The Apple tablet is a non-starter in Ed without content

The Apple tablet is a non-starter in Ed without content

Summary: I know...it's the Apple rumor mill hard at work. The blogosphere is and has been abuzz with news of an upcoming uber-Touch from Apple and a new storm of news hit the Net today with the Financial Times announcement of some degree of rumor confirmation and a tablet, for sure (really) this fall.

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I know...it's the Apple rumor mill hard at work. The blogosphere is and has been abuzz with news of an upcoming uber-Touch from Apple and a new storm of news hit the Net today with the Financial Times announcement of some degree of rumor confirmation and a tablet, for sure (really) this fall.

I can see why people get excited about an Apple tablet. The iPod Touch is cool, no matter what you say about Apple. Make it bigger and price it below an entry-level MacBook? That has to be good, right? And it probably will be. Wherever we stand on the MacBook fanboy spectrum, it's hard not to admit that Apple makes cool products and a multitouch tablet at an almost-reasonable price would be among the coolest.

I have two words for you: Electronic Textbooks. Here's a few more: brilliant, high-resolution color, multitouch interactivity, annotation and storage, EVDO Internet connectivity. You get the point, of course. This has the potential to be a real game-changer in the classroom, whether K-12 or post-secondary. No more laptop walls, but rather interactive versions of texts, supplemental materials, notes, and web access in a portable, durable package; this is the promise of an Apple tablet in education.

This is also what is known as an empty promise. While Apple talks "Cocktails" to convince people that they really should buy entire albums from their iTunes store, complete with large liner notes that will surely have some very cool multitouch navigation and will look amazing when people are sitting in bean bag chairs listening to "albums" together, I can barely get a PDF of many textbooks.

No matter how cool this new tablet ends up being, without smart educational content, it's the last thing I want to see in a classroom. I can view those PDFs (if they exist) on a $200 netbook. I want Apple to announce that it has major textbook publishers on board posting fully interactive versions of their textbooks to the iTunes store, not that media companies are making bigger and better liner notes that will look pretty on a 10" screen. When Houghton-Mifflin and Harcourt and Pearson start developing for multitouch, then we can talk. Until then, the new tablet about which the Financial Times (and everyone else's brother) is talking can stay in a bedroom with a lava lamp and said bean bag chair.

Topics: Laptops, Apple, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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45 comments
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  • EVDO Internet connectivity??

    EV-DO really?
    With that only it's a pretty restricted market...there are not many
    countries were it will work...

    Better GSM+EDGE+HSPA&HSPA+ /WCDMA (2G -> 2.5G -> 3G -> 3.5G
    etc. support).

    CDMA has no longer term future on this planet...
    Eeem
    • Silly rabbit ....

      This is the only inhabitable part of the planet.
      If Apples says AT&T was good, Verizon will be better!
      kd5auq
    • GSM is dead. CDMA will be the only standard.

      "CDMA has no longer term future on this planet..."

      Sorry, but you are just flat out mistaken. GSM is based on the old,
      crappy, boat anchor TDMA technology. GSM will be tranistioning to
      their 3.5G/4G technology based on UMTS. Verizon will be
      transitioning to 4g, as well, using LTE. And guess what? technology-
      wise, LTE=UMTS=WCDMA=CDMA.

      Qualcomm, the inventor of CDMA, is the major patent holder in
      WCDMA technologies. Far from being dead, everyone is moving to
      CDMA, no matter what they want to call it.
      The names are just window dressing. It will all be CDMA underneath.
      SpiritusInMachina
    • In the classroom

      you would have a free Wifi network.

