George Mason Law School

Apple introduces e-textbooks, offering new alternative for students

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January 27, 2012

1:29 AM

Thirty years ago, Steve Jobs set out to enhance technology in schools. Apple received tax breaks for donating computers to classrooms, and the Apple II and the Mac became the first computers used by millions of children.

At a Jan. 19 event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Apple introduced its newest innovation: iBooks textbooks, designed specifically for the iPad. Dynamic and interactive, the iPad e-textbooks are an entirely different kind of textbook, if they can be categorized as such at all. Apple’s multi-touch iPad textbooks go beyond the printed page, providing the reader with 3D interactive images and features such as highlighting, note-taking and glossary definitions.

Created using Apple’s new authoring tool, iBooks author, textbooks are available from the iBookstore on any iPad. Customers can download free samples or purchase the entire textbook for a fraction of the price of a normal textbook. Students can even download updates to textbooks at no additional cost.

“I would definitely buy an iPad if my organic chemistry and biology books could be read on it; over the four years of college it would save students so much money spent on textbooks,” Anna Green ’15 said. “I think having interactive textbooks on an iPad is, at the very least, much more environmentally friendly, because it would save a lot of paper. So much is used for the actual books, and also for note-taking.”

Few argue that technology is not a vital component of the world today, yet the $10 billion textbook industry has been slow to make the changes taking hold of other media outlets as it works to adapt to changing demands. Currently, textbooks by top K-12 publishers McGraw-Hill and Pearson Education, and educational content from E.O. Wilson are available on iBook.

More than 2,000 elementary and middle schools have begun utilizing the iPad over the past year, and about 1,000 K-12 schools have adopted Apple’s program, designed to provide an iPad to every student in the school.

Arlington County in northern Virginia is already committing hundreds of thousands of dollars to

integrate iPads into the county curriculum. Projects to transfer elementary and middle school assessment tests to iPads have been undertaken. In one case, for their social studies class, fourth-grade students at Drew Model School are each given an iPad, which contains an app about colonial Jamestown created by Apple, Five Ponds Press and the school.

“I would be open to [e-textbooks],” organic chemistry professor Elizabeth Harbron said. “The main question is how receptive the students are, and if the textbook is presented in a way that they can continue to use it.”

It remains unclear in these early stages whether the incorporation of iPads into lessons has led to higher achievement.

“By having your textbook on an electronic device, it seems like you would lose the physicality of studying,” Dexter Strong ’13 said. “But it all depends on your style.”

For some students, nostalgia for paper and binding override the potential of the new technology.

“I really like the smell of new books,” Clay Harris ’14 said, “so putting them on an electronic device takes away from that.”

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  • Sarah Kleinknecht