Friday, August 05, 2011

Educate the Mobile Generation: Convert WORD documents to ePub and MOBI

You’ve seen the headlines and heard the buzz as much as I have: smartphones are taking over the planet, e-books are selling like hotcakes, and, tablets like the iPad are cannibalizing laptop and desktop computer sales. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to conclude that Mobile computing in the hottest trend in technology since electricity was invented. With this fact in mind, I asked myself this question – are my course materials mobile-friendly? Can my students easily get the materials in my course onto their mobile device be it an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android Smartphone, Sony eBook Reader, Amazon Kindle, or Barnes & Noble Nook, etc.

Well, I was a bit embarrassed by my answer. My answer was ‘sort-of’. I was providing nice printer-friendly PDF files as one format and PDF does work on most mobile devices but it’s not optimized for mobile delivery. So I decided to try something new. I am converting my WORD documents to ePub and MOBI (for Kindle) formats. So I Googled around to get some help and found this very useful posting by Jeremy Reimer dated March 24th, 2010. It really guided me in the right direction. This is what I did:
  1. I took my WORD source documents (*.doc) and ‘Saved As HTML’ (or “Save as Web Page” for the Mac version of WORD) using the built in function in WORD.

  2. Then I opened the HTML file up in Dreamweaver. I then used the fantastically useful feature in Dreamweaver of Commands > Clean Up WORD HTML.

  3. Then I used the second most fantastical feature in Adobe Dreamweaver: Commands > Clean Up HTML.

  4. Then I applied a unique class attribute to each Lesson Title in my HTML document so that I could use this unique class attribute to generate a Table of Contents for the ePub and MODI files later. I did it really simply. I found the lesson title in the HTML code and then noticed right before it was a paragraph code (<p>) so I changed that to <p class=”TableOfContents”> for every lesson title or section title of my document that I wanted to show up in the Table of Contents.

  5. I then downloaded a free copy of Calibre. It’s an eBook reader software for computers. In addition, it also converts from one eBook format to another. So I loaded the HTML version of my document into Calibre.

  6. Next, using Calibre I chose to convert this HTML version of my document into an ePub format. There are some settings you can play around with; however, I generally stayed to the default settings with one exception: the Table of Contents. I specified that I only wanted items in the Level 1 of table of contents that had a paragraph code with class = “TableOfContents”. Here's the exact syntax that I used in Calibre: //h:p[re:test(@class, "TableOfContents", "i")]

  7. Finally, I repeated step 6 while choosing MOBI as my output file format instead of ePub.

  8. Done.
I emailed myself these two files and tested them on my iPhone. They both work well. Links are active, footnotes work, Table of Contents is exactly how I wanted it, and images look fine.

Now I am going to put up the ePub and MOBI versions of the course materials on the Learning Management System for students to have access to if they want to optimize the experience for mobile devices. At the end of the semester, I’ll survey them to see which file formats they used and when, etc.

If you have developed any other useful methods for converting WORD documents to ePub and MOBI format then please leave a comment below.