Open Courseware & Public Domain Books on the iPad – The Ultimate Guide

The debut of Apple’s iPad in April 2010 sent Apple fans, gadget geeks and software junkies running to purchase a tool that promised to become the middle ground between laptops and iPhones. The iPad has an optional iBooks application that can be downloaded from the App Store, which displays books and other ePub-format content downloaded from the iBookstore. But, how does the iPad fare in the e-book department, and is it friendly to open courseware and public domain books?

iPadFrom the beginning, several major book publishers, including Penguin Books, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan committed to publishing books for the iPad. These books included textbooks for students as well as mainstream publications. iPad users can add free ePub titles to iTunes on a Mac or PC and sync them to the iBooks app on iPad.

Reading iBooks on iPad is like reading a book, in that you hold your iPad like a book and flip the pages like a book. Instead of a stylus, the iPad operates with fingertip-sensitive precision, and — unlike many eBook readers — the iPad contains an LED-backlit screen that displays the text in high contrast. Additionally, the iPad allows color, so illustrations jump to new dimensions compared to traditional electronic book readers. But, one iPad user warns that the iPad is heavier than many mainstream books, although much lighter than many textbooks.

It’s those textbooks that matter to many schools, and three universities are ready to hand out free iPads to students and faculty in hopes that this tool will revolutionize education. Seton Hill University, George Fox University and Abilene Christian University each pre-ordered bundles of iPads with plans to experiment with how the tablet could change classroom learning. Additionally, some users are thrilled to learn that the iPad also can be used to gain access to free course materials.

First, you might want to check out the iPad specs to understand what all is native with the iPad, and what you may need to amend to that iPad to get what you want for your studies through apps. Here’s the lowdown on how iPad users can gain access to textbooks, open courseware materials and public domain books on the iPad, and some of the issues involved with that access…

iPad Keyboard DockOpen Courseware and Public Domain Books

The OpenCourseWare Consortium, which grew out of the MIT open courseware project, now includes over 200 institutions worldwide and offers materials from more than 13,000 courses. Many people have become accustomed to discovering these courses through the OCWSearch, a search engine for OpenCourseWare classes.

Recently, OCWSearch released an API that provides access to the full OCWSearch index, including course name, instructor name and course description. Pierre Far, the creator of this project, hopes that the API will allow other developers to create mobile and Web apps using information at OCWSearch.


While this development is taking place, many courseware project users realize that online access is necessary to gain entry into online courses. Additionally, many OpenCourseWare courses contain PDF applications, and the iPad mentions only one way to read PDFs — in the Mail application as an attachment. But, there is another way to gain access to PDF views. Simply use the Safari browser instead of apps.

The Safari browser comes loaded on the iPad, and it allows people to read a number of online papers, magazines and documents as well as gain access to online open courseware and public domain books, such as those available at WorldWide Center of Mathematics. But, the Safari browser has a few flaws, such as the inability to “find in page” (a plugin is required) and an exposed exploit in the browser has not been patched on the iPad. This exploit can be combined with ICC-ID data to perform targeted attacks.

So, if you’d prefer to remain safe from hack attacks on your iPad, you may want to use an app. Good.iWare has released GoodReader for iPad, and this app makes reading PDFs easy. It supports PDF, text and audio files and allows file transfers. Other apps are available as well, all located at the App Store.

Video and Audio

Many open courseware projects also include video. The iPad screen itself carries support for 1024 x 768 pixels with a Dock Dock Connector to VGA Adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Component AV Cable; 576i and 480i with Apple Composite AV Cable. Video capabilities include H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, including audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats.

Once again, the Safari browser enables anyone to view online video offered through any Web site.


The following links represent just a handful of eTextbook resources that you can tap for textbooks to read on the iPad. Some eTexts are free, others come at a price, but usually far less than what you would pay for a traditional textbook. You also can use sites such as Buy eTextbooks to learn more about new sites or resources:

  • CengageBrain: This is a marketplace to buy or rent eTextbooks, traditional textbooks, eChapters and audio. The eText option is less expensive.
  • CourseSmart. This Web site allows students to hunt for textbooks that have been converted to electronic book formats. They currenty have almost 12,000 titles available in over 1,000 course areas across 117 disciplines. They claim users can save up to 50 percent over traditional textbooks.
  • Google Books: While you may not find eTextbooks at this site, there are resources here you may need to tap for other required readings.
  • ManyBooks: iPad users can use iTunes to add ePub files to iBooks or install Stanza (app store link) to open ePub files directly.
  • Open Library: You can find books by authors or subjects or even add a book to this site. This is a wiki, so feel free to jump in to help make this site better.
  • Project Gutenberg: Although this site may not contain eTextbooks, you may find other required reading resources at this site.
  • This Web site contains textbooks for eReaders in a variety of formats and for a number of course areas. Search with ISBN, author or keyword(s). You also can sell your used textbooks at this site.
  • University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center: This is an example of a university library site that offers free eTexts to users. Check with your university or college library, and also check with your neighborhood library to see what they have to offer in eBooks and eTexts.
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