First Thoughts: Apple’s Attempts to Revolutionize Education

| Editorial

Today, Apple announced iBooks 2, iBooks Author, and a new, free iTunes U app. Apple executives tout these as efforts to reinvent education and curriculum, and at first blush, they look very exciting.

 I will NOT leave the textbook industry in the same state that I found it.

The video demos of interactive textbooks, allowing textbook authors to embed videos and interactive elements within their textbooks are definitely in keeping with current trends in educational philosophy. The price points for the textbooks ($14.99!) is an amazing departure from the normal (astronomical) prices of textbooks. The expansion of iTunes U to K-12 institutions is also a potential game-changer, allowing primary and secondary schools to offer their courses for free online.

When you dig down into the innards of how it all works, though, the plan seems to break down quite a bit. Will iBooks 2 really sound a death knell for more traditional paper-based textbooks? Will iTunes U become the next trend in digital learning, replacing the likes of Blackboard and other Course Management Systems? Could we really see our children carrying around a slim iPad with all of their textbooks on it, instead of backpacks overflowing and bursting at the seams with textbooks?

I’m trying to be optimistic, but I’m quite honestly dubious. The problems I see with this fall into these categories:

  1. Institutional adoption of the iPad as the sole means of content delivery
  2. Restriction of textbooks to a single marketplace
  3. Furthering the premise that education has to be entertaining in all aspects

 Institutional Adoption of the iPad

Right now, educational funding is in a downward spiral. Sure, there are a few affluent school districts with the financial abilities to purchase iPads for all of their students, but those districts are the exception, not the rule. Most districts barely have the funding to keep themselves afloat and maintain their existing computer assets, let alone spend $500+ per student for an iPad that could be broken within the first month or two of the school year.

While a number of students may come from families that can afford an iPad for each child, the majority of students (especially in inner-city schools) come from families that can barely afford to eat. Are these students going to have access to the iPad? Doubtful, at best, in the absence of grant funding to allow the schools the ability to provide the iDevices. That grant money just isn’t there in our existing economic climate.

This challenge can affect not only the success of iBooks 2 as a textbook source, but also the success of iTunes U. After all, the iTunes U app is only available on iOS devices. While iTunes U content could, in the past, be accessible via iTunes on a Mac or Windows PC, the iTunes U app is only available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

In other words, the minimum entry price for access to the iTunes U app is around $188, beyond the reach of the majority of families today. How can schools adopt iTunes U as their delivery mechanism, when their students cannot afford the devices necessary to access the classes?

Restriction of Textbooks to a Single Marketplace

Now, in the nitty-gritty details of the requirements for publishers to list their textbooks in the iBooks 2 bookstore is this little gem: those textbooks must be priced at $14.99 or less, and be exclusively available to iBooks 2 users! This means publishers are forced to develop textbooks that can only be sold through a single platform—online, via the iBooks 2 bookstore.

How much support will the publishers be able to maintain for this marketplace, if the userbase doesn’t expand enough to make it profitable? We’ve got students who can’t afford the iPad device…coupled with textbooks that can’t be read on anything except the iPad device (because let’s face it, even if the textbooks can be read on an iPod Touch, the layout is going to be horrendous and the iPod Touch just isn’t a good medium for reading/experiencing textbooks.)

Sounds to me like a no-win scenario if the schools adopt those textbooks. The schools can’t afford to provide the iPad to their students, the students can’t afford to purchase the device on their own, and the students can’t read the textbook on any other device! Suddenly, we see the Achilles’ Heel in Apple’s plan to reinvent education: we see the gap between the educated and the uneducated widening, because the students no longer have access to their educational materials!

Furthering the Premise that Education Must be Entertaining

During the event, much noise was made of the fact that text is boring. Reading is passe; we need to incorporate videos, interactive elements, and pretty pictures. We’ve been seeing the effects of this mentality, honestly, ever since the advent of the television: people are reading less and less, and are more and more reliant on entertainment and shock value than ever before.

The 6 o’clock news has turned into a 3-ring circus, because the only way to keep America’s attention is to appeal to their morbid sense of curiosity. We see pictures of dead bodies, we see video footage of natural disasters, and we watch in awe as war journalists duck under cover to report during a firefight. What we don’t see, however, is the American sitting down with a newspaper or a book, and spending time actually studying.

