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



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.

  • tiresius

      In the world of printed textbook pubishing, two states (Texas and California) exert an inordinate amount of influence.  When a publisher’s book is adopted by either or both states, it represents a major “sell.”  But as a result, far too many publishers aim their wares at these two states– and the other 48 either accept these versions, or look to more expensive alternatives.

       Digital publishing– whether from Apple or others– provides a new model, so that text books could be tailored and modified for greater flexibility and diversity.  If one state wants to deny Evolution or Global Warming and assert that it is “just a theory” fine, their digital versions can do just that.  But with very little modification, everyone else can have a version more suitable for their needs.

       That is the real promise of digital publications for K-12 and beyond.

  • Jordan Clay

    When I was in college I had my car broken into and somebody stole my backpack full of text books.  I lost all my Accounting books, bookbag, and some odds and ends….damage came to around $1,000.  I would have rather bought a $600 iPad and sync’ed it to my computer and just go about my day with everything backed up.

    The digital textbook scene isn’t perfect, but it is miles closer than it was last week.

  • Shadowxpr

    Protection for ipad is very cheap, there are hundreds of cases that protect ipad screen from scratches and the ipad from drops inexpensively.

  • Scott King

    It’s the logical progression within the publishing industry, with Apple doing just a little bit of pushing :)

  • joewaylo

    The iPad may be a revolutionary in the iBooks 2, but many won’t be impressed by it to replace school textbooks with an iPad 2.
    1 – The expense of an iPad per student: Only if you’re lucky enough to save up $600. As education’s budget continues to decline to remove most of our $1.5 Trillion debt, they’d be asking students to buy the $600 iPad as a mandatory. Not all students can afford them. Even if the school manages to scrounge up the cash to pay $2.68 million per school (the highest populated school is 4,483) to equip a student with an iPad, replacement iPads the students would have to purchase.

    2 – Textbooks are not going to be readily available quick enough: I don’t recall how many publishers have signed up for iBooks 1, but I’m sure there will be more signing up. The developers for these books would need lots of time and money in order to develop them for the school systems. And not many developers are going to fork over $2,000 for an iMac and build your textbooks.

    3 – iPads would have to be specifically written to follow school guidelines, like block their video game downloads: Oh sure. The kids are going to focus on education only. In what universe of today would that happen? I’ve seen kids not even focus on their textbooks and swap to playing their video games and iPad games soon after. Even at school during class, this would be difficult.

  • techgeek01

    So many problems that nobody is covering.

    1) How many school districts can actually give their students iPads? Truthfully? Probably very few. very view.
    2) Who will purchase the iPads? the Student or the school district? Right now, a lot of school districts don’t have the money. The student? Well, that’s a whole another problem.  What IF the family cannot afford an iPad?  You can’t force a family to buy an iPad.  So if they by an Android, windows, whatever it may be tablet, you will have to have the books for it. (basically the school districts HAVE to give options: Apple computer, Dell Computer, Asus computer, etc… or otherwise they can land in hot water)
    3) The purchase of iPads is NOT the iPads. app costs, book costs, software cost, protection costs, accessories costs, warranty costs, training costs, etc….  You will be suprised that it will add up quite quickly.  Your $500 tablet is going to suddenly be $700 if not greater.

    4) Are the books ACTUALLY cheaper? In the long run. That will be questionable.  Because with books you can “lease” them out.  You really cannot do that with Apple’s method. So in reality, it could cost the school district MORE than a hard cover version. (And this is why I believe the textbook publishers jumped on.  Because they realize they can make a whole lot more money this way)

    And there is more.

  • mlahero

    Putting all eggs in one basket….. not a good idea placing something as important as education within the sole domain of a business focused on generating profit.

    I feel this new initiative would be great as an additional resource to regular textbooks. Just in the same sense that a computer is a great accompaniment to regular textbooks. Touting this as replacing the regular textbook is just pure media hype, as using a single screen to manage multiple textbooks is just not easy or practical. When you were at university how many textbooks would you have open at the same time and side by side?

