This is How Apple Changes Education, Forever

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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.

“Why not?”

“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 notes and scrib­bling left by the pre­vi­ous stu­dent loan­er.

“The…pages…are…missing,” she said slow­ly as if speak­ing to a par­tic­u­lar­ly dense child.

I took a clos­er look and, sure enough, pages 241 to 248 of her text­book had been torn out—and not so neat­ly. There, close to the bind­ing, were the jagged rem­nants of a few of the pages.

My daugh­ter was frus­trat­ed and stuck. I’m sure you have sim­i­lar tales.

Of course, today 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
So that’s one obvi­ous ben­e­fit, but there is anoth­er. My daugh­ter also some­times strug­gles with the course­work in text­books. It’s flat, some­times bor­ing. And if she’s con­fused, well, 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, in my opin­ion, did three impor­tant things to, per­haps, 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 and some of the con­struc­tion metaphors I saw go all the way back to QuarkX­Press, Page­Mak­er and Microsoft Pub­lish­er. Still, it’s smooth­ly exe­cut­ed and the abil­i­ty to almost instant­ly pre­view on your iPad is a stroke of genius.

Text­books: The Price Is Wrong
The sec­ond thing is pric­ing. 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 and 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. 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 since 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, though, 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 (or is that a pre­req­ui­site?). 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 night 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).

Apple told me schools can buy the iPad text­books in bulk, but couldn’t offer details on what hap­pens on the sec­ond year. If the dis­trict paid for the access codes, then they own the iPad text­books, right? Does stu­dent access expire at the end of the school year and the text­books dis­ap­pear from the stu­dents’ iPads? This way the school can use the codes again next year. Or per­haps Apple wants the school dis­trict to buy new iPad text­books every year. I’ve asked Apple to clar­i­fy this point.

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 in 2012, 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 text book in the class­room? Let me know in the com­ments.

Source : Mashable