With all our technology, isn’t it amazing that paper textbooks survive? Heavy, clunky, used and often abused, the traditional textbook won’t likely be missed once it’s replaced by ed tech that’s easier on the back. And if Apple has anything to say about it, the days of heavy paper textbooks are numbered.
Apple’s new textbook initiative, announced last week to great fanfare at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, seems to be an early hit. More than 350,000 textbooks were downloaded from the company’s iBooks Store within the first three days of availability, according to Global Equities Research, which monitors iBook sales. iBooks Author, Apple’s free textbook-creation tool, was downloaded over 90,000 times over the same period.
Can Apple alter the course of education the way it changed the face of music and portable technology? “Apple executives said today’s textbooks weren’t adequate teaching tools as technology had raced ahead. Instead, textbooks should be portable, searchable and easy to update, they said, demonstrating the ability to load, close and manipulate diagrams and video content by pinching your fingers,” reported The Wall Street Journal from New York.
Textbooks are expected to cost $14.99 or less on iBooks. The service now features several high school-level titles with more coming soon. Apple says that it expects textbooks to be available for just about every subject and level of academic education.
The Wall Street Journal reports that about 6% of education textbook sales will be digital this year, up from 3% in 2011, according to textbook distributor MBS Direct Digital. These figures, spurred on by Apple’s textbook initiative, are expected to rise to more than 50% by 2020.
This isn’t the first time Apple has attempted to become a major player in education technology, but now may be the perfect time for it to seize the day. Apple claims that educational institutions are already using 1.5 million iPad tablet computers. If iPad establishes itself as the go-to educational tool in the U.S., it could mean prolonged dominance in the highly competitive tablet market.
Some have analyzed the new buying models that would have to be established in order for Apple’s textbook initiative to be viable over the long term. And at least one critic, ZD Net’s James Kendrick, thinks Apple’s textbook program will never work. “Apple has created a system that cannot fly in a world where everything must be accounted for to the penny, and school districts are trying to stretch budgets to the limit. The system pays for everything, but the end user/student “buys” it from Apple. This will not fly on any level, as it means that purchased textbooks cannot be reused from year to year. They ‘belong’ to the individual student, forever.”
Another potential problem could be the price of the devices themselves. Schools aren’t exactly flush with cash these days and Apple sells iPads to schools for close to their regular retail price. The company line is that iPads are already very affordable at $500, which new models start at.
Because of this, some say it will be a while yet before students use tablets as textbooks instead of paper–old-fashioned maybe, but reliable for centuries. Time’s Kayla Webley writes that, “without a program to offer iPads at discounted rates to students, teachers and schools — which Apple conveniently left out of its announcement — in reality most students will still be using the same old textbooks for years to come. In the past few years since their debut, some school districts have indeed been able to buy iPads for all their students, but those districts are still in the vast minority.”
Which brings up the sticky problem of inequality and the prospect of more affluent school districts pulling even further ahead in the app gap.
Nevertheless, it may be time for school boards across the world to finally embrace the technology shaping our daily lives. If the goal is to engage students, tablet textbooks may very well be the way to go. After all, sometimes you do get what you pay for.
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Image source: Vancouver Sun