Apple just had its educational event and it showed off various new iPad features aimed at education. iBooks 2 will introduce textbooks natively on the tablet, and these are not the kinds of textbooks you’ve seen before. They’re more like what we’ve seen lately with digital magazines, in other words you have interactive textbooks with everything from quizzes to 3D models and videos embedded in the books. These new books will be made with the computer program iBooks Author, which is aimed as a easy tool to create these books. The books are being promised to cost $14.99 or less, though this might only be for high school textbooks, and naturally, in the US.
The international side of this is unclear at this point, but and textbook services in the past have always been massive failures on international levels – even with books in English. Outdated textbooks that are impossible to find in digital format has pretty much been the norm for the books I’ve used in the last few years, so it remains to be seen what impact this will really have. I also couldn’t help but notice that several features in the new iBooks app are direct ripoffs of features in other apps such as GoodReader, while it’s missing features like sharing highlights etc.
iTunes U is also getting more attention from now on, bringing other types of educational content to iOS users. Everything from the old lecture videos to curriculum and teacher info will be in iTunes U from now on, essentially making it a competitor to existing online classroom software. I’m not a fan of the system that Norwegian schools have used for this so far, but honestly I see quite a few problems with it being switched out with something that’s locked to one OS. That’s likely Apple’s plan though – give schools the infrastructure they need, but make it require that they buy everyone (or make everyone buy) an iPad.
As with everything Apple does, I’m sure this will be a success. As someone who’s been using an iPad in school for a year, however, I’m hesitant. As much as I want everything to be digital, I don’t want it locked down to Apple. Not just because being locked to Apple is bad for those who don’t like Apple products, but also because some of the most powerful educational tools on the iPad would be left out from this Apple software-only system. Give me the choice between an interactive, fun, modern textbook that’s locked down to Apple software and a normal, boring PDF file that I can use however I want and with what software I want, I’ll take the latter any day. In higher education especially, textbooks are after all more text than anything else, and being able to work with that text however you want is to me more important that having the illustrations animate.