One of my graduate education professors, Dr. Barbara Morgan-Fleming, made a strong impression on me several years ago about the vital importance of helping students become published authors. Even if students “just” publish a real book for a local audience (in their own classroom and/or school) the cumulative impact of that writing and publishing process can be very dramatic and positive. Today, of course, students have an opportunity to publish work on “the global stage of the Internet” (to use the parlance of Marco Torres) for local, national, and international audiences. In addition to searching for a Netflix-like site for student readers, I’ve been on a quest to identify user-friendly web tools for student book publishing for some time. Today I found an outstanding website which is ideally suited for young picture book and website authors, BigUniverse.com, and I want to share about my experiences today with the site in this post.

In the fall of 2006, I shared a series of presentations about sources of free and commercial digital curriculum for teachers as a follow-on to the half-day workshops I was required to present around the state of Oklahoma about E-Rate. In the process of identifying websites to discuss in that session, I found the wonderful multimedia book “Roy: Tale of a Singing Zebra.” The website not only includes an interactive multimedia version of the story, but is also filled with a multitude of related activities. The website is a wonderful resource for primary-age teachers, especially those whose classrooms are equipped with electronic whiteboards!

It can be enthralling to share and present multimedia picture books for students, but as 21st century educators we should commit ourselves to regularly helping students move BEYOND the role of passive media consumer into the ACTIVE role of a media designer and creator. That belief, coupled with the strong sense Dr. Morgan-Fleming helped cultivate in me for empowering students become published authors, are largely responsible for the TREMENDOUS enthusiasm I felt today after discovering the website BigUniverse.com. Thanks to a comment left by Kern Kelly on my ITM post from this weekend, “A Quest for NetFlix Plus Functionality for Books – for Young Readers!” I discovered both BigUniverse and LookyBook. Both Lookybook and BigUniverse provide free access to multimedia/eBook versions of traditionally published children’s picture books, but BigUniverse also permits users (who sign up for a free account) to create their own multimedia books and publish them for global feedback. The interface is entirely-web based, it is NOT necessary to download and install a client-side application to create an electronic picture book on the site. In true web 2.0 form, BigUniverse permits users to “use the Internet as a platform.”

Thinking of the amazing example Alan Levine set for us all with his project “50 Web 2.0 Ways To Tell a Story,” I decided to give BigUniverse a try today by adding some text to a five photo story from our family golf outing this past weekend in Wichita, Kansas. I decided I’d first publish the photos as a picture-only story, and then add some text using BigUniverse.

First, I published five photos from my iPhone to my Flickr site using the email to Flickr upload option. To keep things organized, I put those images into a new Flickr set. (This step was not required, but I think it’s always a good idea to organize Flickr images in sets when possible.)

Ready for an afternoon of golfing!

Second, I added the five photos in sequential order to the Flickr group Karen Montgomery started about a year ago called, “Tell a Story with 5 Photos for Educators.” I did this by creating a new discussion thread in the group called “Getting a birdie!” and pasting the Flickr-provided HTML code for each medium-sized image into the message body. (Incidentally, my favorite story shared so far in this open group is “It’s a dog’s life.” It can be very valuable to have digital storytellers of any age focus at times ONLY on the images which tell a story.)

Third, I downloaded local copies of each image into a new folder on my computer’s hard drive. If I had synchronized my iPhone images to my computer I still would have moved the images I wanted to use into a new folder so they’d be organized and ready for use in the multimedia book I wanted to create.

Fourth, I logged into BigUniverse and clicked the CREATE button at the top of the site. I then clicked the button CLICK HERE TO CREATE YOUR OWN BOOK! A popup window opened which allowed me to import my photos, change the background color of each page, and add text boxes with sentences for my story on each page:

Big Universe Book Publishing

When you are finished making changes to the pages of your book, use the menu and choose to PREVIEW and then PUBLISH your book. The administrators of BigUniverse “gatekeep” published books to insure inappropriate content is not published, so it make take several hours for your published book to be approved on the site. To view your published book, click “my account” at the top of the page and then click BOOKS I’VE CREATED:

Books I Created

The book you’ve created AND published is now accessible from the website for others to view it and leave comments, and you can copy the provided embed code to include the book on your classroom website, blog, or wiki:

This is a WONDERFUL site for students and teachers to utilize, not only to read and access multimedia versions of picture books but also to PUBLISH original books. I highly recommend BigUniverse and encourage you to give the site a try.

Have you used or are you aware of other websites like this which permit students to create and publish their own picture books? I particularly like the fact that the site administrators are serving as gatekeepers for published books (which means the site can hopefully remain unblocked on school content filters), that the site permits users to leave feedback as comments for other authors, and that users can put together their own “virtual shelf” of both professionally published books as well as student/user published works.

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  • http://primarypreoccupation.wordpress.com/ Kathy Cassidy

    Wow! Great resource. The wheels are turning, exploring the possibilities. Thanks for sharing this. Just to be clear, do you actually embed the book into your page, or a link with a picture like the one you have here?

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    The “embed” really isn’t an embed, you’re right. BigUniverse calls it embed, but it’s really what you see in this post: A static image of the first page of the book and a link back to the page. I hope the site admins will implement an actual “embed” functionality where the book can be directly played on the webpage you’re inserting it into.

  • http://primarypreoccupation.wordpress.com/ Kathy Cassidy

    I’ll look forward to that, too. It would make it a fabulous resource for primary students, who can sometimes get lost in links.

  • http://tasteach.edublogs.org Miss W.

    Thanks for this link Wes. I have just joined, created a basic book and published. Also written a post so my students who are very keen writers can have a go at this on their own if they wish. I am trying this year to have my students try out different Web2.0 tools, and then I want to see if they use these new skills in their normal everyday schoolwork.

  • http://www.doug-johnson.com Doug Johnson

    Hi Wes,

    Very clever resource that I will share with my library media specialists.

    I would suggest adding one final step for all authors, especially student authors – that of assigning a copyright statement or Creative Commons license to all their published work. Looking at intellectual property rights through the eyes of being a content producer may be the most effective way we have of helping people understand IP rights in general.

    All the very best,

    Doug

  • http://www.penandpublish.com Paul Burt

    Wes, BigU is a wonderful resource; thanks for the introduction! You may want to add PenandPublish.com to your student publishing quest. Our focus is publishing printed books (collections of student work primarily), including ISBN, international distribution to booksellers, and professional design and formatting. Dr. Morgan-Fleming was right about “the vital importance of helping students become published authors.” The experience of a book release celebration and signing is magic!

  • http://www.thetechcurve.com Kern Kelley

    Hi Wes, thanks for the mention. Like I said on your ITM post, I use both sites to read to my son all the time. He loves the ease of pointing to another story and saying, “Read that one dad.”

    Another (more involved) way for students to publish is http://www.blurb.com. We used Blurb to make a book about a pair of Osprey that built a nest on our school ground last year. We have a web cam on the nest so students can see them at home and we created a hard cover picture book of the entire event. (The power company erected a new pole just for the birds, exciting stuff:) Anyway, you can see the embedded book here: http://tinyurl.com/55bwp4

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