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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

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