      CDMA was the better route but Europe killed it because they did not want to pay such high royalties to Qualcomm. They ended up paying more for an inferior WCDMA standard, but the foolish world followed them, and we are stuck with it.
      jorjitop
  • RE: The Apple tablet is a non-starter in Ed without content

    The quickest way to get the education publishers on board
    is to make sure Stanza and similar run on the device, and
    then sell mainstream ebooks through the app store with no
    DRM. O'Reilly and others in publishing who see DRM as a
    mistake would be in there in a flash and Amazon would
    have serious competition. Education publishers would have
    little choice but to follow.
    Old Publisher
  • RE: The Apple tablet is a non-starter in Ed without content

    Since content for most K-12 Education books is driven
    by the Texas and California markets, which effectively
    dictate content for the remainder of the 48 states,
    anything which liberates the "industry" from this
    dominance is welcome. With eBooks, there might actually
    be localized versions of the same textbook, readily modified
    (easily) to eliminate Creationism, homophobia, racism,
    selective history, etc., approved by local school boards, not a unified
    state selection committee.
    Since the Apps industry works pretty well for the iPhone
    and Touch, I suspect that similar subscription
    entrepreneurism will be fostered in educational publishing.

    Besides, which comes first: the Technology, or the
    Content/Software? Imagine Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs
    saying, "Gosh, why should we build a personal computer
    since there aren't any programs to run on it?"
    Coco Pazzo
    • Double-edged swords

      "With eBooks, there might actually
      be localized versions of the same textbook, readily modified
      (easily) to eliminate Creationism, homophobia, racism,
      selective history, etc., approved by local school boards, not a unified
      state selection committee."

      The problem is that this can go both ways. Local school boards, like
      the idiots in Dover, can just as easily cut and past content from "Of
      Pandas and People" into legitimate science texts. Nothing will stop the
      Cdesign Proponentsists (not a typo, Google if you need clarification)
      from their anti-knowledge agenda. This could also include material
      ensconcing homophobia, social Darwinism, etc..
      The only avenue to stop that wold be outright censorship, which has
      its own systemic problems.

      Brave New World, indeed.
      SpiritusInMachina
  • RE: The Apple tablet is a non-starter in Ed without content

    Yes and who would pay to download music? Yes and who would buy a phone that cost 3 or 4 times as much as other phones? Yes and who would buy laptop computers that cost twice as much as similar Vista laptops? Gee I wonder who?
    Shediac
    • Who indeed

      "Yes and who would pay to download music?"

      People who don't care about sound quality.

      "Yes and who would buy a phone that cost 3 or 4 times as much as
      other phones?"

      People who buy things like the Palm pre for $400, or one of the
      various Androids. Why, which phone did you mean?

      "Yes and who would buy laptop computers that cost twice as much as
      similar Vista laptops?"

      Certainly not people who bought either the macbook or macbook pro,
      both of which are very price competitive with similarly equipped
      Windows laptops.

      "Gee I wonder who?"

      So do I.
      SpiritusInMachina
  • Original Sources?`

    Why not train teachers to teach from original sources? The internet has many problems, but lack of content is not one of them. What the internet does require is a different set of skills to find appropriate content and then present it as a lesson to students.

    We don't have to wait for the paper-and-glue publishers to get around to giving us content, only to then subject us to their monopolistic business model.

    The internet has plenty of content for schools -- we just have to get smarter about how we use it. An Apple tablet could be part of a new paradigm about how to use original-source, internet-based content in schools.
    cwgmpls
    • Yes, but then real ideas might creep in

      And students might accidentally start thinking for themselves.

      No, original sources are too dangerous. Best to stay with Texas-
      approved textbooks that have had all intelligence surgically removed.
      Robin Harris
    • Original sources aren't always helpful for students

      Original sources may be fine for English Lit and American History, but for everything else they can either be too complex for underclassmen, in a different language, or simply too bizarre for general consumption.

      For example, Ludwig Boltzmann, one of the early founders of statistical thermodynamics, did all of his work in a bizarre form of German, using very advanced language and mathematical concepts. I challenge anyone without a Ph.D. in Physics and German language history to understand his original works.

