You may think of an iPad as a gaming device, news reader, email server or digital photo frame. Apple sees the device as an important educational tool and wants to re-invent the textbook to transform the way students learn. Last week, Apple introduced iBooks 2, an updated iPad app designed to bring interactive textbooks to students in grades K-12.
At Apple’s Keynote Address in New York, Phil Schiller, Senior Vice-President of Worldwide Marketing, explained how iBooks would revolutionize education. He pointed out shortcomings of physical textbooks: they’re heavy, they wear out, they can’t be updated and they’re difficult to search. Interactive iPad textbooks solve those problems: iBooks are easily portable, durable, instantly updated and easy to search. Textbooks through iBooks 2 cost $14.99 or less and students can keep them for life.
Four main publishers have signed with Apple to bring their textbooks to iBooks: Pearson, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and DK Publishing. These publishers sell 90% of textbooks to schools in the US.
iBooks textbooks are much more than PDF files of physical textbooks. iBooks textbooks offer interactive features such as embedded videos, 3D animation, audio, and interactive images. For example, swiping your finger over the Worldwide Photosynthetic Activity image in the Life on Earth textbook shows you the changes in photosynthesis over time.
Some textbooks include review questions that provide immediate feedback. If a student chooses the wrong answer, a link is provided which guides the student to the part of the book showing where the correct answer can be found.
Searching is much easier in iBooks textbooks than with physical textbooks. Tapping on a word brings up the definition from the glossary. Tapping on the dictionary icon brings up the entire glossary. Entering a term in the search box guides you to the location where the term can be found. Entering a number in the search box takes you to that page in the book.
The note-taking feature of iBooks is designed to make studying a breeze. Select text and you can highlight it in your choice of colors and/or take notes in a pop-up window. You can then access your notes and highlights in a section organized by chapter. You can also add bookmarks and add notes to the bookmarks.
iBooks has a handy Study Card feature where you can take your notes and highlights and put them on Study Cards. iBooks also puts the glossary terms on Study Cards with the definitions on the back of the cards. You can shuffle these cards or study them in order. Think Flash Cards of the Future.
Students can navigate through these features easily by using a toolbar at the top of the screen.
Improved Student Performance
All of these textbook features are truly impressive. But do impressive features make for smarter kids? One study suggest that’s exactly the case. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt conducted a one year study called HMH Fuse that brought the Algebra 1 iPad textbook to the Amelia Earhart Middle School in Riverdale, California. The study was conducted by a third party research firm who provided one set of students with the physical Algebra 1 textbook and the other students with the iBooks Algebra 1 textbook on an iPad. The students who had used the iPad textbook scored 19% better on the California standardized math test than the students who used a physical book. HMH Fuse Pilot Program
Issues with Using iBooks
As exciting and effective as iBooks may be, these interactive textbooks bring up issues that were not addressed in Apple’s Keynote Address. These textbooks require an iPad. With school districts being squeezed by a challenging economy, finding extra funds to purchase or lease iPads for students may be difficult if not impossible. Requiring students to provide their own iPads may impose an undue hardship on families.
If schools provide iPads to students, would students be permitted to bring the iPads home? What if an iPad were lost or damaged? Should schools offer iPad insurance to the parents?
Interactive ebooks, with video, graphics, audio, 3D animations and interactive images, require a lot of space on an iPad. The lowest price iPad holds about five to seven books at the most, meaning space management on the device could become an issue. (If you’re thinking of buying an iPad for a student, Apple just gave you a good reason to get one with more storage space.)
Apple has provided an innovative and effective way for students to learn. Issues exist regarding device management and cost. But students who have access to these interactive textbooks may be receiving the educational opportunities of the future.