I’ve developed some thougts about Apple’s education efforts in the last few days. As I see it, their plan is twofold. The first part are digital textbooks, or something Apple calls multi-touch books. These are very similar to the one Push Pop Press published last year, although Apple expanded upon their original idea. The most promising product announced is the authoring tool, which streamlines the process of book creation. As Fraser Speirs puts it:
iBooks Author really solves this problem. It’s an incredibly powerful application that improves the experience of putting together an ebook but dramatically smooths the workflow. iBooks Author is rather like an Xcode for books: You build the book on the Mac, “compile” it into an ebook, and transfer it to the device for testing. It’s exactly how iOS app developers work.
I love it not only for the textbook possibilities, but also because of its huge potential in taking desktop publishing to a whole new level. In many ways this is to iPad what InDesign is to paper. I am quite sure we’ll see encyclopedias and even newspapers take advantage of this platform in the future.
The second part of Apple’s education strategy is iTunes U, which until Thursday was part of the iTunes store app. Speirs has a positive opinion about it:
With iTunes U, Apple has solved the problem of communicating the learning journey. It’s no longer “read this PDF, then watch these videos.” Courses can now contain audio, video, documents, links to iOS apps and iBooks. There’s deep integration between iBooks and iTunes U through which notes and highlights from a book can be reviewed in the iTunes U app.
Here, I have to disagree. iTunes U doesn’t solve the learning journey problem. The idea in itself is a good one — gather up everything about a course and present it in an integrated package. But it works as an one-to-many model, therefore is to static. Collaboration is the most important part of learning, yet students have no way of even providing any feedback. To truly revolutionize education, iTunes U should have been a social experience where everyone gets the opportunity to shape classes.
To top my disappointment, the interface is executed very poorly. I’m not a skeuomorphism wiz, but the spiral binding and tabs look awful. Also, the popovers and checkboxes are really strange and not at all Apple-like. In my opinion, the product is rushed and it needs serious polish.
So do these efforts revolutionize education? I’ll first quote Marcelo Somers on this matter:
Books were once a novelty like the iPad is today, and in a few decades (or less) it will have lost it’s wonder, it’ll just be a basic expectation, like books are today. There’s a psychological model that proves that. That’s when we’ll know that we still need to fix the underlying social institution.
I think we’re always one step away from fixing education. Digital learning resources do enhance it, but they are more of an evolutionary step for learning, than a renaissance that education needs.