Apple’s plan to bring iPad textbooks to schools across America and around the world via iBooks 2 and iBooks Author is nothing short of a revolution. It could mean the end of giant, overused dog-eared volumes jammed into bulging backpacks balanced atop the over-burdened backs of America’s youth.
It might also mean I’ll never have to explain to my daughter again where the rest of chapter 16 went.
A couple of months ago, my 13-year-old junior high-school-attending daughter was diligently plowing through piles of homework. Part of it involved reading a chapter in her Social Studies text book and then answering questions on a worksheet about what she read.
However, when I looked over at my daughter, she had her head of curls in her hands. “What’s the matter?” I asked her.
“I can’t finish my homework,” she said without looking at me.
“Here.” She shoved her textbook at me.
I stared at it uncomprehending.
“What’s wrong with it?” I couldn’t see a problem besides the usual scribbling left by the previous loaner.
“The…pages…are…missing,” she said slowly as if speaking to a particularly dense child. Sure enough, pages 241 to 248 of her textbook had been torn out—and not so neatly. My daughter was frustrated and stuck. I’m sure you have similar tales.
Thursday I started imagining how that could never happen with an iPad text book. Apple’s iBook Author-built textbooks are, obviously, 100% digital. Good luck ripping a page out of that.
Tired Old Textbooks
There is another obvious benefit. My daughter sometimes struggles with the coursework in textbooks. It can be flat and boring. And if she’s confused, reading and rereading the textbook is not going to help her. I do believe that more interactive features could change things. There are definitely times where her failure to grasp something is from pure lack of interest. So how can we make these things interesting? Interactivity is at least part of the answer.
Apple did three important things to ensure the viability of this iPad textbook launch program: It built an excellent, powerful, quite easy-to-use app (almost epublishing for dummies). Desktop Publishing is not a new art; some of the construction metaphors in this app go all the way back to QuarkXPress. Still, it’s smoothly executed. The ability to almost instantly preview on your iPad is a stroke of genius.
Textbooks: The Price Is Wrong
Textbooks are expensive. When I was in college, I spent hundreds of dollars each semester on my own textbooks. I’m sure they’re no less expensive now. Similar tomes for K-12 schools must be nearly as expensive — what other excuse could they have for holding onto them for five years or more? In fact, McGraw-Hill’s Algebra 1 (one of the books converted for iBooks 2 textbook program) costs almost $100.
So a price of $14.99 or less for an iPad text book certainly sounds like a good deal, though I do wonder if Apple will offer volume discounts through its Textbook store. It would make sense — that’s how schools will buy these books, in bulk access codes. If schools believe they can save millions each year on textbook costs, they may run, not walk over to Apple’s iBook 2 text book platform.
The third thing is partnerships. Apple managed to sign up McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: three publishing houses that apparently comprise 90% of the textbook publishing biz in the U.S. These are the guys with the keys to the kingdom. They already publish the board-of-education-certified tomes. Now they’re working with Apple to convert them to interactive iPad textbook form.
The obvious concern is whether or not the iPad versions are still certified. Even so, this is a huge hurdle already surmounted before Apple’s iBook Author and iBooks2 with Textbooks is even fully out of the gate.
There are questions — big ones — that Apple and its partners will have to answer before this idea really takes flight.
What if the whole classroom doesn’t have iPads? Can one classroom work with both original hardcover and iPad versions of the textbook? Getting schools to update to the iPad and e-textbooks is not like flipping a switch. The iPad version will be more easily distributed and updateable, but boards of education cannot allow their editions to be out of step, can they?
When I asked someone in the education space, she noted that schools that purchased textbooks last year are not going to switch any time soon. In fact they might not be ready to switch for years. They made their investment and have to, as a fiscally responsible board of ed, use them until the books run out of utility (or until enough pages are ripped out).
Then there is the cost of the iPad. $499 is a good entry-level price for a computer. Multiplied by 30, times the number of classrooms in an average school (say, 40 at the low end) — that’s a half-million dollars. For school districts, that’s a big chunk of money.
I have a theory, though. I think Apple will introduce a Classroom iPad for $199 before the year is out. Pure speculation? Absolutely. However, considering how serious Apple is about improving the state of education, this makes real sense. I imagine it will be a 1024×768, 9.7-inch screen (while the iPad 3 gets the Retina Display and maybe changes size or shape), with a plastic back and rugged shell that only the school can remove.
There will be a single, rear-facing camera, and the tablet will be locked down with access to the iBooks 2 app and pre-loaded textbooks. Safari will come pre-loaded, but it’ll run through Apple’s special proxy education server (yes, I’m making that up, too).There will be no App Store or iTunes account associated with it and schools will manage all of them centrally.
If Apple does this, you will truly see the dawn of a new age in education. I, for one, am ready for it.
What’s your take? Are you ready to attend your next board of education meeting and tell the administrators it’s time for a new kind of textbook? Let me know in the comments.
Statistics on Education Performance
Apple’s Phil Schiller showed statistics on how well U.S. children are performing compared to kids in other countries; they ranked 17th in reading, 31st in math and 23rd in science.
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