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Monday
Jan232012

Apple iBooks Textbooks: What is a Textbook?

The recent announcement by Apple of the iBook textbooks and the iBooks Author has already engendered a lot of discussion on many blogs and podcasts about Apple's proprietary authoring system based on epub3--the challenge it presents to the traditional textbook industry, and both the advantages and restrictions it presents to potential authors.  Of course we must not forget the powerful promise of both the iBooks and iBooks Author in improving students' learning in and out of school.  Hold onto that thought.  

In Apple's promotional video for iBooks textbooks, inspired teachers talk about what engages them with teaching and learning and, most importantly what engages students.  The teachers quickly segway to the downside of traditional textbooks: Textbooks are outdated, static, expensive, and subject to adoption cycles that restrict the currency of students' knowledge and teachers' creativity.  Oh yes, and the books are heavy.  They weigh down students' backpacks; most parents have read or heard reports about how these backpacks will cause orthopedic problems that start with first graders carrying backpacks almost bigger than them.  The Apple video teachers go one step further and note that because of the weight of the backpack, students might just stop using the books because of their disdain for carrying them around.  

In tapping the huge textbook market, Apple has done what all critics of traditional textbooks have done, long before the availability of e-textbook authoring tools like iBooks Author.  For decades educators have been belaboring how static and unengaging textbooks are.  Ever since computer labs appeared in schools in the 1980s educators have had a vision of replacing print with other media, or at least using variations of print juxtaposed with other "richer" media.  Textbooks have persisted, and will persist for some time, surely longer than they should,  because the books are the very core of the institutionalized notion of what a curriculum is, how it is organized, and how teachers should think about the topical domains they teach. Most of the blogs and podcasts that have focused on Apple's latest endeavor have noted that textbook publisher are also a huge industry controlled by relatively few larger companies, most of which apparently have already struck deals with Apple.  But, ultimately, and likely sooner than later because of iPads and other tablet devices, or the upcoming array of "ultrabook" notebook computers, traditional print textbooks, the centuries old artifact of teaching and learning, will fade away.  

But the question that we will address on this site in the sections and our upcoming book is not so much the political or economic implications of the disappearance of the traditional textbook industry, but the implications it has for student engagement and learning.  Almost everything we think of when we envision textbooks  will be transformed into something else.  Again, the Apple promotional video is interesting as a recent discussion of what the qualities of these new iBooks textbooks that will make them better than a ten pound, 400 page general science book used by 8th graders?  Apple responds to the teachers' concerns about traditonal print textbooks.  The video notes that the new books will be engaging because of the audio, video and "interactivity" information that comes to life and information that is always up to date.  Apple promises that the new textbooks will allow students to do things " they could never do before."  The video show stunning examples of these multimodal transformations.  

In the promotional video, Roger Rosner, Apple Vice President of Productivity Applications noted that Apple focused on three key areas in the iBooks textbooks initiative:  (1)  fast fluid navigation; (2) beautiful graphics; and (3) better and easier way to take notes and use those notes.  These are the most currently publicized set of affordances designed into e-textbooks because the designers could design with the features given the technology available.  But are these features just a given as being educationally sound or more engaging?  In our upcoming book, sections of which will be posted and discussed here, we critique multimodal transformation like the Apple iBooks textbooks or other e-textbooks and related materials with an eye on both research in how literacies like reading, writing and discussing can be used to support learning, and a in terms of a bridging framework in which we carefully look at the features of traditonal forms and how they are being digitally transformed for good or bad. We can use Rosner three points to give a taste of how this will work.  

On Rosner's first point, it seems like a no-brainer that "fast fluid" navigation is a huge advantage.  But to what extent does the ability to rapidly navigate out of where you are currently studying something in print, or focused deeply on slowly reading a piece of complex print text, also afford some negatives like taking your preceptual span and your brain away from what you were engaging with?  In terms of bridging, we have to keep in mind that print texts, as linear presentations of content, also used built-in features to engage students with difficult concepts (topic signaling, vocabulary support, marginal glossing) and controlling navigation to the next page.   In terms of Rossner's second point, we can all agree that beautiful graphics are important and something that traditional print texts don't support as well as e-Books.  But there is research that both supports and cautions about the types and placement of graphics or other visual elements in relation to print.  Again, if a reader is concentrating on an important or difficult piece of text, to what degree can the attention and engagement needed be jeopardized by a engaging graphic?  Finally Rossner's third point about the availability and highlighting and note taking/annotation tools is particularly important.  Since highlighting and notetaking are taken as time-tested studying techniques, most people assume that if tools are available that make them more accessible, that students will learn more with them.  But research indicates pretty clearly that the use of highlighting and notetaking, with both traditional or digital tools, require instruction, guided practice, and individual practice for students to use the tools more effectively.  If they are so easy and available, could it be that students will halt the fluency of their reading by stopping to highligh or write notes?  Or that they will rely more on a possible overabundance of highlights ineffectively executed or copious notes that do not reflect the importance levels of topics in a text?

