First look at Apple’s new take on textbooks

I’ve embedded the Apple announcement on text books below. I’ve already heard some negative reactions in the twittiverse arguing that this is another examples of Apple’s ‘walled garden’ approach, and that locking schools and districts into Apple systems entirely is not a good move. It seems there’s other questions too about whether these textbooks will be available on other platforms (unlikely) or available in other formats (very unlikely).

Nevertheless, I’m quite excited about it, particularly from a writer’s perspective. Could I write my textbook and have it on the Apple bookstore without the intermediary of the publisher? Like musicians do now?  Could we break down the systems and empower good teachers and good teacher/authors and share their expertise more widely? And I’m definitely going to download the publication software.

But I have reservations, and they are more around the idea of the textbook in the first place. Maybe the textbook thing is bigger in the United States than here, or maybe because I’m an English teacher there isn’t generally the reliance on a textbook beyond the set novels and plays.

The video says they are going to change ‘one of the cornerstones of education: the textbook’. But is the textbook really that critical? How does this change learning? Or teaching? And, will replacing the traditional textbook with a ‘bells and whistles’ version change the classroom experience? Where are the collaborative tools, the feedback, the personalisation, the differentiation, the user-created textbook that we’ve talked about for some time.

There’s no doubt it will look pretty, it will save a lot of printing and heavy schoolbags for kids with iPads (oh yeah, how many is that right now?), they can be updated easily and they will be more engaging.  But every time I hear ‘engagement’ as an argument for new software and hardware I cringe a little. There’s got to be better reasons than that. We shall see!


The Kindle


Had my first touch and play with the Amazon Kindle eb0ok reader, now available in Australia. At first glance it’s smaller and lighter than I imagined, more the thickness of a magazine than a book, and lighter.  Not super cheap at $269AUD and the screen wasn’t quite as clear as I was hoping: I’d need to sit down and read a couple of chapters of a book to see what the reading experience actually was like.  There’s other objections too; black and white!, a lack of flexibility in the format that can’t read PDFs and needs a special format conversion to take something from your own PC to the kindle format.  For a traveller I imagine this would be a great device, light enough not to get you fined for excess baggage and still have plenty of books on hand.

But what about for the student? I’ve heard a few people arguing that the ebook reader might spell the end of textbooks, but haven’t we heard that before? Many of the textbooks I see around the place include a CD of the contents in PDF format, and lots of students have notebook computers, but I don’t see many of them replacing textbooks in this way. Or is that teacher choice rather than student choice? And, if a student does have a notebook computer what advantage is an ebook reader over reading the text on their own computer?

There’s still some way to go I think, but I can imaging that we’re going to see big progress in the technology in this area. Let’s hope that open standards prevail, that publishers can all come on board and real choice, including Australian small press publishers, is there for the readers.