine
  • Ohio State University (biology)
  • University of Oklahoma (teacher education)
  • University of Western Sydney, Australia

The article contains more details and comments on the plan and is well worth reading in full.


Although over 125 universities are using materials from I Tunes U, the significant point here is that this is a purpose-built application aimed at exploiting the educational advantages or ‘affordances’ of the technology.

The second significant point is that the university is allowing a fair degree of flexibility for faculty to experiment and adapt as their experience with the technology grows.

The third significant point is that all faculty are receiving extensive training in how to use the technology in advance of the launch of the program.

Although I have some concerns about tying teaching to a single technology supplier and tool, Lynn University is to be applauded for taking such a bold step. I hope it succeeds and that it is carefully evaluated to identify the conditions that will enable the innovation to be migrated successfully to other learning contexts.


The University of Western Sydney goes for blended learning – big time!

University of Western Sydney, School of Medicine

Griffith, C. (2012) University to roll out 11,000 Apple iPads, The Australian, December 20

All new students enrolling in first year courses in the autumn of 2013 will receive a free iPad. Faculty teaching first year programs will also receive an iPad.

Extracts from the UWS website:

The iPad initiative is staged to coincide with a progressive rollout of UWS’s curriculum renewal program, which initially focuses on first year units. Each School has been working on a blueprint for integrating blended learning in every course at UWS. There will be an increased use of blended and online delivery in 2013, with a major curriculum renewal program commencing in first year units in 2014. This blended learning model will make the most of interactive face-to-face learning, along with online learning opportunities that add flexibility and choice for students.

Students will be able to use their iPad to engage with the growing number of online University services including online lectures, library services and a suite of apps and tools currently in development (including live lecture streaming) which aim to provide them with the best possible learning and university experience. The University is working with staff and students to embed technology in the curriculum in 2013 and beyond. UWS will work with staff and students to embed technology in the curriculum and will provide staff with professional development opportunities to ensure they are equipped to make the most of the iPad in their teaching.


The Australian newspaper of course has focused on the ‘giveaway’ of technology, which must have cost the university several millions of dollars (all incidentally coming out of its IT budget). However, much more significant is that this is just part of a strategy at UWS to provide more flexible study options for students and a blended learning model for all UWS degrees.

In other words, there’s a long-term, strategic plan behind this use of technology, which is to be integrated with curriculum re-design. Way to go, UWS!