Apple’s Education Event: Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?
Apple’s education-focused event held today in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City is over and it’s now time to take stock of what the company announced. What we saw today was almost exactly as we expected, some of the more nuanced details such as application names and such were off the mark but beyond that we saw nothing we didn’t expect and got everything we did.
Phil Schiller got up on stage and immediately began talking about how education is deep within Apple’s DNA and the iPad is starting to show that it can be a great tool for helping children learn. Schiller said that Apple constantly hears from teachers and parents about how the iPad is with special needs children.
There are already 1.5 million iPads within the U.S. education system, some 1,000 of them in one-to-one deployment. There are also over 20,000 education and learnings apps in the App Store for the iPad.
Apple is looking to further its involvement with education, Schiller paid particular attention to improving education for children of the U.S. noting that high school students in the U.S. that enter as freshman have only a 70 percent chance of graduating with that dropping closer to 60 percent in urban areas.
Schiller spent the hour long presentation laying out two initiatives to get iPads in the hands of more students to aid in their learning.
The first and most notable initiative is that Apple, as expected, is to enter the digital textbook market. With the release of iBooks 2 as a free download from the App Store for iPhone and iPad, students can now download textbooks from the iBookstore. These textbooks are highly interactive containing video, photos, and interactive diagrams but with iBooks 2 notation and highlighting has taken a big leap forward including a new feature allowing flash cards to be automatically made from notes.
To create these textbooks and interactive books (note that Apple never uses the term eBook) Apple has released for free via the Mac App Store a new application called iBooks Author. Looking like a cross between Pages and Keynote, iBooks author allows anyone to start creating a book or textbook. As you’d expect iBooks Author includes a number of templates and has Apple’s ease of use feel about it; elements snap in place, multimedia content is easy to insert and so on.
From the help file in iBooks Author here is the full list content that can be included:
- Gallery: Add a sequence of images your readers can swipe through, each with its own custom caption.
- Media: Add a movie or audio file readers can play.
- Review: Add a sequence of interactive multiple-choice or drag-to-target questions.
- Keynote: Add a Keynote presentation (exported as HTML).
- Interactive image: Use labels (sometimes called callouts), panning, and zooming to provide detailed information about specific parts of a graphic.
- 3D: Add a 3D COLLADA (.dae) file readers can rotate.
- HTML: Add a Dashboard widget (.wdgt).
Authors can publish their books or textbooks straight to the iBookstore from iBooks Author or can be previewed on the iPad without publication. Apple also says that you can distribute the book in “iBooks format” which doesn’t look like it is any form of recognised standard like ePub. A more detailed FAQ on publishing has been posted by Apple.
Of course iBooks 2 and all these changes and aspirations for education mean nothing without actual textbook makers being on board. Apple has as you’d expect delivered a handful of partners who have begun making textbooks and distributing them through the iBookstore.
There are already eight of these textbooks available for free on the iBookstore from Pearson, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, DK Publishing, and E.O. Wilson. With these textbooks containing long video and impressive iteractive 3D diagrams they are of course large in size, the smallest of the current available textbooks Pearson’s Environmental Science weighs in at 793MB and Pearson’s Biology is an astonishing 2.77GB.
Apple says that textbooks will be priced from $14.99 or less and in fact imposes this price as the upper limit for self-publishers too.
The transparent plan from Apple today is to help improve the education of children by encouraging the creation of more engaging and interactive learning tools in the form of textbooks. Of course with these iPads in the classroom other tools will be at the fingertips of those students. But let’s not forget that Apple requires to make money to survive as a company, whilst it is taking the 30% cut from the sales of textbooks on the iBookstore the more veiled tactic here is to sell more iPads into education.
The critics have of course come out all guns blazing, arguing that the price of iPad is prohibitive for widespread use, Joshua Schell over at Macgasm claims that they’ll only end up in “rich white kid schools”. Apple clearly thinks different, Schiller told The Verge that it could work out favourably for schools if weighed against the cost of buying textbooks. Apple already offers volume purchase pricing of hardware which isn’t open disclosed to the public.
From my point of view Apple will need to work hard at this, it’s in a real precarious position where these textbooks will end up in the hands of a few thousand students at a handful of schools and be unable to penetrate the mainstream U.S. education system. Apple will need to keep the authoring software as up-to-date as possible and try and bring on more publishers and constantly encourage them to publish their latest textbooks and keep the pricing low.
The incentive is there for schools but the initial outlay from the district education board will need sweetening by Apple for sure.
The focus of Apple’s first education initiative was K-12 (primary and secondary education), the second moved onto higher levels and brought iTunes U back into the spotlight.
Apple has made available an iTunes U app for iPad and iPhone and iPod touch giving access to the huge educational resources from the likes of Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, Oxford and Stanford. Apple also announced that K-12 institutions can now begin distributing their content through iTunes U.
iTunes U allows access to books, presentations, lectures and assignment lists as well as having built-in push notifications for the latest class information.
As Schiller said right at the start of today’s event, education is in Apple’s DNA. Ever since the 1980s Apple has been pushing computing in schools and encouraging mass deployment of Macs to all age groups. With this latest move Apple hopes to use its experience of working with content partners and having excellent tools to distribute textbooks as easily as it distributes billions of apps and music downloads.
The simplicity that iBooks Author brings to teachers and lecturers to create their own custom textbooks for their classes empowers the teacher who knows the students best rather than a nationwide system that tries to cater for the majority.
You can watch today’s Apple event online.