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New Apple Offerings Could Retool Education

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jan 20, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Apple's release of some new tools for the education market has the potential to transform both the teaching and learning experiences in the nation's schools, according to an academic at the forefront of bringing technology to the college campus.

New Apple Offerings Could Retool Education

At a press conference held Thursday at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Apple announced a new iBooks 2 app for buying electronic textbooks for US$15 or less, a tool for creating textbooks called "iBooks Author," and a new app for its iTunes U offering.

"This will be transformational for education," William Rankin, director of Educational Innovation at Abilene Christian University (ACU), told MacNewsWorld. ACU was one of the first schools in the world to issue iOS devices, such as the iPhone and iPad, to its students as standard fare.

Hyper-Local Curriculum

Apple's free iBooks Author, in particular, will have a powerful impact on future learning, according to Rankin. "It will be massive as a transformational tool," he said.

"It puts my students on the same level as the largest academic publisher because it gives them access to a free tool that allows them to create remarkably sophisticated digital objects or books," he asserted.

In the past, sophisticated teams of programmers and media experts built these kinds of texts, he explained. That need not be necessary in the future. What Garage Band did for music, iBooks Author will do for books, he analogized.

In addition, Author can provide a way to hyper-localize education, according to Eric Frank, president of Flat World Knowledge, an "Open Source" electronic textboook publisher. "You have teachers who have excellent ideas, who have gathered resources in some loose folder over the years," he explained to MacNewsWorld.

"Now, all of a sudden," he continued, "they have a tool available for them for creative expression, where they can take those things, put them together and deliver them to their students as a new learning tool that they wouldn't have otherwise had access to."

"You're creating a pipeline of new content that's highly localized and relevant to local curriculum," he observed. "That's good for both teachers and students."

Better Cloud U

Students and teachers can also benefit from the iTunes U app, Frank added. With the app, teachers can manage their courses online, manipulating course components such as lectures, assignments, books, quizzes and syllabuses.

Before the app, for most teachers, iTunes U was just a place to store stuff in the cloud where students could look at if they wanted to, Frank explained. "Now a teacher can not only stick files up there, but create some richer content for their students," he said.

Along with the tools Apple introduced Thursday, it also announced that three major textbook publishers -- Pearson, McGraw Hill and Moughton Mifflin Harcourt, which together own 90 percent of the text book market -- would be selling some of their high school offerings in the new iBooks 2 store for $15 or less.

Music Nightmare With Textbooks

While $15 for a textbook that typically costs $75 sounds like good deal, it has some implications for students, school systems and publishers.

Although college students are used to buying their own books, public high school students are not. What's likely to happen is the school system will buy the hardware and books to load on it. That way it could reuse both over a number of years. In that scenario, though, the publisher will take a hit because it's collecting $15 where it used to collect $75.

"It leaves the publisher without enough money to sustain the relationship,"Frank said. "It will be much more detrimental than iTunes was to the music industry."

"If the school purchases a book one time for $15 and uses it over and over again, the publisher will lose so much money that it will pull out of the deal because it isn't sustainable," he added.

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