Apple's electronic books are an excellent compliment to their tablets and to the needs of education.
Even before the computer revolution, the significant materials demands for teaching and learning were a bone of contention. For school administrations, textbooks and supplementary materials are a giant money pit; for teachers, generating endless handouts is a time-sink, and for students, organizing — and carrying — reams of xeroxed sheets and monumental textbooks is cumbersome, to say the least.
With the advent of slim and increasingly affordable electronic devices, the long-accepted burden of a paper-based education may no longer be necessary. In particular, iBooks hold the potential to not only make the educational system more streamlined, but also more exciting and effective. With a ten billion dollar textbook industry firmly in place, changes are sure to be gradual, but the rate at which classrooms are incorporating e-material into the curriculum is on the rise. So what are the advantages?
[Image from Apple's iBook Web Page]
The material basis of paper-based education can’t be overestimated, particularly when it comes to textbooks—and for the same reasons, iBooks in the classroom have a slew of advantages. To begin, educational materials are destined to become obsolete, almost by definition. That is, because every field of knowledge is a work in progress, textbooks are automatically updated annually, even among seemingly set-in-stone subjects such as math.
While the guaranteed depreciation of purchasing a textbook is comparable to driving a new car off the lot, the prospects for re-using old textbooks are abysmal. Since textbooks tend to be massive, this yearly turnover creates mountains of almost guaranteed paper waste, not to mention the cost. Whereas new textbooks can range from $80-150 each, the SRP for a professionally authored iBook is under $15.00 (much lower than most other electronic textbooks on the market today).
Leaving paper behind
By contrast, iBooks are totally free from these restrictions of time and space. To begin with, students don’t have to contend with the weight and volume of paper tomes, which can literally be backbreakers. Especially in younger people whose bones have yet to mature, carrying from 10 to 30% of one’s body weight, as is common among students, can lead to scoliosis and chronic lower back pain. On the other hand, even an iPhone can hold more iBooks than most students will read anytime soon, so students need not feel like beasts of academic burden.
The ease with which iBooks can be updated is also appealing to teachers and students. Not only do electronic files do away with having to forego hard copies, they have the added bonus of being able to be revised more often than once per year. For dynamically changing subjects such as technology and science, having a text that reflects real time innovations is a godsend.
The interactive revolution
With traditional textbooks, the beginning and end of interaction with the material amounts to using a highlighter. With iBooks, texts are coming alive in ways that engage students and teachers alike. On the side of the student, iBooks can make studying more effective than ever. Simply using the touchscreen to highlight key passages, students can create virtual notecards that their tablet or phone automatically collates.
The role teachers can play in the equation is more profound. Using Apple’s iBook Author program, teachers are able to create their own textbooks, ranging anywhere from a 3-page virtual handout to fully realized 300 page texts. And these compositions can include the full vocabulary of computer display, from animated graphics to video clips.
Of course, in some cases 3D graphics and animation are little more than bells and whistles to command the attention of easily distracted students—precisely the kind of fluff targeted by early critics of computer-based learning. But for some subjects, however, iBooks can be a revolutionary advantage. It’s hard to grasp architecture, for example, in two dimensions, so using 3D models in iBooks could deepen understanding in design or art courses.
The evolution from print to iBooks and other electronic files will be a gradual one, and it may never be total. For some kinds of assignments, a hard copy is still preferable, and some students may always prefer the format of a novel, say, over an eReader. Nevertheless, changes are imminent and sure to be profound. Teachers may be expected to be increasingly tech-savvy, for example, and generate their own materials. So far, the reception to iBooks in education has been largely positive. Given the industry’s strategy of courting users with constant adaption to consumer tastes, it may be up to teachers and students to shape the classroom of tomorrow.
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