Textbooks Reimagined?

Last week, Apple made an announcement and release of iPad textbooks. Check out the gizmondo story here: Apple’s iPad Textbooks

To see my thoughts on the current state of the Textbook industry, check out my post from last year: The Textbook Scam

Personally I’m pretty excited to see what can come of this. Carrying a load of textbooks to and fro on any given day not only affects student’s backs but also comes at a tremendous cost. The iPad system hopes to let students carry multiple textbooks perhaps in the cloud with interactive videos and models to add to the learning experience. By teaming up with textbook manufacturers as well as school districts, Apple may have an opportunity to effectively change the landscape of the industry. Imagine future schools where each student gets a tablet and gets passes or downloads a slate of textbooks for each semester. Students would be introduced and more familiar with emerging technology (which is important) while getting rich information much more tangible than a book. Teachers could tailor assignments that link to certain sections of the book and in some cases form the actual chapters the students would work on. And think of the trees!

Wired’s take: iPad Textbooks

A main point that Wired makes is that the technology in the classroom has met with mixed results and learning is affected mainly by the environment rather than available technologies. Children in communities with less crime, higher standard of living, and better teachers will benefit from the use of available technologies, like netbooks or laptops which have been introduced in many school districts. On the other hand, such as Wired makes the case, in Alabama where students and teachers are both struggling and general economic situations are poorer, the use of laptops in the classroom is negligible and does little if anything at all to improve performances.

Time will tell, especially at the primary and secondary level, whether tablet adoption (with school districts nationwide reeling from budget cuts, I find it highly unlikely they will adopt Apple’s iPad but may favor a skimmed down alternative…Kindle Fire anyone?)* Now on university level, I could see this a boon to students and professors (just the tech saavy ones, I find it hard to imagine my former Environmental Literature professor who is a noted environmental radical would be quick to jump on the bandwagon). The worry is that such a move would destroy a multi-million dollar business that is textbooks and used textbook resale. Little shops like the charming “Patty’s University Bookstore” in Kirksville, MO would have to shut down. There are already textbook rentals and online textbooks that are cutting into margins so I would find it hard to think of a situation where the old publishers would be willing to foster a change.Who knows, though, perhaps there is younger and fresher blood working at those publishers who understand the fall of Borders represents a significant change in the landscape for printed materials. Though I do believe that Barnes and Nobles will stick around because of a very special “vintage” niche that has slowly crept back into the American consciousness (be on the lookout for a post about vinyl records).

*Got a Kindle Fire a little after the New Year and it is AWESOME. If you have Amazon Prime, it is a great multimedia device and I would highly reccommend it. While it does not have all the bells and whistles that iPad does (size, camera, storage space) it performs admirably and at less than 1/3 of the cost.

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Hopefully will be back on track as far as writing is concerned. I’m starting to ramp up the training for the race season starting in April and I have been pleasantly surprised by the exceptional weather we have had so far this winter. Lots and lots to do!

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