I’ve been looking over the postings from a number of gadget and technology blogs over the last week as the Apple Computer hype machine goes into full drive with the release of the much touted iPad. I thought that I’d throw out a couple of items that apply directly to educational content that don’t seem to be acknowledged or reported by technology reporters. I’m mainly doing this on the very off-chance that the student community that I support might be looking at the purchase of an iPad.
Part of the hype surrounding this new bit of consumer electronics has focused on how wonderful it would be for students, specifically the new iBooks product. Textbooks would be available from the iTunes Bookstore, publishers could mix media with traditional text inside the books, students could take notes in books easier. Well, those things might be true. If textbooks were released in a form specifically designed for presentation on a multimedia platform like a computer or iPad, you could in fact use mixed media and create notes that could be indexed and searched. I personally own a Kindle (as in I bought it with my own tiny state employee salary) and have a number of professional books on it. Despite the limits of the Kindle device in terms of screen size and lack of colour, I do like the ebook form factor for reading, both for professional purposes and enjoyment. I create notes in my Kindle books, and find this much easier to manage than the old pages of notes that I used in my dissertation days. Unfortunately, availability of electronic textbooks in general is an issue. Despite the critical mass of portable devices for reading (iPhone, Blackberry, laptops, Kindle, Sony eReader), academic textbooks are not widely distributed in electronic form. Although the release of the iPad may spur content creators (textbook publishers) to create integrated multimedia electronic books, this form of textbook doesn’t really exist at present, even with years of widespread adoption of inexpensive multimedia laptops in colleges and universities.
On the cost front, electronic textbooks are not significantly cheaper than physical books. This is counter-intuitive I know, but I’ve been watching this since I started monitoring the cost of books for my students. Assertions by companies like Amazon.com that ebooks are cheaper is not precisely true. Popular titles and best sellers are cheaper (US$7.99 – $9.99), but the lower price point is not a general rule across all offerings. Additionally, eBooks can’t be sold back or rented (as yet), while the elimination of the aftermarket for books may encourage publishers to produce electronic textbooks on a larger scale, the impact is decidedly negative from the perspective of students. The point about ebooks being “green” and having less impact on the environment is true, but I have not found this to be a real issue among students when it comes to academic textbooks.
Another set of issues to consider revolve around digital rights management used by manufacturers and media producers. There is a general reluctance on the part of media producers/distributors to embrace digital media (music, video, and text). Both, Amazon.com and Apple have faced problems with music and video publishers over the years. Last year, Amazon electronically deleted copies of a book (George Orwell’s 1984 ironically enough) from customer’s Kindles when the book’s publisher withdrew the electronic publishing licence. The company refunded the book purchase price and later apologized, but all of the notes and bookmarks developed by the people who purchased the book were permanently deleted. This would be catastrophic for an electronic textbook during a semester or for a reference book at any time. Apple has had issues with its iTunes store in terms of publishers pulling out of the store over pricing disputes. My observation from these incidents and readings in the technology news, is that media publishers of all types have not really embraced digital formats to the same extent that the public. Given the grief that instructors take over misplaced book orders and general availability, only one such incident would have classes back to paper books.
Manufacturers themselves also seem to have a love-hate relationship with their own customers in terms of using the products they sell. Apple computer is famous in the technology industry for their closed systems, and have experienced legal trouble in the EU over the company’s policy of restricting user ability to easily interact with the iPod and iTunes products. Returning to the issue of textbooks, there is not currently a single format used by sellers and distributors of electronic books. The current scheme is for iPad owners to use third-party apps like Kindle iPad Edition or Stanza to read books from outside the iBooks store operated by Apple. In all fairness, I have not used an iPad or the iBooks app to evaluate ease of use and portability and this information is based on reports from Twitter and Blog posts (see Cali Lewis’ description of the iPad at GeekBrief, you might need to watch several episodes). Alternatively, I can speak from direct experience on the limitations that Apple computer puts on its user base. I have an iPhone, which I hoped would lead to some convergence in the gadgets that I carried around. I was wrong. iPhones are locked to a single computer for loading media, if you change computers all of your media is wiped from the phone. While I could go through the process of hacking or jailbreaking the phone to gain access, I choose to not engage in an ongoing arms race with my technology suppliers and will just choose a different technology for my next smart-phone. The problems with the iPhone are made all the worse by iTunes’ wonky interface for loading anything except approved Apple media types. Instead of having a device to bridge the mobile space between work and home (well more like home office), I have another standalone device that I use to access third-party services like Evernote and Backpack. The availability of these services on Apple products is tightly controlled by Apple through their App Store approval process. If the iPad works like the iPhone in terms of sync’ing and access to software, then it’s usefulness as an educational tool is limited.
If you’d like to see the iPad in action or at least marketing videos of the iPad in action, you can view a series of videos at GeekBrief TV by going to: http://www.geekbrief.tv/ipad-numbers/ . This is the first video in a series on the site and has links to see more highlighted features and reports on other iPad related goings on.
I’d like to hear about your experiences, if any, with the iPad and iTouch products (feel free to express your Android love too), particularly as you use them for teaching or for learning.
Quick Response (QR) codes are beginning to pop up on city buses, in museum exhibits, and just about anywhere people need easy access to information. But we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of how they can be used to improve the formal educational experience. As the number of Americans, particularly students, with smartphones continues to grow, here are four ways QR codes could revolutionize learning in the next decade.
» via GOOD
This assumes that learning and information retrieval/storage are the same, which they are not. I would submit that as societies focus on information transmission as learning, the price of real learning will go even higher.