      Further, often times original works aren't particularly enlightening. How do we know what we do about ancient Rome? We put together pieces from documents, scriptures, personal accounts, relics, and paintings. These original sources by themselves don't say much, but after decades of work and study from scholars they form a story and that is what the textbook conveys.
      ModernMech
      • that is what teachers are for

        Sure, most original sources have to be distilled and organized in some way before they are ready for student consumption. That is the additional skill set I am talking about, that I think could easily be provided by teachers.

        A teacher could create a lesson about the history of ancient Rome, based on documents, scriptures, personal accounts, relics, and paintings that are already available on the internet. Once the teacher has created that lesson, they could freely share it with other teachers around the world.

        Teachers are more than capable of creating lesson plans within their area of expertise. That is why they study education. We just need to set them free on the internet and the lessons will follow.
        cwgmpls
        • I like you, you make me LAUGH!!!

          The civil war was fought to keep England from buying cotton directly from the state of Georgia!!
          The christian church caused the fall of Rome!!
          The speed of sound is the universal constant!!
          The moon is a chunk of the planet that used to orbit between Mars and Jupiter!!
          A dog/cat hybrid is what the Tasmanian Devil was!!
          The moon landing was shot on a soundstage!!
          These are all things teachers have taught my children as "FACTS" over the past 7 years. Just imagine what our children will be taught as "FACTS" when we start depending on teachers to creat custom textbooks and lessons with Wikipedia and Google as their sources.
          Whaa Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!!!
          Scubajrr
    • Re: Original Sources?

      Great suggestion...it might result in the fulfillment of the old maxim, "Those who teach learn twice."
      rising4air
  • RE: The Apple tablet is a non-starter in Ed without content

    Hmmmmmmm, more 1990's thinking applied to education. Who
    would have thought of 1.5 billion app downloads in one
    year. So far educationists have not demonstrated an
    ability to break out of the "accepted" thinking about
    new-media instructional development. Give us an break
    away delivery system and the courseware will follow.
    Don't throw cold water on something just because it
    doesn't fit into your narrowly defined preconceptions.
    wmrfisher
  • If this tablet is going to be in similar shape

    to the iPod and not like the typical Tablet PC, and is lightweight like an iPod touch, this will be leaps and bounds better for reading a PDF over a net book, as how does someone typically read things? In their hands like a newspaper, it makes it more tangible like a kindle.

    Of course it remains to be seen which of their OS's will power it. Will it be OSX or iPhone OS? Either way both would be great. My guessing would lean toward iPhone OS but OSX would be equally cool. And hopefully a USB interface for physical keyboard

    Edit: or bluetooth compatibility for bluetooth keyboards.
    xXSpeedzXx
  • RE: The Apple tablet is a non-starter in Ed without content

    I don't know how the tablet will do. But someone should start a museum of people who bet against Apple.

    There are already enough exhibits to fill a quite-sizable wing.
    mypitts2
  • RE: The Apple tablet is a non-starter in Ed without content

    The digital textbook idea has merits but is a long, long way off from being realized. Schools are beginning to grapple with digital whiteboards which align with technology content in a presentation format - more akin to a traditional teacher/student setting. Of course, each publisher you mention has to create/revise digital content to be compatible with the smartboards currently available on the market, and as I'm sure you're aware - that can take a while.

    The paper industry will surely rebel at this one - these three publishers alone account for somewhere close to a million tons of paper on an annualized basis. Their simplest argument so far is that kids are destructive and the technology will have to be remarkably durable to withstand whatever they can throw at it, whereas textbooks last literally for years.

    One other thing, Apple will have a harder time with this one due to existing technology infrastructure in schools being predominantly PC oriented.
    VinoG
    • One compatibility issue...

      "One other thing, Apple will have a harder time with this one due to existing technology infrastructure in schools being predominantly PC oriented."

      OSX plays happily on a 'PC' network as TCP/IP has nothing to do with MS, it even uses Windows print & file servers though if you want to save on the CALs you can switch to OSX for those services. The real incompatibility is that of mindset & yes, that'll need to be changed.

      McD
      McDaveH