In our children (and even our young adults), we see an increase in illiteracy. When my students write essays, those essays are more and more filled with “txtspeek.” Gone are the days of being concerned with proper spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Instead, we focus on exerting as little effort as possible to convey our message, and now we are to be encouraged by the possibility of exerting as little effort as possible to receive our education?

Rather than reading a history book, are we going to just watch a re-enactment of it on video, thus missing out on whatever the movie producer felt was unimportant? Instead of reading grammatical rules, are we going to just watch the words float together in CGI animation?

Conclusion

Convergent media, or new media, does have its place in education. I realize that. It’s much more effective to see the effects of a chemical reaction than to just read about them. But do we really want to give over our entire education to an entertainment media? Do we truly want to widen the gap between the “haves” and “have nots,” by denying them equal access to education, simply because their family cannot afford the luxury of an iPad 2?

I do not believe, for one minute, that any of us really want to see this happen…but I cannot see any other outcome, given our country’s current financial state. I think the possibilities of the iTunes U expansion and the iBooks 2 textbook marketplace are wonderful, but I think we need to take a step back and decide if today is truly the day to begin that particular revolution.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

Comments

d'monder

Institutional adoption of the iPad as the sole means of content delivery

Agreed.  Why not let the books be viewable on any device?

Apple is being greedy, and this may be a fatal mistake (or at least a huge opportunity for Amazon and Google).

achaar

I believe they said the books can be delivered as pdf’s or standard ebooks for any device.

Al

Apple clearly isn’t in this to make money off book sales, they’re in it to make money from device sales.  If they made the books viewable on any device, then they won’t sell significantly more devices (iPads), which would cause them to charge much more for books or make no money (which defeats the purpose of being in business).  If books cost more, then you have to buy an expensive tablet and expensive books instead of an expensive tablet and cheap books (which is exactly why this idea hasn’t previously taken off ie. Amazon school books). 

I think the most significant cost factor here is not the initial price of the iPad but the upgrade cycles long term.  Let’s take a ten year period of using iPad text books and traditional text books.  Text books cost a fortune up front but most of them will last you multiple years without having to be replaced. 

iPad’s are revised yearly with huge improvements in performance and features in each new revision.  How many generations will a school be able to hold on to an iPad before having to replace with the latest model? I’d think 3 is a stretch.  New books will stop supporting older hardware and you’ll be caught in a rough upgrade cycle.

webjprgm

This article seems to be focussing on K-12 education when it comes to school financing.  In college students purchase their own text books, so the cost comparison is totally different. 

For K-12, schools do not update their books very often, the schools buy the books, and the schools loan those books to students for the year.  So if instead the school bought iPads and cheaper books, then loaned the iPads to the kids, you’d get a similar cost thanks to Apple’s less than $15 rule.

How many generations will a school be able to hold on to an iPad before having to replace with the latest model? I?d think 3 is a stretch.? New books will stop supporting older hardware and you?ll be caught in a rough upgrade cycle.

This could be the part that breaks my cost estimations.  When the school wants new books, but the new books don’t support old HW, then there’s a problem unless that cycle is closer to the length of time schools currently keep text books.  (10 years according to AI’s guess.)

If those text books are basically PDFs with a few movie clips, then theoretically they should work on 10 year old iPads.  But likely Apple will introduce new text book features that they purposely restrict to newer iPad hardware.

Plus the iPad exclusive makes me think Apple’s being greedy here and rather irks me.  At least let them publish PDFs and ePub forms for other devices.  Those books will look/work better on the iPad due to movies and any other fancy feature, but will still be usable for people and institutions that can’t afford iPads.

other side

Apple clearly isn?t in this to make money off book sales, they?re in it to make money from device sales.

Apple learned how to dance this dance with iTMS.

Imagine if iTunes content had been playable ONLY on iPods (i.e. not even with the iTunes app on a desktop; if you made a purchase it HAD to be put on a iPod to be played).  iTunes never would’ve gotten off the ground.

If Apple wants to sell hardware, they should at least support ALL of their hardware.  iPad exclusivity (if that’s indeed the case) is bad news.

Lee Dronick

Why not let the books be viewable on any device?

