Although the idea of an iPad for every student may struggle to come to fruition for a few years, Augmented Reality textbooks are paving the way for a smooth transition.
Japanese publishing company Tokyo Shoseki is producing textbooks that support AR apps on smartphones, bringing characters to life for students to listen to.
The textbooks, part of an English course called New Horizon, are intended for adults looking to study English at a high school level again.
By using a smartphone students can interact with the textbook in a different way.
Although this style of textbook doesn't support the same kind of interactivity a tablet-exclusive textbook might, it has the advantage of being perfectly functional without any extra expenses. If you do not own an iPhone, or your iPhone has run out of battery, you will still be able to do your homework.
Students can download the app for free, although at the moment it is only available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4S.
Once the New Horizon app is downloaded, students only have to hover the camera over the correct section of the page to launch a conversation.
Over the last few years the concept of a digital classroom has been coming into focus, with many talking about how tablets should become ubiquitous in classrooms worldwide. As a learning tool, tablets could be undeniably useful, capable of doing things that ordinary textbooks simply can not.
For its many positives, the practical reality of such a movement would be costly and fraught with several other obstacles. Suggesting an iPad for every student is one thing, but what about those who can't afford it? An iPad is certainly less durable than a paper textbook, and students are not likely to be careful with a tablet supplied by the school.
The debate peaked when Apple claimed it would "reinvent the textbook", announcing an iBooks 2 and rolling out iPad-specific textbooks, in addition to publishing software iBooks Author. After this announcement, many began to assess the practicality of an iClassroom, and found more than a few problems.
Could funding support the costs? Students can amass huge expenses on textbooks, something they can make back by selling their books on to the next generation. For schools a series of textbooks can be used in rotation for years. Although the prices Apple suggested were reasonable, the product can not be resold.
This would not be a problem for Augmented Reality textbooks, where the textbook itself could stay in rotation in schools or business classes, and the app can be updated at will where necessary.
As the app is free, students would only need to delete it when they had finished, and pass the textbook along without worrying about costs.
Changing an entire curriculum, an educational system, and retraining teachers is not something that could happen overnight. Companies like Apple innovating in educational technology is a step in the right direction, but there are any number of intermediate gadgets that could help ease the transition.
Augmented Reality textbooks have been discussed as a possibility for a few years now, and now they are becoming a reality for students. Although this series is aimed at adult learners, who are usually backed by businesses to work on their English skills, it is not exclusive to them.
In my experience, getting students to stop messing around with their smartphones is hard enough. At least with textbooks like these, you might be able to trick them into learning when they get their iPhones out instead.