Apple 'reinvents' textbook; e-texts already making inroads

Apple unviels iBooks 2, intended to digitize textbooks. Initiatives from major textbook publishers and IT vendors are already underway at major universities.

Technology has been disrupting higher and secondary education significantly in recent years, from low-cost or free online courses to digital course materials. Now, another costly aspect of education -- textbooks -- is ripe for a technology makeover.

This week, in a press conference and special event, Apple unveiled its "new textbook experience," based on its announcement of the iBooks 2 app that runs on the iPad. SmartPlanet Editor Andrew Nusca outlined the details of the announcement at sister site ZDNet, and CNET's Josh Lowensohn live-blogged the unveiling.

Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller said that currently, textbooks aren't portable, searchable, current, or interactive. "We want to reinvent the textbook," he said. Apple VP Roger Rosner also boldly added that "clearly, no printed textbook can compete."

Schiller also said that there are already some 20,000 education and learning apps in the Apple AppStore, and that 1.5 million iPads are already currently in use in educational institutions and schools.

The educational sector is undergoing a dramatic transformation, as online delivery of knowledge, testing and certification become either an adjunct or replacement to on-site classrooms. At the same time the value of higher education is under intense criticism due to soaring tuition costs, new educational opportunities are becoming available to a wide base through technology channels. As if tuition weren't enough, the average cost for textbooks and supplies is almost $1,200 a year.

Along with this latest effort to disrupt the education market, Apple also announced that its iTunes U service — offering university course lectures — will the upgraded to include accompanying syllabi, course material and more within a single iOS app.

Apple is just the latest player in the disruption of education -- digital textbooks are already becoming a part of many universities and colleges. For example, Indiana University announced that latest its e-text initiative, in force this semester, is saving its students up to $25 per book. IU's agreements with publishers and Indiana-based Courseload were first announced in September as part of the university's ongoing efforts to reduce the cost of course materials and enhance the transition to digital. Publications provided through IU's eTexts initiative are available at roughly half the price of retail and offer more options for printing and long-term use.

IU's eTexts initiative allows faculty to choose an eText under the university's model, upon which each student in their section is charged a reduced fee for access. Thanks to social learning features of the eTexts software, provided by Courseload, students can read, highlight and annotate their eTexts -- as well as tag, search, collaborate or view multimedia -- on any computer or mobile device for the entire time they are enrolled at IU.

IU's agreements also allow students to print their eTexts themselves or purchase a print-on-demand version for a small fee if they desire a hard copy. Additionally, faculty have the ability to integrate notes, links and annotations on students' eTexts and use Courseload to deliver freely available Open Educational Resources or faculty-authored materials as another means to reduce costs.

Internet2 also announced pilot trials of IU's model at Cornell University, the University of California Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota and University of Virginia in conjunction with Courseload and McGraw-Hill.

Participating universities in the pilot get McGraw-Hill eTexts, the Courseload reader and annotation platform integrated with their Learning Management System, and can be part of a joint research study of eText use and perceptions. Through the Courseload software, students can print, use social annotation with classmates and instructors, and access their eTexts on any HTML5-capable tablet, smartphone, or computer. Students will receive their eTexts at no cost as the institutions are subsidizing the study, and students who prefer a full hardcopy book may optionally order a print-on-demand version of the eText for a $28 fee.

(Photo: Freed-Hardeman University.)

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