Apple looks to disrupt education industry with iBooks 2, iTunes U launch

Apple on Thursday bought traditional textbooks to the digital age with the new iBooks 2, a tablet application that will bring in support for multimedia textbooks for a more interactive and engaging learning experience.

At an event held in New York, Apple pitched the digital textbooks as an alternative to traditional textbooks, which are heavy and one-dimensional.

Apple hopes the interactive textbooks will make learning more interesting for students and improve reading, science and math skills in the U.S.

Apple executives Eddy Cue and Jeff Robbin also unveiled the iTunes U app, a new way for students and teachers to manage course material for classes on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. While the iTunes app provides access to the content that’s available in the iTunes U section of the iTunes Store, it also offers a means for teacher and student interaction.

Digital textbooks

Apple used the rich layout features on the iPad to demonstrate a biology digital textbook. The digital textbook had multimedia features that allowed students to view 3D images, animations and video, and also other features designed to make learning more interactive. Students can zoom and pinch their way to access relevant content, and seamlessly move from one page to another.

iBook2

The digital textbook also came with a built-in glossary and index, which removes the frustration of trying to look up subject matter in the back of the book. Another study tool is highlighting and note taking, in which a finger can be swiped over text to highlight. There are also interactive exams in which instant feedback on answers can be provided. Multiple options for layouts and question types were demonstrated.

No printed textbook could compete, said Roger Rosner, vice president of productivity software at Apple.

IBooks 2 is in the App Store, and it’s available for free starting Thursday.

The company is starting with high schools textbooks, which will sell for US$14.99 or less. Textbooks from Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will be available, Apple said. McGraw-Hill has been working on textbooks for algebra, biology, chemistry, geometry and physics, all of which are available for free.

The textbooks can be created with iBooks Author, a Mac application to author digital textbooks. The application helps bring interactive elements to textbooks, and documents from Keynote presentation software or Word could be dragged and dropped into the software. The application is available for free from the Mac App store.

Free content from top universities

The iTunes U app will work on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, and will give users access to the world’s largest catalog of free educational content from top universities including Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, Oxford and Stanford.
The iTunes U app also allows for interoperability with other media. A teacher can tell students to read certain texts, with links that send the student to the iBookstore. Or a teacher can assign videos for students to watch; the student can watch a video stream, or download the videos to the iOS device for viewing at a later time.

The Notes tab in the iTunes U app is a place where notes from all your textbooks and courses are gathered together. It’s similar to the Notes view in the new iBooks 2 app.

The Materials tab in the iTunes U app collects all the releated materials for a course. The materials can include audio, video, books, PDFs, Pages documents, Keynote presentations, and other apps. Missing course materials can be obtained through iTunes U.

According to Apple, students anywhere can take iTunes U courses with access to all course materials. Before the iTunes U app was released, only students in the classroom at that time were able to access the iTunes U content.

According to Cue during the education event, iTunes U provides the largest catalog of free education content to the world, with more than 1000 universities using iTunes U to deliver education content.

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