The Evolution of Textbooks
Will Apple's iBook permanently alter the $8 billion textbook market?
Soon after Apple executives finished announcing the debut of interactive textbooks for the iPad, and a free authoring app to create them, at a gathering at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in January, Basil Kolani took to his e-mail.
Kolani, director of information services and chair of the technology department at the Dwight School, just across Central Park, sent a message to the entire faculty, telling them their world was about to change. "I said, ‘Hey, here's what was just announced. Who's interested in giving this a shot?' And by the end of the day, 20 of our faculty said, ‘When can we do this?'"
Within two weeks, fifth graders at the preK-12 private school were using iBooks Author, which can be downloaded from the Mac App Store, to create digital storybooks. A science teacher has already used it to make several chapters of his own textbook, which, Kolani says, "looks phenomenal."
Kolani's excitement-and his prediction of seismic change in education-seems warranted. For example, you can preview the opening chapter of E. O. Wilson's Life on Earth, an interactive textbook being put together by a team of writers, scientists, and new-media designers led by the renowned biologist himself.
The textbook's video introduction, narrated by Wilson, opens with a sunrise, then takes the reader over a snowy ridge and across a savanna before cutting to a shot of Wilson, tweezers in hand, capturing a few ants in the field for study. The video gives way to pages of text interspersed with interactive elements: close-ups of moving nucleic acids, proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates; a discourse by Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer in cell division. When it's time to take notes, students can highlight sentences and turn them into flash cards with a click of a button. Another click and they can see just their flash cards, arranged for easy review.
What $14.99 Means
Life on Earth, which is being designed from the ground up (using iBooks Author) to take full advantage of the interactive digital medium, won't be completed until 2014. So to a certain extent, it represents a peek at the textbook of the future-albeit the very near future. Perhaps just as exciting for administrators, nine textbooks from McGraw-Hill and Pearson (including such venerable titles as Biology, Geometry, and Algebra 1) are already available for purchase as iBooks at the eye-opening price of $14.99. During the presentation, Apple's executives said that "most" of the educational titles in the iBookstore will be offered at that price or less. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, also on board, says its first titles will be hitting the iBookstore shelves soon.)
For superintendents, $14.99 for an interactive textbook is a "game changer," says Edward Salinas, superintendent of Plainedge Schools in North Massapequa, New York. "Going from $80 to $150 a textbook down to $14.99 for an interactive learning experience, I mean, you can't say no."
The early returns agree. In the first three days after the iBooks' release, Apple sold 350,000 textbooks, according to a firm that tracks iBook sales, and 90,000 users downloaded iBooks Author. Buying a new textbook could become as simple as buying the latest record from Adele-and the $8 billion textbook market may never be the same.
With Apple's aggressive pricing on textbooks, Salinas adds, a district would be able to afford the student iPads on which to run them. "When you see the $14.99 price, you say to yourself, ‘I can justify it,' because a class with five books at $80 each, after year one, the device pays for itself while providing a multimedia-rich experience no textbook can match."
Salinas and Dan Brenner, superintendent of Roslyn Public Schools, also in New York, are equally interested in the potential of iBooks Author to empower teachers to create their own materials and textbooks. In a district like Roslyn, where instructors already generate much of their own material, "the opportunity to be able to put it into a logical warehouse-their own textbook-and be able to import meaningful audio, video, and original documents into that is the next real step in transforming what we do," Brenner says.
Brenner expects to have an iPad in the hands of every student in his high school in two years, and he's preparing his teachers accordingly. "We're spending an enormous amount of time on professional development for the teachers to create an environment that allows them to continually push for new, innovative ways to deliver instruction."
Opening Up the Textbook
During the announcement at the Guggenheim, Roger Rosner, Apple's vice president of productivity applications, showed off the ease with which iBooks Author creates texts by using it to demonstrate how parts of Wilson's book were built. Once a book is completed, a teacher can e-mail it to his or her students, upload it to iTunes U, where students can access it for free, or sell it in the iBookstore (subject to Apple's approval).
For Kolani, the potential is limitless. "I was already thinking, ‘How could we use this to make a really dynamic yearbook?'" he says. "Moving forward, I'd have to imagine the app-ification: how we'll use computers. A Web-based yearbook is great. Now what happens when the Dwight Yearbook for 2013 is an app or a book that I can download from the iBookstore whenever I want to?"
With iBooks Author, Kolani speculates that publishers will be able to release regional editions of textbooks, so specifications required by one state wouldn't necessarily affect the content in other states. "This should free up different versions," he says. "Or if I buy this in California, I'm going to get California-specific stuff in there, too."
Lisa O'Masta, vice president of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at McGraw-Hill Education, says she is excited about adding the format to the range of ways the publisher's books are distributed. O'Masta points out a key advantage an iBook textbook has over online material: Since it resides on the iPad, it doesn't require Internet access to use. "The question we probably get most is, ‘What happens when the Internet goes down?'" O'Masta says. "That's why even in this day and age, teachers are still using CDs-because they can't always count on the infrastructure of their own school systems."
McGraw-Hill expects to have five more iBook textbooks available by fall. So far, its iBooks offerings consist of titles the company already offers in other formats. O'Masta says the publisher will continue to consult with schools as it develops new books: "We will ask, What are their expectations and how have we met them? How have we not? And how can we continue to improve and help to meet their needs, whether it's an iPad, or whether it's through a cloud or through a traditional textbook, which some teachers still really like."
Never Out of Date?
One particular advantage of digital textbooks-that they can be kept up to date-would seem to present a challenge to publishers, who have long been accustomed to multiyear revision cycles. But a spokesperson for McGraw-Hill notes that the company already has a wide range of digital offerings, and that it is well prepared to make regular updates to its iBook textbooks.
The prospect of an always-up-to-date textbook is particularly exciting for Kolani. "We're living in an age where I can go online right now and edit a Wikipedia article, and now the same thing is coming to the next evolution of the book," he says. "A teacher no longer has to say to his students, ‘Your book says there are nine planets, but we just found out there are eight.' Now I can count on my first grader not stumbling across a book that still refers to Pluto as a planet."
Interactive textbooks also provide plenty of stimulation, which should hold the attention of a generation weaned on Facebook and video games, though Salinas thinks their appeal goes deeper than that. "You always hear about kids' need to be entertained," he says. "I haven't really experienced that. The real value is being able to bring that multimedia experience to the child. You can't have auditory learning or visual learning with print media. So why not be looking at the multiple intelligences and reaching kids in the way that they learn?"