I wanted to write a few notes here about many of the questions and comments I have read on Twitter and elsewhere about the iPad and textbook authoring. Two things that Apple does well is marketing and innovation. Sometimes though, the two don't speak well together. Apple is "reinventing" the textbook only for those who haven't been watching the textbook get reinvented over the last ten years. The open textbook and OER movements have been reinventing textbooks and revolutionizing education for while now. What Apple has figured out is how to monetize and brand that "revolution" into a free app on an expensive non-ADA compliant platform. Image via Wikipedia
I have a Mac at home and an iPod, why aren't I delirious over the "new" technology? Because for what I do, for the problems I need to solve, Apple is no solution. What Apple has done is to figure out a way for instructors to quickly author textbooks on their proprietary platform. For instance, faculty can now take an open textbook, load it on to an iPad and upload it to the app store where it is now inaccessible to those with smaller budgets, older computers or even an e-book reader. How is this an improvement? All I see is an expensive tool designed to lock out poorer students and colleges.
Where would we get the money to provide iPads for students? Do we make it a requirement that students have to have an iPad to take someone's class? The colleges that are most excited about this are those with money. I think you will find the community colleges less enthusiastic.
Why is Apple doing this? According to Publisher's Weekly: "Sales of mass market paperback plunged in September, falling 54.3% at reporting houses. Trade paperback did much better with sales flat at reporting houses, while hardcover sales fell 18.1%." PW goes on to say that "For the first nine months of 2011, e-book sales were up 137.9% at reporting publishers, to $727.7 million." The e-book market is ripe for "innovation." Apple is not interested in opening access to education; they are not interested in innovating in education for the sake of education. Their eye is on the bottom line as it has always been.
Patrick Martin really summed this up nicely: “at the bare minimum, the technology that replaces textbooks must work across multiple platforms and be capable of running on the cheapest hardware. Anything short of that will just be another thing that only more prosperous parents can purchase in hopes of giving their children a leg up. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not a revolution.”