iBooks & iBook Author

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If you work in education did you notice anything different today? Does the world somehow feel new, changed, or slightly askew? Today was one of those days where things did in fact change. You may not have noticed it, but they did. Put a little star on your calendar and remark to yourself that today was in fact a date that in future years you will say, “I remember where I was sitting…”

Unless you have been living under a rock (or under a pile of work so large it feels like a rock), then you’ve probably heard something about an upcoming Apple announcement regarding textbooks. It happened this morning and it was a big deal. The world seemed to know it was big before it occurred. Even our local (and a little lost on timely events) news had a story on the predawn show.

Now, you might be thinking…”Why does this matter?” They’re textbooks…that’s not very thrilling. It matters because for the past few years many of us knew that digital textbooks were on the horizon. Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and Android devices are becoming increasingly more and more common. Kids (and their parents) are tired of 50 pound backpacks and all of us have experienced using outdated books as part of our learning materials. We also know that multimedia has the power to supplement text and images through the use of embedded presentations or interactive displays. However, there was one problem….there seemed to be no standard. To run a “digital textbook” what hardware do I need? Do I need wifi? Is it web-based? Will one operating system be better than another? How will we pay for the textbook or the device to utilize them?

While there still are many questions that remain to be answered, Apple’s announcement and their close work with national and international publishers is starting to cause the development of standards. As an 8th grade science teacher I think back to the lessons on planet or star formation when we talk about bits of dust and gas coalescing together and forming a mass – we’re at that point with digital textbooks.

So, what was the announcement?

Earlier this morning Apple announced the release of two different free tools to assist in the publication and dissemination of digital books – iBooks 2 and iBooks Author. This six minute video provides a great overview and is worth watching.

iBooks 2
Books 2 is actually an update to the iBooks app that allows users to purchase and download textbooks. Currently, the iBookstore contains eight high school level digital textbooks published by Pearson and McGraw-Hill, but Apple is working with Houghton-Mifflin, DK Learning, additional publishers to add more digital textbooks in the next few weeks. All of the textbooks in the iBookstore will be priced at $14.99 or less and contain text and images, as well as interactive features such as three-dimensional models and videos. Similar to apps, publishers will also be able to update their textbooks. Students or families will be able to purchase books directly or school sites can provide redemption codes to individual students. Apple is marketing the textbooks as resources that could be potentially owned by students, allowing them to easily add their own notes and highlighting. Now, naturally I wonder what this means common 5 year adoption models and compliance issues, such as the Willams Act in California. Once again, we’re only coalescing so far…questions still remain.

iBooks Author
The second tool Apple released today is a free computer-based application, iBooks Author, that can be installed on any computer running the latest Mac operating system, OSX Lion. With this tool anyone can easily produce digital textbooks that contain text, images, videos, and audio files. The creators can also add embeddable presentations and interactive widgets. Any book that is developed in iBooks Author can be published directly to the iBookstore or synced to iBooks on an iPad. Seriously, this is the tool that makes me giddy. Its free. Its easy to use and anyone can create a book! I said anyone! Teachers, students, parents, grandparents, families, friends. Granted, the focus of this blog is normally on educational tools, but iBook Author would also be a great application for creating and publishing your own cookbook, anthology, or baby book. Just imagine creating a baby book, incorporating text, audio, video, and images…and then giving everyone in the family a copy of this book at your child’s first birthday party. See? Game changer…So back to education…what does this all mean. Well, I think there are three areas where today’s announcement has fairly significant implications.

Future of Digital Texts
Since Apple is closely working with international textbook publishers, the textbooks currently available in the iBookstore shows were digital texts will be heading for current adoptions. Digital texts will be more than just a PDF or an interactive CD. They will be resources that provide curriculum materials through text, images, video, and interactive multimedia. Did I mention that anyone can produce one? To me this provides some standardization for open-source digital textbook initiatives, such as the one here in California.

Supplemental Resources
Through the use of iBooks Author, individual teachers, communities of educators, or districts will be able to easily construct digital texts to supplement or replace adopted materials. This will allow teachers to develop curriculum resources that could be easily customized to provide differentiated and personalized learning for all students. Similarly, through iBook Author departments could create multimedia training materials for staff members to utilize through the iBooks app.

Student Publishing
Since iBooks Author is a free download for all OSX Lion computers, districts can begin to make this a key component of their standard image. This would allow students to create and publish digital books that could become part of the school’s library or shared with other students and families at home. In districts, such as mine, iBook Author would directly support Writing Workshop and provide students a mechanism to publish multimodal texts for authentic audiences.

As I said at the beginning, things changed today. There are still many undiscovered and unanswered questions but our journey to digital textbooks and multimedia learning materials was forever altered by Apple’s announcement.

Joe

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