    Also there are these things called libraries. Which don’t cost a thing.

  • John M

    If schools are going to start issuing kids iPads to have their textbooks on then Apple needs an app that will turn the thing into a paperweight when the kid takes off with it.

  • FrankPhillips

    Hooray more copyright issues in education.  That is sure to make things easier.  What a ludicrous and blatantly greedy concept.  The future of educational text should be open sourced and open platformed, being locked into a market mechanic is never a good idea regardless of the sector.

  • bellidancer

    1) Wrong, if you mean fiscally capable. Other states may handle it differently, but California gives school districts funds exclusively for “textbooks”. Elementary schools get money every year to replace textbooks in one subject area. Even elementary textbooks and supplemental materials can cost $75 to $100 per student. The funds are there. (Well usually, California may be not be able to afford books, or teacher next year.)
    2) See above.
    3) Correct! However, don’t imagine the cost of paper texts ends at the book. Workbooks are replaced every year. Training to use the text books happens with paper books too. Paper books are dead, ie. once printed they can’t change. My district has had to replace textbooks after one year because the state changed the standards for the subject area.
    4) Ipads may cost more, although I think it may be a wash. However, they are much, much more than a set of physical books. Each iPad can be a complete library or a student workstation. Instead of buying computers and textbooks, buy iPads. 

  • bellidancer

    1 – You are assuming iPads and eTextbooks are an add, not a replacement. Leased iPads would be very comparable in cost to paper textbooks. Even elementary school textbooks are expensive ($75-$100) and students usually have about five.
    2 – Huh? The eBooks will still have the same basic content as current books. Sure the ebooks could have more graphics and interactive features but we are talking about using a different format, not creating new content from scratch. Elementary and high textbooks are  published by big compamies. Small companies can not afford to compete. I suspect a large percentage of the publishers already use macs to do their DTP. The revolutionary aspect of iBooks 2 is the ability for small publishers and even individuals to create textbooks. A $2000 is a minor investment.3 – Wow, you’re right! Schools would have to demand iPads be strictly locked down….. like the laptops and desktops they use now. Schools already manage student use of computers. iPads are not that different. Good teachers will have well run classes with students on task. Just like now.

  • chriss cazayoux

    There is no lease in K12, that is higher ed.  The lease model in higher ed is repackaging of buying and resell.  20+% cost of a new higher ed textbook market is to cover the “secondary” market(used books).  It is Economics but no 19 year old wants to look that deeply, they want beer money at the end of the term.  

    K12 is a state RFP every 5-8 years.  At $15 for 5 years/5students it is precisely what a publisher is charging for a book in the current procurement model.  All evidence in 1-to-1 technology programs, from the original IBM Thinkpad Universities to Girls Prep School in Chattanooga to the Lemon Grove School District in San Diego represent the same breakage/loss rate.  This homogeneous relation of student impact on the hardware is well studied longitudinally and is 11%.  Most of the outliers in the studies regarding poorer districts represented the least amount of breakage and loss as these students protected them as it was the only technology they possessed.  Privileged students see the technology as disposable.

    The real payoff of moving content to this mode is the analytics that districts can collect and use with assessments, standardized and formative to make decisions regarding student learning programs.  The play here for Apple is the analytics on the student engagement.  It ill revolutionize the content, modes, and back end systems.  This week i believe Wired published an article on what is more important, algorithms or professors.  This mode provides the data for the algorithms.  All of the big ed and ed tech companies have freshly minted analytic divisions.  

    Jobs did figure out education.  He just didn’t reveal the secret sauce.  You need to be a chemist.

  • Renato Gabriele Ucci

    Mike, would you share what kind of tools did you used for the recoding of the Google Hangout’s session ? I tested too some tools with Google Hangout but I never got results like this one. Thx

  • madhatt99

    I wonder if the whole thing is able to be cloud… iPad at school, iPad at home, iMac at home, I phone in pocket. I wonder if these kids via iCloud can access. Their text book anywhere. Universal access in this way would be pretty cool. And remove the need to carry the schools iPads with you