Apple Gets into Textbook Publishing

When Steve Jobs launched the iPad two years ago he specifically referenced the impact it would have on how we interact -- touch -- what we once only read. He also referenced how it would change the way students learn and study.

This morning Apple made public its intention to start revolutionizing/disrupting the education sector with a project that partners the company with K-12 textbook publishers with a new iPad initiative called iBooks 2. Executives, appearing before a small crowd at a rented theater at the Guggenheim Museum showed off iBook 2 for Textbooks and iBook Author.

Most importantly the company announced agreements with four major textbook publishers responsible for 90% of the nation's textbooks. Books like Algebra 1, already used in thousands of high schools, will be available on iPad.

Apple execs said the current state of textbooks is "sad" because paper books are not searchable.

Education advocates may question the idea of spending thousands of dollars on digital devices just to provide students with searchable textbooks. Of course, some school systems don't have enough money to buy actual textbooks.

Another announcement is an improvement on an existing idea: iTunes University, which will allow professors to display lectures and hand out notes to students through iTunes.

"Books were invented in the 14th century" said Apple's Phil Schiller. "[The iPad] is good for social networking and games" acknowledges Schilller, "but you may not know there are thousands of education apps as well", calling attention to chemistry and models of the solar system.

While all attempts to improve education are laudable, technology has long failed to deliver on promises, says author Todd Openheimer who points out Thomas Edison promised "the motion will revolutionize our educational system and ... in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks."

The same was promised of radio.

Clifford Stoll, the author of "Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway," compares computers to the filmstrips of his youth. "We loved them because we didn't have to think for an hour, teachers loved them because they didn't have to teach, and parents loved them because it showed their schools were high-tech. But no learning happened."

Apple estimates 1.5 million iPads are already in use in education. Apple board member and former Vice President Al Gore apparently inspired Apple's plunge into e-textbooks. Gore released the app "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis" to more than a little praise (demo below).

Al Gore's Our Choice Guided Tour from Push Pop Press on Vimeo.

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