This morning, as millions tuned into Twitter and Live Blog feeds Apple executives made two major announcements that, as we mentioned earlier this week, have the potential to greatly impact education. A few of us at the Saylor offices were glued to Time’s Live Blog feed this morning and one of Saylor’s staff members even waited eagerly outside the doors of the Guggenheim to hear just what Apple was releasing on this cold, wintery morning.
And, big releases they were! Three in total, in fact. The first two announcements centered on changing the textbooks that we know today. Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, kicked off the conference by looking at what’s wrong with the educational system in the United States: kids are often bored and unstimulated; and teachers are often tied to standardized testing, often forgoing innovative teaching methods. As a result, U.S. students are lagging behind other countries, falling to 17th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in math.
As a way to stimulate students and encourage teachers to be innovative in their teaching methods – and not to mention, save crumbling school districts huge amounts of money – Schiller introduced iBooks 2 and iBooks Author as complimentary ways to change the way textbooks are used – and created.
iBooks 2, demoed by Roger Rosner, Apple’s Vice President of Productivity and Software, features animated 3-D models, rotatable text, the ability for students to get glossary definitions by a simple touch, interactive review questions, highlighting and note-taking technologies, and study cards – all in one textbook! Books can be downloaded to an iPad where students will own them forever. These textbooks will be in a new section of Apple’s App Store, via the free iBook 2 app. Apple is starting with high school texts (with the approval of Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin), all of which will be available for $14.99 or less.
iBooks Author app – also free – is Apple’s solution to the difficult process involved in creating books. This innovative app allows authors to write in the app or drag in word or pages files, which then auto-format. A gallery of widgets allows educators to introduce interactivity into their texts. We’ve already started playing around with iBooks Author and are extremely excited by its potential.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Service, made Apple’s final announcement, which was (…drum roll….) a new and improved iTunes U. iTunes U, which has been immensely popular with 500,000 materials hosted and over 7,000,000,000 downloads, has greatly impacted individual access to high-quality education. Changes are abound with the revamped iTunes U, including: an iPad app with which teachers can post notes, give assignments, and notify students; the ability to include texts with videos; and the capacity to download and stream videos. In addition, K-12 institutions can now sign up for this version of iTunes U, which will be available for free in 123 countries.
Saylor’s Thoughts On The New Apps
Overall, Saylor couldn’t be more excited about these developments. As you know, our mission is to make education free to anyone who desires it, and these steps are only driving down the costs to an education. There are, of course, some issues and questions that arose for us during the presentation. For example, some initial comments I read on the Time Live Blog indicated that the file size for one e-book was quite large – 2.77 GB. That’s pretty big, when you’re talking about only 16 GB of space for some iPad users. Other questions and potential issues worth mentioning include the lack of a social component on the new iTextbooks, the point that these texts are only accessible on iPads with the latest iOS, and the fact that the authoring software with iBook Author can only be utilized on Macs. And, quite potentially the biggest glaring issue from our perspective is Apple’s silence on the licensing issue. How will these materials be licensed? And who will be policing to ensure that educators include only non-copyrighted materials when creating textbooks in iBook Author? We’ll be on the lookout for answers to these questions and issues.
How We Might Use These New Tools
Issues and questions aside, Saylor is extremely excited by the potential these tools have to further our work and make education freely available to all. Because books created using the iBook Author app can be exported as a PDF, we’re hopeful that this tool will be helpful for textbook authors (and potential textbook authors) who want to submit their work to our Open Textbook Challenge. Looking to submit a text but having a difficult time putting your work together? Then, definitely be sure to download this free app!
And, to skirt around the licensing issue I mentioned earlier, what if teachers had access to a reserve of Open Educational Resources that they could simply drag and drop into iBook Author to create a free text for their class? Luckily for those teachers, we’re creating just that with Saylor’s Media Library, which will catalogue countless free resources beginning in Spring 2012.