We applaud both the Apple iBooks textbooks and Author, along with the other textbook systems like Kno and  Inkling that are on the forefront of developing e-textbooks and course systems.  But, against the backdrop of the amazing features, we will be carefully scrutinzing the affordances of the all of these as we continue study what textbooks will become and as they are being transformed, how they will continue to support or improve upon the way they support students' learning across the disciplines.   

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Reader Comments (15)

Introducing iBooks into the education system is good but still I tihnk that we shouldn't reject the traditional books. Children shouldn't forget such things. You can't digitize everything in your life.

This posts highlights what too often gets overlooked in the conversation of bringing new technologies into the classroom. The question of evidence. What evidence is there that giving students e-readers will increase any type of student learning? This is something that is unknown. For some reason, we as adults tend to think that because if given the choice of reading a textbook or an article on an iPad, I'd choose the iPad; that this means that it is inherently better for children and adolescents. This may be so, but how do you know this? Perhaps adults are better able to consume and learn while reading on tablets because they began their learning adventure using textbooks? No one seems to know at this point. In the meantime, schools, administrators, and teachers will continue to spend money giving these to students. It seems as though we're putting the cart ahead of the horse.

October 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

The main thing that I have been wondering in regards to etextbooks is the note-taking and highlighting tools. I know that I have taken advantage of note-taking and highlighting in some iBooks that I have read, but I've never tried to go back and look for those notes or highlights. In actual print textbooks, I depend on the notes and highlights I make, and it is easy and intuitive to flip through the pages to see what I highlighted as most important. If the note-taking tool sythnesizes notes made at the end of the etextbook, I could see that as being somewhat useful, but without the context of the text about which the note was made, it might not make sense. It also seems like it would be a lot more difficult to scroll through the pages of an etextbook to look for highlighted sections that were marked, but perhaps that is just my unfamiliarity with etextbooks coming through.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah McLeod

I think e-textbooks have an inevitable future as the primary texts that will be used in schools. As a teacher of literature, the texts I use in class don't carry a great deal of significant change from year to year. The Great Gatsby is still the same as it ever was. History and science texts, however, belong to a constantly growing and changing field and, for that reason alone, I see wisdom in having texts that can be updated quickly without having to wait for a curriculum review cycle that comes once every 5-7 years.

A growing number of my students use e-readers for their class texts, and from that I have noticed a number of positive affordances that don't involve some of the enhancements noted in the blog post. First, for students who struggle with context-based vocabulary, the affordance of being able to see word definitions immediately is extremely useful to their overall comprehension. Most e-readers offer such definitions at a touch of a finger, which does not require much deviation from focus while reading.

A second positive affordance of e-readers is the search feature, which falls under fluid navigation. Students are able to maximize the efficiency of their search by using an electronic search, rather than shuffling through page after page to *maybe* find what they are looking for.

Regarding e-texts that are a multimodal circus...I remain skeptical. If these are to become the norm for students, they need to be integrated into curriculums much earlier in students' education to develop the literacy skills needed to effectively use such a text.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKari

I think it's clear that creating a textbook isn't an easy task, and I also think it's clear that they are disliked among students and teachers alike. While I think the iBook could be interactive and engaging to students, it might be that, in an attempt to get rid of textbooks, schools may jump on something that is flashy instead of picking something that is effective at increasing student learning and literacy.

I also think it's interesting that, even though textbooks aren't favored, Apple is working with major textbook companies. Even though iBook will allow for more interaction, how different will the content of an iBook be if Apple is collaborating with textbook companies? Will simply changing how content is presented to students actually help learning? Or do we need to re-think the content, regardless of its presentation?

June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

The article discusses the ability for students to become distracted through the use of links or the ease of navigation, but what about the other distractions that are a click or a tap away? If, as a student, I know that I become easily distracted, I can sit at my kitchen table with nothing but my homework. I can put away my phone, shut off the TV, etc. But if my textbook lives on my iPad, along with games, music, videos, social networking, and countless other "fun" things, what is to stop me from abandoning my task when I start to feel bored. And what about all the alerts that remind me constantly that something more fun is happening out there?
We want our students to be engaged in the task of reading, but putting the text on a device that exists for a multitude of purposes may be asking too much of our students who already struggle with self-control.

June 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSarah L.

Rosner's 3 points are compelling. Fluid navigation would be a definite affordance of ibooks. I think of all the times that I have wanted a map at my fingertips when reading textbook passages. I think of all the awkward times of trying to locate a classroom pulldown map and students straining their eyes to locate the locality mentioned in the book. I also envision a potencial distraction problem. If the classic read around the classsroom is attempted, while one is reading out loud, others may be entirely distracted by scrolling through associated pictures. Point 2, beautiful graphics - what a wonder. Beautiful. Point 3, note taking - Yes, it would be conventient, but not necessary with so many web applications that do the same thing. I see a huge potential problem with plaigerism. And as far as the Apple position on the heaviness of text books, well, we are survived, didn't we? I mean we're not all walking around bent over or anything. But yes, the ibooks would definitely be convenient. Go Apple!