Apple is being greedy, and this may be a fatal mistake (or at least a huge opportunity for Amazon and Google).

Apple is a business as are Amazon and Google, they are in business to make money.

As to opportunity, Amazon, Google, and anyone else had a chance do this yet no one did. Maybe someone was working on a similar system, but Apple got out of the GATE first.

chris

I think the author might be confusing entertaining and engaging. The point of all the interactivity is to engage the student in ways that a regular text book can’t.

If it helps them learn, who cares how it happens?

Ion_Quest

Apple clearly isn?t in this to make money off book sales, they?re in it to make money from device sales.

Exactly!  Just like music and Apps for other iDevices.  If the media provider gets squeezed, Apple couldn’t care less as long as it boosts iPad sales.  We consumers should learn the plan by now.

OldFart

Although I think Apple’s heart is in the right place, and I love Apple products, personally, I’d hate to have to do all my studying on a device with a glossy screen.

Jeff Butts

I believe they said the books can be delivered as pdf?s or standard ebooks for any device.

Yes, if they’re delivered for free. The books cannot be sold in any other marketplace.

Dorje Sylas

On the subject of entertaining. Jeff, you RTFM or watch screen casts or randomly push buttons? Even back in the day when manuals were readily available in big printed volumes shipped with every electronic device, almost no one RTFM (and that’s text speak before text speak).

There is actually a value point to engaging students in active learning. I don’t know how up you are on the different types of learning people engaged in. The “old school” read long passages, copy notes off a board, listen to someone tell you things only caught very specific types of learners. I was not one of these. I am primarily visual spatial, partly kinesthetic, so informational texts and loads of handwritten notes are actually my least effective method of information retention. Where you see “entertaing” is see visuals and physical interaction living in the same space as text… finally. Go pick the brian of most geographers, as a profession we are largely a highly spatially focused group. Most teachers fall into your traditional line of thinking on pure reading and lecture.

A BIG advantage is not the videos, which I’m sure they’ll stuff to gills, but the real power will eventually come from interactive manipulatives in foundational mathematics.

I’ll grant you on the other points. Money is the issue more then anything. What got nasty is that school funding was mostly tied to home values. When the home values tanked so did school funding. No one really appreciated how much education was actually costing because it was being hidden in the inflated values brought about by the housing bubble.

Apple has also blown it by going propriety instead of actually doing unmodified ePub. But worse, is that these are only deliverable on iPads. All the schools that have sunk money in MacBooks are hosed.

We won’t see real change for 5 years. That’s my take. Now keep this in mind, Apple has tended to shoot well ahead of the mark while Steve was in charge, and this still has his finger prints all over it. Most of what Apple put out today will have virtually no real impact on education in the near future. Most of what we will see is people and publishers flounder about trying “new” was of making “old” methods work in the new format. After a few years of pain by early adopters who will be lashed for “wasting” money on “toys” we will hit a point where our economy has recovered enough, material has been polished and refined, and deployment ironed out to a point it suddenly seems like it should have always magically been. (Assuming we don’t go into another world wide depression, in which case all bets on tech are off)

Does that mean Apple will be the final provider, hard to say. Google, Amazon, and even Microsoft could step up and “do it better”.


Short Term: This totally sucks and does nothing helpful
Long Term: Really is laying the ground work with boot in the ass of current thinking.

Personally: Apple needs a boot up their ass and to go head hunting for some of the best shoe-string-budget teachers to help tell them what tools really need to be made in a “it just works” way.

Jeff Butts

On the subject of entertaining. Jeff, you RTFM or watch screen casts or randomly push buttons?

When I’m learning a new piece of software, it’s usually a combination of reading the documentation and just toying around with the software. More accurately, I buy a “Missing Manual” text or something of that nature, since product documentation is so often outdated and inadequate.

I definitely believe interaction and hands-on experience have their place in education. As an educator (I teach university communications and technology courses), though, I’ve seen the results of students who expect everything to be entertaining. Some things, quite honestly, can only be learned by doing, not by watching a video of it being done. My fear, from watching the trends in how convergent media has been implemented in education over the past 5-7 years, is that publishers are pursuing an educational model that simply does not and cannot work.

mhikl

I think the author might be confusing entertaining and engaging. The point of all the interactivity is to engage the student in ways that a regular text book can?t.

