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Jan 26, 2012

Apple Education Announcement: A short series

The digital divide is a growing issue and point of controversy in public education. Apple's iPad is an example of that divide: a $600-$800 piece of equipment that is not a computer, not a phone, not a TV. Let's admit it, the iPad is a really cool, expensive, toy. There are some incredible educational implications for the iPad but it remains a supplemental tool. 

The digital divide is all about money and access. If the digital version of the textbook is not demonstrably better than the print version, why spend the extra money? Let's do a quick math problem with the Geometry and Biology textbooks iBooks and McGraw-Hill are offering by following Texas' adoption schedule.

Texas adopted mathematics textbooks (grades 6-12) in 2006 and is scheduled to adopt again in 2015. Science textbooks were adopted in 2011 and are not scheduled to adopt again until 2020. That's a nine year cycle. We can assume that the state gets books and other equipment at a discounted rate but I do not have access to vendor lists so I am going to use MSRP for everything. Here are the numbers for a 30 student class, assuming a 10% loss (a need to replace hardware or books) each year for nine years.

Geometry Student Edition 2012 CCSS
Digital (iPad) version
Print version
iPad (16GB, Wifi only)
$499.00
Student textbook
$133.08 (amazon)
Digital textbook
$14.99


30 students, year 1
$15,419.70
30 students, year 1
$3992.40
30 students, years 2-9
$15,573.60
30 students, years 2-9
$3193.92
TOTAL:
$30,993.30
TOTAL:
$7186.32

Glencoe Biology
Digital (iPad) version
Print version
iPad (16GB, Wifi only)
$0.00 (already purchased)
Student textbook
$111.96 (amazon)
Digital textbook
$14.99


30 students, year 1
$449.70
30 students, year 1
$3358.80
30 students, years 2-9
$3597.60
30 students, years 2-9
$2687.04
TOTAL:
$4047.30
TOTAL:
$6045.84
Total for both classes:
$35,040.60
Total for both classes:
$13,232.16

My point is simply this: Are the e-textbooks offered by Apple, McGraw-Hill, and now Pearson, two or three times better than the same print textbooks? If they are not, will schools able to pay for the novelty of the iPad do so? Schools not able to pay for the novelty will, effectively be blocking access to this new technology. The digital divide widens and deepens, and the students left behind, in most cases, don't even know what they're missing. School districts can do what they want, that is the beauty of local control but, I do not believe the e-textbooks offered thus far for the iPad are worth the extra cost. A topic I will discuss in my next post.

Just for the sake of argument, what’s the break-even point? If it is reasonable, even schools that need to stretch may do so. While the price of print books is usually $100 or more, the price of the e-textbooks will never exceed $15 per book. 

By averaging the costs of the textbooks, the break-even point is 18 (my work is below). A school would have to purchase 18 textbooks from Apple for each student over the course of a nine year adoption in order to equal the cost of print textbooks. A high school student will use 18 textbooks over the course of their high school career but is this a realistic expectation? I can't answer that. I will say, in the school I worked in, we had such a difficult time getting textbooks back at the end of the year that we stopped allowing them to be taken home. I believe I am being generous with a 10% loss rate for something as tantalizing as an iPad. 

Does using supplemental technology in the classroom (meaning not every student in the state or district will have access to it) widen the digital divide?


Geometry Student Edition 2012 CCSS
Digital (iPad) version
Print version
iPad (16GB, Wifi only)
$499.00
Student textbook
$133.08 (amazon)
TOTAL (for 9 years):
$30,993.30*
TOTAL (for 9 years):
$7186.32
McGraw-Hill (Glencoe) Biology
Digital (iPad) version
Print version
Digital textbook
$14.99
Student textbook
$111.96 (amazon)
TOTAL:
$4047.30
TOTAL:
$6045.84

Pearson (Prentice Hall) Mathematics: ALGEBRA 1: 2011 Common Core

Digital (iPad) version
Print version
Digital textbook
$14.99
Student textbook
$76.68 (amazon)
TOTAL:
$4047.30
TOTAL:
$4140.72

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE 2011 (National Edition)

Digital (iPad) version
Print version
Digital textbook
$14.99
Student textbook
$89.56 (amazon)
TOTAL:
$4047.30
TOTAL:
$4836.24

 Glencoe, McGraw-Hill Algebra 1, Student Edition CCSS

Digital (iPad) version
Print version
Digital textbook
$14.99
Student textbook
$89.94 (amazon)
TOTAL:
$4047.30
TOTAL:
$4856.76

Pearson Miller & Levine Biology (National Edition)

Digital (iPad) version
Print version
Digital textbook
$14.99
Student textbook
$108.99 (amazon)
TOTAL:
$4047.30
TOTAL:
$5885.46

(McGraw-Hill) Glencoe Chemistry: Matter and Change

Digital (iPad) version
Print version
Digital textbook
$14.99
Student textbook
$104.16 (amazon)
TOTAL:
$4047.30
TOTAL:
$5624.64

Glencoe (McGraw-Hill) Physics: Principles and Problems

Digital (iPad) version
Print version
Digital textbook
$14.99
Student textbook
$107.00
TOTAL:
$4047.30
TOTAL:
$5778.00
GRAND TOTAL
$59,324.40
GRAND TOTAL
$44,353.98

Jan 22, 2012

Apple Education Announcement: A short series

On Thursday Apple made an education announcement that included an update to iBooks. This update created a textbook section to the iBooks catalog among other things. E-textbooks are not new and interactive, educational software is not new but the way Apple has combined the two is interesting and a bit novel. I'm not willing to say what Apple is doing with it's e-textbooks is groundbreaking since other companies have been doing this for a while (Inkling comes to mind as does Sapling Learning and many of the companies building interactive storybooks for the iPad).

Apple made claims in its promotional video for their new e-textbooks that, while true, without changes to the textbook adoption rules in most states, will not be available to students. The features are what all competitive educational software can claim: updating mistakes immediately, updating and expanding content and continual updates to the application itself but these are not options if the e-textbooks Apple and McGraw-Hill have introduced are going to replace the traditional textbook.

Textbook adoption cycles are different from state to state but there are some common guidelines that can always be counted on, the most important of which is: once the content of a textbook has been approved, it is locked down until the next adoption cycle. In California, in 2007, I had the privilege of being part of the 1st statewide textbook adoption that put software on the same level as print textbooks. Software and web-based applications were being considered for core adoption. This meant that a computer program could have taken the place of a traditional, print textbook. Working for an educational software company, we developed a preliminary argument listing all the advantages Apple has recently listed but realized immediately that the rules have been laid out to "level the playing field". Content had to be locked down, we ended up with dedicated California servers in the basement of our company so we could continue to update our content but not touch the content adopted by California for its students.

What does this mean? For Apple to offer all it says it wants to a change in a state's legislative process and/or a change in a state's Board of Education procedures will need to take place. At the very least, a change in the rules. Most states use committees of teachers and education experts to review content and come to an agreement about adopting said content. Public hearings are had and everyone has the chance to come and voice their opinions. This is why content is locked down. Otherwise, before any change public hearings would need to be called. Regardless of whether you agree with these rules is irrelevant. The important question is: if the textbook companies are "not afraid" of Apple's announcement either Apple doesn't understand the rules of the game or, they view their content as supplemental.

Do you think the adoption rules need to change to take advantage of software or is it more effective to keep everyone on a level playing field during the process?

Apple Education Announcement Series:
- iBooks Author: A game changer?
- E-textbooks and the adoption cycle
- The digital divide: the true cost 
- Technical shortcomings