June 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

The easy searches and fluidity of Apple's ibook textbooks is appealing, as well as note organization, but piggy backing off of Sonja's concern about plagiarism, perhaps plagiarism of ibooks become one of their biggest affordances (against Apple's desire and goals for profit, I guess)? Teachers could copy and paste select content into their own ebooks they envision for their students, whom they know best. With more and more districts interested in utilizing digital reading technologies, wouldn't we all benefit from teachers and students having more input and ownership of the curriculum that's read and engaged with on these digital devices?

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTessa Flynn

I think a huge thing to think about when talking about media is - what does it ADD. If these new e-books are going to be so much better than textbooks- then HOW? Sure the lighter than textbook is a nice advantage, but what else? Will the note taking system be organized well and easy to use? Will the books be more interactive? There needs to be enough positives to outweigh how much the e-readers are going to ultimately cost schools. Is this a big enough benefit to be prioritized THAT much in a school budget?

June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJosephine H

I think this article points out the negative and positive affordances of both, the ebook as well as the author. I think when there's potential to change a whole curriculum as well as look at other ways of teaching besides the traditional method, I think it's important to ask "how does this benefit us." I think a lot of us make the mistake of using this technology in the classroom, even in a 1:1 setting as "fun time" or "time to play on games after the work is done." Evident in the article, there are SO many ways to use technology and integrate it into curriculum and the school day. There are so many apps, websites, etc. that if used correctly, will benefit education as a whole. However, I feel like there are so many school districts that are trying to catch up and be on the same page as other school districts. I think all schools need to get on board, weigh their options, and make technology and media apart of their curriculum.

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie Johnson

iBooks Author has potential to revolutionize what textbooks are. This is where we need to look at affordances beyond the actions of the tools as Gibson would define it and look at how the user sees it being used as.

iBooks Author has great widgets and supplementary widgets from secondary companies that it could also be a digital curation tool. Bookry (https://www.bookry.com/) is a great site that offers these widgets to make the text even more interactive. Apple has even opened up their source code so users could create their own widgets and use it within the tool.

I have used iBooks Author to create 3 of the 4 digital textbooks my district is now using. It is a wonderful addition the curriculum as it is a living document and can be changed to match the direction of the course. This did take creative disbursement of funding and collaborative work to make it happen-meaning, it took more work upfront than just ordering a publisher's text. But in the long run, we will save money, have updated content and curriculum and have it match the needs of our students.

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYeng

I understand Apple's three arguments for why their iBook textbooks will be better than traditional textbooks (fast, fluid navigation; beautiful graphics; and a better/easier way to take and use notes.) I also agree that by putting things in digital spaces, we will be able to ensure all information is up to date.

I'm slowly moving towards using my Kindle app more, though it's not for any of the above points-- as a working college student, it is simply cheaper to scoop up eBooks than textbooks that will sell back to my university bookstore for a fraction of their original cost.

I like the idea of digital spaces cultivating more creativity and interaction, thus increasing student engagement. However, will the new iBooks be too distracting with their audio, video, notes applications, and "interactivity" information components? How will be balance the sheer amount of interactive features with the graphics in order to get the right information across?

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMadison Paul-Critchley

One part of textbooks that plays a backdrop to this conversation is just how tied up they are in the historically static delivery of decontextualized knowledge. I think this could be solved in print, and that effort was beginning in print, but the forward-thinking and change-pressing affordances of digital texts seem to do more to encourage more change. These methods aren't as well-tested yet, but things like Apple's textbooks may force more educators to think about exactly what their textbooks are doing and can do.

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

The article also made me think about the allocation of funds toward digital texts versus print texts. Many schools are still in a traditional framework in which they allocate funds for print texts or textbooks. Therefore, after researching the impact of digital texts, they use the funds for textbooks toward new technologies like ipads, chromebooks, and laptops. This is an interesting topic to consider when examining why some schools may have access to technology and others do not. Schools are problem solving this issue by allocating funds differently.

June 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca N

There are so many more ways reading and making meaning can break down in a digital text (not just iBooks author). There are some very specific ways to correct these barriers to making meaning.

Teachers can ask: Are students able to formulate summaries in their own words or did they copy words from the website? Can students reflect on strategies they used to keep them focused and engaged in the text?

Reading Digitally:
Why meaning breaks down/
Fix-Up Strategies

Advertisement
Stop and ask a question. Zoom into just the text features so ads are off screen/

List of other articles to read/
Decide to read them later. Abandon main article and try those.

Text too hard/
Find a better website

Text too small/
Use iPad to enlarge

I am excited to se the possibilities of organizations such a the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum. I was able to participate as an author of a course and I found it amazing how creating content collaboratively made all of our courses richer and more innovative with sound pedagogy driving the experience.

Mission
The Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum is a grassroots initiative to promote the creation of open digital curriculum. Our goal is to leverage the power of collaboration and digital resources to launch teachers and students into new learning frontiers.

Short Link to this Site:
http://mncollaborativecurriculum.org

June 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLynnea West

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