Exactly, Chris.
I?m sure there were people not too taken with the addition of costly and distracting pictures and graphs to text. Engaging students is how a good teacher raises that tricky pedagogical state, interest.

Natalie F.

“Furthering the Premise that Education Must be Entertaining.”

Oh, my goodness - let’s not make learning FUN or anything, shall we?

I agree that today’s generation is conditioned to this sort of media. However, that’s a simple and irrefutable fact, and we must adapt to it. Forcing it to adapt to us is an impossibility.

Kids are not going to learn if there is nothing in the lesson or text that appeals to them. It is called student engagement, and it is necessary to effective classroom management as well as increasing student scores.

Move up with the times.

MACMAD08

I am not sure on the age of the author, but $188 for a course in university has not been seen, probably, since Apple production was in a garage!
Good God man the costs for books for the first year of University can easily push past $1000.00. You talk about the shortcoming in high school. Do not point fault at the K-12 system, and think University in the same breath. It is like comparing apples to oranges!


While a number of students may come from families that can afford an iPad for each child, the majority of students (especially in inner-city schools) come from families that can barely afford to eat.

Do those students have the ability of entering Yale, MIT, with their $50,000 price tag for a year?  iTunes U at the very least, gives them a taste of what is possible.

Hugh Massengill

I made a short book to check out the authoring application. I then exported it as a pdf, and it looked great. So to anyone who wants to make a quick book for their students or friends, and distribute it for free via pdf, using the Apple templates, this application is perfect.
Now, the pdf doesn’t allow movies, but one can just put the movies separately into dropbox.
And to those who are put off by Apple’s insistence that all books for profit be sold through their store, I point out that other companies also do the same thing. I made several books at blurb.com, and they need to be sold digitally through their online store, in fact one needs to purchase a book before it can be displayed.
Hugh

Eric

So you say, “When my students write essays, those essays are more and more filled with ?txtspeek.? Gone are the days of being concerned with proper spelling, grammar, or punctuation.”.  So, if you are the teacher are you not supposed to provide your students with what is required in the essay?  Seems to me that it would be pretty simple to add a sentence stating that proper spelling, grammar and punctuation is a must.  Today there is no reason for bad spelling in documents produced by word processors (pick your poison there), because they all have spell check capabilities.

brett_x

My suspicion is that this whole thing revolves around a new device.

Apple entered the MP3 player market with a Porsche. A 5GB, carry-all-your-music device that people thought would never take off. It did.

They went on to develop other MP3 devices that fit different needs- right down to the screenless shuffle.

Now, they have an iPad that can do everything (I’m taking liberties), and it’s the leader. There are other similar devices that are doing well, but in a new category- book readers.

Apple releases a book publishing app, and seemingly everyone assumes it is in order to sell iPads.

Enter the iPad Shuffle. (This one is likely to have a screen, however.)

Jeff Butts

Seems to me that it would be pretty simple to add a sentence stating that proper spelling, grammar and punctuation is a must.

Yes, Eric, and such a disclaimer is always present in my syllabus and on each assignment. Your apparent assumption—that I don’t inform my students of the assignment requirements and that merely informing them of that requirement will get them to meet it—is an invalid one.

there is no reason for bad spelling in documents produced by word processors (pick your poison there), because they all have spell check capabilities.

Spell check, in every word processing program I’ve ever seen, is a crutch (and an ineffective one.) Spell check will not catch commonly confused words (their, they’re, there; lose, loose; to, too, two; et al.) Spell check will also, frequently, fail to recognize grammatical problems. Finally, custom dictionaries allow students to add their misspellings to the spell check, so those pesky red squiggly lines don’t interfere with their feng shui.

Your next argument, I’m sure, will be that it is my responsibility to teach them what is proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I wish that I had the time in the course of 15 weeks to do that, but quite frankly…I don’t, at the college writing level. We’re expected to teach our students concepts related to high-level composition and critical thinking skills, and are forced to assume our students have a level of proficiency in the English language that they, more often than not, do not actually possess.

anovelli

Jeff, I think this is a reasonably fair analysis, and that’s coming from a fanboy. I am tickled with the possibilities of moving the educational experience into authorship as much as readership. The updates to iBooks seem to perfectly match the challenges in study habits we know are endemic, and the interactivity of textbooks WILL save many students from failing. Is it a universal solution? Hardly. Neither is an iPhone, iMac or anything else. The education system is nearly hopelessly behind the times and socioeconomic shifts and cultural pressures de-emphasizing the importance of education have strangled what should be our top priority.

