iBooks, Group Work, & Science Goodies

Things in the edtech world that caught my eye this week: the Apple iBooks announcement, the New York Times’ piece on group work (okay, that was last week, but, hey, classes started, things were busy, etc.), and some neat science tools.

First, iBooks. Big announcement from Apple this week that they are going to enter the digital textbook publishing arena. The goal is to make interactive, easy-to-update digital textbooks available on iPads, aiming at the K-12 market as well as higher education. iPads, of course, aren’t cheap. This pricing structure may be a major hurdle, given K-12 budgets in the US; interestingly enough, Apple is suggesting that the students themselves – not the schools districts – would own the books. I’m not sure how that is going to play out. The books themselves are to cost less than $20, and publishing giants like McGraw Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have already signed up to let their titles participate.

In terms of something that may have a greater immediate impact on higher education, Apple has also introduced software, iAuthor, for individuals who wish to publish their own textbooks. MindShift offers a great breakdown on what is iAuthor is:

[A]n authoring tool that greatly facilitates the layout of e-book content. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to add text, photos, video, Keynote slides, and even HTML widgets to build an iBook  . . . [F]or the time being at least, this app is Mac (OS X) only. The app itself is free, and after building an e-book, one can upload it to the iBookstore. The textbooks that are built to sell or give away in the iBookstore will be subject to a review process, Apple says, and the company will take its normal “cut” of sales as well as demand exclusivity to their sale. One can bypass the iBookstore by simply emailing the file to another person, who’ll be able to open it with the iBook app.

We’ll talk more about that exclusivity issue in a minute. But this does sound like a decent way to design a course reader, no? In addition, the iTunesU features have been bulked up, allowing for the distribution of more course content, including videos.

Here’s the Apple promo video:

And now for the critical perspectives. Hack Education asks some tough questions about the revolutionizing quality of partnering with established textbook companies, the validity of textbooks versus primary sources, and, as promised, that exclusivity issue. These are all important points, and she’s summed them up very nicely. Also, here’s a great breakdown of the pros and cons of each of the new tools.

Second, on collaboration. Oh, group work: do you love to hate it – or hate to love it? Or are your feelings less complicated? Last Sunday’s New York Times opinion piece by Susan Cain on The Rise of the New Groupthink offered an interesting perspective (also, note the mention of Apple – I’m thematic like that!). In the face of organized groups in schools, workplaces, and worship spaces, the author notes that “privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption” are associated with better individual performances. Group brainstorming runs directly counter to those sessions of sweet silent thought, a fact most upsetting for the creative introverts among us.

Of course, as a society, we may wish to use group work to develop communication and collaboration skills (perhaps even making the accomplishment of the task a secondary goal), since these are, to some degree, necessary skills in our society. We may also benefit from the minds of others to generate fresh ideas, correct our misconceptions, or prevent errors related to our own blind spots. Luckily, she identifies one area where teamwork is especially productive: digital collaboration. There, “protection of the screen mitigates many problems of group work”. Collaborate away!

Last, if you’ve made it this far, it’s dessert time! Two neat science-y tools I found this week: 1) An iPhone app that turns your phone into a seismograph ($.99, found via this list of science iPad science apps); and 2) a free graphing calculator on the web (found via Hack Education)- going far beyond what you’ll get if you just punch an equation into Google, and accessible across many devices. Treats to the first person who inventively combines these goodies! (Let me know in the comments, and we really will hit you up with something.)


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