Friday, December 02, 2005

Use US Standard for Accessible Electronic Textbooks?

The "Open eBook Publication Structure" 1.2 (OEBPS) is an XHTML based format for electronic books. OEBPS is recommended by the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard Report, for accessible electronic textbooks in US schools. As this was sponsored by the U. S. Department of Education it is likely to receive interest from publishers, educators and government.

OEBPS is conceptually similar to the format used by OpenOffice.Org (OOO) in that it consists of a Zipped folder containing an XML manifest file, content in XML and images in binary format. Unlike OOO, the content is in XHTML and could be displayed by a web browser. But there doesn't seem to be any specific software for creating OEBPS documents. Perhaps web based editing tools could be used for this, such as Writely the web based word processor.

The XHTML subset which OEBPS uses is similar to the XHTML Basic used for mobile phones to display web content. This is a cleaner, leaner HTML. I teach university students how to create content in this format which works on regular desktop PCs, mobile phones and can be translated into other languages.

OEBPS might be a good format for text books to accompany an online course. It should be possible to refer a student to read some content in such a book from within an online learning system like Moodle or Sakai. As I show to students, it is possible to build a presentation right into the document format, so there is no need for separate teacher's materials.

What I can't work out if there is standard markup defined in OEBPS for regular book structures, such as entries for the index in the back of the book.

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