Apple didn’t create this problem, but what can they do to fix it? First, re-energize the process of education. Check*. Democratize the creation of content. Check*. Help shed clearly outdated and costly impediments to information and curriculum delivery. Check*. In all fairness, this is more than any other company or institution could remotely be expected to manage, and done better than anyone else by far.

Now to the *disclaimers*. You’re spot on that the digital divide exists and unfairly disadvantages some students. Are devices publicly available to rectify this? To just a small degree. Is it reasonable to expect that Apple give away not only the means for authorship but the means for delivery? Of course not. But I do expect, and we all should press for innovative solutions like Apple is famous for to rectify this disadvantage for students and families.

I would embrace ideas like:a library outreach program; lease programs with affordable payment options; insurance; a robust network for refurbished equipment, exchanges, upgrades, recycling; a burlier student version of the iPad that may even have factory-upgradable hardware; options/constraints in the authoring system to generate multiple versions of books suitable back to Gen 1 iPads; porting for other Apple/non-Apple devices, as well as a cloud component that could keep all school work, textbooks and projects in the cloud, viewable from any internet-able device. Wouldn’t it be cool if the AppleTV was able to access the same content directly from a user account so homework could be done with the whole family’s help?

Education is being reformed in guerrilla fashion due to forces primarily political. Khan academy is successful because of it’s capacity to meet students where they are. There is in all of us - especially the oldsters like me over 50 - that revels in the printed page, knows the benefits of setting pen to paper, and the vastly underrated stimulation of the imagination reading and storytelling have over more direct interpretation by video. All modalities have their benefit. Apple just upgraded the toolbox. It’s up to us to make sure it’s benefits are realizable by every student, and to prepare ourselves for a revolution in education as this new source of authorship catapults us forward.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Jeff, you hit all the nails square on the head. My advice to people who ask will be to not get drawn into this silo. From a purchaser point of view, whether a parent, a school, or a school system, the downstream lockin costs will exceed the costs of waiting a couple years for a good enough de facto standard with multiple points of competition at every level to emerge.

However, I think the initial analysis of this system completely misses the boat. I would bet that 6 months from now, there may be a handful of real, bulky textbooks in available on iBooks. But I’d also bet that the sweet spot for this will be lesson-length material. a la carte style. So maybe a category of 2nd grade mathematics, and lessons like, “counting money”, “tallying”, “large numbers”, etc. Price points will be closer to $1 and $2 (like apps), than $15 (like bargain barrel textbooks). I also think that at some point, assessment as a service will be built into these. So you get the $5 “run-on sentence” book for your kid, your kid reads, interacts, and completes exercises, then “submits” it to the publisher, who grades what the kid did and sends it back to you.

That last part about bundling and distributing assessment (and even coaching) is where the money and value really is in all this stuff.

Lee Dronick

I wonder if there is another shoe to drop, an educationally priced iPad. One that is more discounted than the 10% usually offered in the Apple Education Store. To that end, would a 7” iPad make a good textbook reader?

brett_x

I wonder if there is another shoe to drop, an educationally priced iPad. One that is more discounted than the 10% usually offered in the Apple Education Store. To that end, would a 7? iPad make a good textbook reader?

What, am I invisible ? See above wink

Lee Dronick

What, am I invisible ? See above

Sometimes I need to hear the lecture twice smile

mhikl

brett_x and Lee D. Correct. An education iPad barebones.No need for cameras and enough GBs to meet educational needs. What else can be bobbed. Not too sure about the smaller size, Lee. The graphics and movies are an important aspect to the experience. But if Amazon can make a ?good enough?, Apple can too. There must be profit enough from all parts of this enterprise to do Apple justice; hardware, software and most importantly, integration of the Apple experience leading to sales of everything Apple.

