A Textbook Case of Apple Taking Over Education: What Educators Think

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I told you Saturday what Apple’s education initiatives launched today mean from a technology competition perspective: Apple intends to wrest control of the entire publishing industry from Amazon.com.

But what does it mean for educators and students? I talked to seven innovative educators and one university student live during the Apple announcement to find out. The conversation took place in a Google+ hangout that I recorded.

One point of particular interest to the educators was the usability of iBooks Author by not only teachers but students. One problem with traditional textbooks is that it’s “adult centered” and that students don’t have any input. Apple’s solutions may finally enable participation in the creation of texts by students.

This idea of having students use a rudimentary interactive book publishing tool is exactly what I was talking about in my Saturday post, where I said this whole initiative is part of a long-term plan to familiarize students and teachers with the Apple publishing system of the future, for all books, not just textbooks.

Teachers also say sharing and collaboration is the most important aspect of this. They’re hoping that Apple’s tools will not only enable better collaboration between teachers in the same school, but between schools in the same district.

They’re also excited about the prospect of taking a kind of “wiki” approach to developing course materials, where several or dozens or hundreds of experts can contribute and annotate to create a collaborative textbook.

The ability to bring in interactive content directly into textbooks solves two problems. The first is that teachers won’t have to send students all over the Internet to view or use online interactive apps. The second is that some students don’t have Wi-Fi or internet connections at home, so building all media into the textbook itself means all students have access to all the course content.

Another very old problem in schools is the variable rate at which students learn. Interactive books that can be heavily annotated let educators provide single resources that self-adapt to each student, even if they’re way ahead or way behind.

But the idea of moving all textbooks and instructional materials to iPad-based textbooks isn’t all smooth sailing. One concern is that iPads are expensive and desirable, and in many school districts it’s considered dangerous to have kids walking around with them. School officials fear that the kids will be attacked and robbed.

Also: iPads can be damaged. What do schools do if a student destroys one? Fine the students? Pay to replace it? Although the overall cost for all textbooks can be much lower with iPad-based solutions, the cost of replacing one iPad is vastly greater than the cost of replacing one textbook.

Related to that is the digital divide issue, where well-heeled districts can afford to distribute an iPad to each student, but poorer districts cannot.

The educators in my video panel were entirely positive about the new iTunes U. It solves a great many real problems endemic in providing course materials and student-professor interaction.

They talked about the unacceptability and undesirability of Blackboard, an education app that all agree sucks, and its replacement by Apple solutions is something universally desirable.

Overall, I detected an enormous amount of of enthusiasm for Apple’s new education initiatives. It’s a whole new school.