I have been waiting for an eBook authoring tool like the one that Apple announced this morning for some time. Prior to today, the eBook authoring process was at best complex, and at worst exceptionally frustrating or impossible for someone without great technical knowledge. iBooks Author removes the last excuse teachers had for not putting exceptional content in front of their students (except the need for technology to display it on.) I have already downloaded and played with the free software offered by Apple, and let me say it is incredible. If you have used any of the iWork suites of programs, you will feel right at home, menus and options work in the exact same way and are exceptionally intuitive. If you have content to share, you will be able to get it published with this app.
Having such a simple and yet powerful option available to teachers is of profound benefit, and I can see myself talking about this app at various speaking engagements moving forward. I see several distinct possibilities available for education with this program, and I want to highlight just how iBooks Author could be a major shift for educators moving forward.
- Custom Courseware – I know many teachers who would love to produce effective course materials that are not authors but have created beautiful diagrams, charts, presentations and descriptions for what they do. iBooks Author takes the existing media on your computer and makes it accessible in the program. It is drag and drops, and you can copy and paste text from any application. This is the simplest method I have seen to get content into a book format. Using the material you have created is simple and effective.
- A Content Ecosystem – Apple finally has a devoted section in the app store for educational texts, and I can see this being a place where independent teachers and school divisions can finally compete with the ‘big dogs’ and show their mettle with their own content. Effective textbooks featuring polished, researched and meticulous material will flourish, and educators will be able to choose from a worldwide body of publishers what works best in their classrooms. This ecosystem, like music, movies and books will also drive textbook costs down as teachers who create materials comparable to those from the big publishers may charge less than traditional media, while getting a share of the profits.
- Student-Owned Content – One of the more surprising parts of the announcement for me as an educator was the lack of volume-licensing for schools. Apple and the publishers have taken the route of marketing directly to students and charging less per textbook. While this will clearly resonate with schools who will not have to pay for textbooks anymore, easing reliance on school budgets, it will require some creative planning to convince parents to pay for textbooks each semester. This is another point of value for teacher-created content, however, as teachers who price their texts competitively will be a much easier sell than traditional publishers who may charge more. Aside from the financial aspect, the benefits of students owning the textbooks are tremendous in education. Notes, highlighting and use of the textbook can be personalized for each student, creating a real value to the personal ownership of these eBooks. Students will also continue to own previous texts for review or rehearsal of material for later classes. For our English program at my school, it is possible to refer to, and have students refer back to previous texts that we would not have been able to do previously.
- iPad Based Software – This is the major advantage and disadvantage of Apple’s announcement. There is no reader for iBooks on a laptop or PC. Clearly, Apple is taking advantage of the 1.5 million iPads they announced are in use in education today, but they are also requiring this ecosystem to use those iPads, and many more, for these textbooks. Many teachers are going to be concerned about leading students down a ‘one hardware option’ road, myself included. However, Apple is known for being consistent over time, and there are previous iPad versions (iPad 1, and soon iPad 2 as the next generation is released) that will be available for purchase at reduced rates that will be able to use these books. Apple has always been a proprietary company, and educators will have to decide whether or not to lock their content into this environment. For my part, I do plan to use the iBooks Author for my content, but I have the luxury of a class set of iPads and strong confidence in the Apple environment.
- Innovation in Presentation – It should be mentioned that this software fulfils the promise of the ePub standard. The ability for a textbook (and they have some wonderful examples in the iBookstore now) to contain video, 3D graphics, quizzes, activities, presentations and adaptable HTML5 content raises the possibilities for what a textbook can contain. Educators are now only limited by their imagination as to what they can include in their educational materials. I can’t wait to see what we can create!
I would love to hear your comments on today’s announcement or the 5 points I have made in this post. It is an exciting time in education, and I am eager to get to work designing content (or repurposing it) for my iPads next semester. Thanks for reading, and have a great day!