Lee Dronick

An education iPad barebones.No need for cameras and enough GBs to meet educational needs. What else can be bobbed. Not too sure about the smaller size, Lee. The graphics and movies are an important aspect to the experience. But if Amazon can make a ?good enough?, Apple can too.

I am just thinking about what Apple would be doing with the rumored 7” screens.

Yes they could not include the cameras, but hardware wise there isn’t much else. They could add a textspeak filter chip, that autocorrects LOL to chortle, chuckle or such.

mhikl

They could add a textspeak filter chip, that autocorrects LOL to chortle, chuckle or such.

?such? as in the sound made by a whoopee. Would delight the boys.

wab95

Jeff:

You make several noteworthy points, and pose an important question: Is this the right time for this revolution? In my opinion, the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.

Much has been said above by you and several commenters, so I will confine myself to your concluding statement,

but I think we need to take a step back and decide if today is truly the day to begin that particular revolution

.

You correctly point out that Americans (and it’s not just Americans, BTW) are seeking thought content-poor entertainment in lieu of reading. I believe, however, that you may incorrectly conflate entertainment with an interactive educational paradigm. I had the privilege of doing my medical education in the USA, my brother-in-law in Italy. I moved directly into post-ed training (residency), he had to get supplemental education in the USA before residency. The reason? The medical educational system in Europe (at least in his day) is fundamentally didactic and passive. Students watch a professor dissect a cadaver, for instance. In the US, students dissect their own cadavers and even cart home a ‘bone box’ (which is exactly as it sounds). In neuroanatomy, we didn’t simply read about central nervous system structure, each pair of students got their own half brain and spinal column (no jokes, please - I’ve heard them all); and at least two of the four primary years are spent on the wards taking care of patients. In short, it is hands-on and interactive.

If anything, the current educational model of passive learning through lecture and reading is a modern (i.e. the past 2 - 3K years) aberration, and an artefact our early experience with written language and its capacity for information storage. For most of our history as a species, we have learnt through apprenticeship and interaction, a reiterative and multi-sensory input model of seeing, doing, revising and perfecting. Passive learning, combined with rote memorisation and regurgitation selects for a limited section of our brains and does not serve everyone equally well. It is the iPad?s capacity to engage the mind interactively that is its strength, which is distinct from entertainment.

Then there is the issue of dead tree information transmission, and the inability to provide timely and cost-effective information updates. I work in parts of the world where medical professionals have acquired their information from books that are long out of date. That information deficit has direct effects on the well-being, indeed the survival, of the patients they treat. The rapidity of new information in medical research alone, not to mention the sciences more broadly (500+ new exoplanets were unveilled in 2010) demands immediate improvement in our ability to provide timely information updates. Using a system little evolved since ancient Egyptians scrawlled on papyrus no longer suffices.

We return to your question, of whether, particularly given the state of the economy, this is the time for a digital revolution in textbooks. Not only should the answer be obvious, it should be so because we have crossed this bridge before. When? On 25 May 1961 when US President Kennedy challenged the US to put a man on the moon, among other occasions. Then, as now, there were those who argued that it was ill-timed to spend money on moonshots when there were so many problems on earth. While correct in their identification of earthbound problems, I believe that they were off-target in their conclusions about new frontiers. They failed to appreciate the unexpected and unforeseen dividends that come from the pursuit of new technologies. Many of the very technologies and methods we would need to address our current problems would only come from the pursuit of a grand undertaking, and the novel technologies, methods, and systems spawned by it (microprocessors, vaccine development, food safety to name but a few).

When our ancestors migrated from Africa, and repeatedly at each new settlement across the planet, whenever a breakaway group moved onto the frontier, they did so not only in spite of problems in the settlement (often food shortages), but because of them; with unanticipated and unforeseen benefits to all concerned.

Not only do we gain new knowledge, these new models create opportunities for economic growth - we start to move money through new channels for new products and services. This, in turn, stimulates economic growth - another benefit.

Whether Apple have the model exactly right or not, digital interactive learning is a part of our future, no less so than how digital calculators supplanted the slide rule. The trajectory is correct, even if the vessel is imperfect. Irrespective of motive, Apple?s move is laudable. Through its implementation, we will do as we have always done as a species; reiterate, revise, improve and move forward.

Lee Dronick

Excellent comments Doctor.

Log-in to comment