Mac in the Classroom: End of the Encyclopedia Era

As a new series here at the The Mac Observer, Mac in the Classroom will explore all things related to Apple products in education. For our first installment, we’ll look at the recent news from Encyclopedia Britannica, a new app from Khan Academy, some figures on iPad and early childhood literacy, and some potential competition for Apple’s iTunes U.

Encyclopedia Britannica: the End of the Encyclopedia Shelf Era

Last week, Encyclopedia Britannica announced that the 2010 edition of the 244-year-old encyclopedia would be its last. For many of us, this came as a bit of a shock, since we grew up with the set of books. We used the 34-volume set of books to do our school research, to press flowers, or even as a punishment for our children, making them write reports on random subjects after they’d misbehaved or gotten a poor report card.

Fortunately, we can still do all of those things with the Encyclopedia Britannica. Well, except the press flowers bit. The Encyclopedia is still available online, they’ll continue producing their DVD-ROM edition, and…there’s an app for that. Britannica’s Encyclopedia app provides access to every article in the encyclopedia, and Britannica says the information is constantly updated. This app is beautiful, and you can download it for free from the app store, and the top articles are available for free. If you want full access to everything in the encyclopedia, though, that’ll cost you $1.99 a month.

Encyclopedia BritannicaEncyclopedia Britannica on the iPad

Unfortunately, the Encyclopedia app for the iPad still has some rough edges. In my brief testing, I came across several articles that were listed in the index, but not available to view. Also, trying to search articles requires a fair amount of patience, as the app slows down considerably (even on a third-generation iPad) as you type a search phrase. Still, it shows promise as a good general reference tool on the iPad.

I’m also a bit worried that more people will just go to Wikipedia instead of subscribing to Britannica. A spokesperson for Britannica said that Wikipedia has not affected Encyclopedia Britannica, but will that change now that Britannica isn’t in print anymore? There’s nothing wrong with Wikipedia, of course, but the old-fashioned scholar in me finds comfort in knowing an article has been written by an expert scholar in the field, not someone who might feel like vandalizing a Wikipedia page. The move away from print could mean great things for Britannica, or it could mean another end of an era, when even the online Encyclopedia Britannica goes the way of the dinosaur.

Khan Academy - Educational Videos on the Go

The venerable Khan Academy has been a go-to resource for students and educators since 2008 (2006, if you count back to the year Sal Khan first started posting videos on YouTube for his cousin.) Now, users of the Khan Academy have an iPad app they can turn to. The free Khan Academy app brings all of Khan’s 2700+ educational YouTube videos into one app on the iPad. Users can download videos, allowing them to load up their iPad with educational goodness for offline viewing. Going on a long road trip with your kids? Download their lessons for the trip and they can do their studying while you drive. Because that’s what kids want to do in the car…study. Well, some kids want to do that. Sometimes. Once your family is back online, you can post your favorite Khan videos to Facebook or Twitter from within the app.

Khan AcademyKhan Academy’s App for the iPad

Want Your Kids to Read? Give ‘em an iPad!

A recent study of kindergarten children has produced higher literacy scores among children who get to read on the iDevice instead of those old-fashioned paper books. Teachers in Auburn, Maine began teaching 266 kindergarteners with the iPad 2 last fall. TUAW reports that the teachers have found that their students earned higher test scores on literacy tests and were more enthusiastic about learning.

Critics of the study claim the novelty of using the iPad is the only cause for the higher test scores, but that’s a novelty that doesn’t wear off quickly for most of the children I’ve worked with. I’ve personally seen children increase their vocabulary tenfold through increased exposure to online and other digital media, so I think there’s some merit to the study’s results. I’ll definitely be watching the tech-ed news to see what other studies spring out of this, as more schools adopt the iPad.

Image Courtesy APImage Courtesy AP

iTunes U Gets a Competitor…in Korea

Apparently, Samsung has caught on to the idea that Apple’s renewed push to revolutionize education just might work. Last month, at the Mobile World Congress, Samsung unveiled its Learning Hub, a cloud-based servicer and app for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 to provide educational content like digital textbooks and video lectures to the Android mobile operating system. The cloud-based service offers 6,000 textbooks along with educational videos from 30 providers. The Learning Hub’s app provides multimedia teaching tools and note-taking. So far, only Samsung Korea has announced the Learning Hub, so it’s unclear when or if it will be coming to other regions. Phone Arena posted a video demonstration of the Learning Hub. To me, it looks a lot like iTunes U, but not as nicely polished.

Even so, competition in this field is definitely a good thing. If Samsung’s Learning Hub spreads beyond Korea and to other devices (Samsung does say they intend to push it out to other Android tablets besides the Galaxy Tab), it could push Apple to make even more innovations and improvements to iTunes U.

That’s it for this time around. I’m going to take my iPad and head back to the library for a while. See you around campus!