Most of the world probably didn’t get too excited about today’s Apple keynote event focused on education. Heck, most of the world probably didn’t even know Apple was hosting one.
But I was excited. Going into it, we knew they were focusing on education, that textbooks were probably coming to the iPad and that some love was finally going to be given to iTunes U. Then there was the pretty safe speculation that Apple was going to introduce a new app that would make it easier to create ebooks and upload them to the iBookstore.
All of those things happened. (For an overview of the announcements, watch the Apple In Education video.)
Textbooks and iBook
The first announcement was bringing textbooks to iBook.
Apple has partnered with publishers like McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson Education to develop textbooks for the iPad. Several textbooks are ready to go today, and others are in development and should be available soon.
Having buy-in from textbook publishers like this doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s a safe bet that it will change the way schools approach textbooks.
Watching the keynote, it’s clear that these textbooks clearly change what a “textbook” is. With textbooks via iBooks, you get:
- 3D images
- Interactive images
- Interactive galleries
- Highlighting and Note-Taking
- Study cards
Plus, you keep them, making it easy to refer back to them in future classes. (That is outstanding!) Not to mention, you know longer need a rolling backpack to carry around your textbooks. You just need an iPad.
Apple is focusing on K-12 textbooks for now. Too, they have worked with other publishers to create interactive educational books focused on different topics, like DK and E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.
Of course, to get publisher buy-in, Apple has to make it easy to create these textbooks. Apple is known for offering extremely powerful yet easy-to-use developer apps to build software. And these tools are generally free. You just have to sign up for a developer account to use them, and then, of course, you have to know how to code.
But with iBooks Author, it’s like creating a Keynote or Pages document. It gives virtually anyone the ability to create their own interactive iBooks.
These are not only meant for textbooks, either, which is exciting. Let’s say you write a book and use a print-on-demand service to sell it via Amazon and other online retailers. Now, to make sure you are reaching as wide of an audience as possible, you want to convert that into an ebook.
First, of course, for the Kindle. Amazon uses a proprietary format, so you pay $75 for the conversion and you are up and running.
For Apple — and just about every other ebook reader — you use the ePub format. Now this can be done with Adobe products, but it’s far from easy and they rarely look nice. So, you pay another $75 for another conversion type.
Enter iBooks Author. Now you can create ebooks that are well designed and easier to read — not to mention interactive, if you like. Pluse, iBooks Author will help you publish into the iBookstore, though I bet it’s not as easy as clicking a button and uploading the book.
Best of all, iBooks Author is free. Get iBooks Author for your Mac via the App Store.
Now I’m going to show my geekiness a bit. When I heard that iTunes U might get an overhaul, I got all excited. Until today, iTunes U was a section in the iTunes Store that offered a variety of college lecture series. They included some top-notch colleges, including several Ivy League institutions.
My favorite has been listening to lectures on Christian history and theology, mostly from the Reformed Theological Institute. It’s like auditing a class in college.
Today, however, Apple has put more of a spotlight on iTunes U. First, they have created an iTunes U app that brings all the content together in one place. Secondly, they are making it easier for educators to offer complete course materials — books, notes, videos, syllabus, assignments, etc. — via iTunes U.
This has the potential to really change distance learning, adult education and current online educational offerings. As someone who loves to learn and would gladly be a professional student if I had an endless source of income, I’m excited about what this could hold for the future.
Technology and Liberal Arts
I remember when Steve Jobs stood on stage in 2011 to introduce the iPad 2 and went into great detail about what it means to stand at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. It was a striking moment, and it has stuck with me ever since.
Being a graduate of a liberal arts school, I’m enamored with this type of “holistic” approach to education. We wrote essays in Calculus 3, for goodness sake! We didn’t have English classes; we had core courses that I always called “required electives”. You had to take a certain amount of them to satisfy your English requirements, but you got to choose from a diverse offering of topics.
For me, that idea of standing at the intersection of liberal arts and technology succinctly sums up my love of Apple products. They are a pleasure to use. They have a distinct personality. They are designed with such attention to detail that every line on each piece of hardware and every pixel of every UI design has a clear and thoughtful rationale for the way it is.
But I use this technology as a communications consultant, a political consultant, in picking and selling vintage items, for writing and for learning.
And that’s the key with today’s keynote. Technology should not be reserved for writing papers in college and then as utilitarian tools for the “real world”. We can learn much, much more with tools that allow you a closer, more realistic, more intimate look at the topics at hand.
Furthermore, you can reach more people with tools like what Apple announced today. There is the price, first off. Think about textbooks for $15, and you own them for life — complete with updates.
Not to mention, we all know that different people learn in different ways. One of the hardest things for many people is to sit and learn from a textbook. It’s a rote approach to knowledge. But not anymore. With this technology, textbooks come alive.
It has been reported that Steve Jobs was heavily involved in this project, that it was one of his last passions at the company. That should be no surprise. Apple has always worked closely with schools to provide computers and other technology.
With the iPad and Apple’s latest education project, Jobs wanted knowledge to be easily accessible to everyone. He wanted everyone to have the chance to stand at the intersection of technology and liberal arts.
In 20 years, we may well judge Steve Jobs not only as a brilliant technologist but also as a great contributor to education. That was clearly his desire — to offer a new way of learning. And that is something that we should all value.