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Friday, February 10, 2012

Textbook Evolution?

Have you ever leafed through your child’s textbook and sympathized with them? I’m sure the experience varies from student to student, but for those of us to who don’t find it easy to stay focused, textbooks can represent a black hole of frustration. In short, they message something contrary to excitement in learning.
They’ve improved since my days in school. And I’m not really faulting the textbook industry. After all, they’ve been limited by a one dimensional format, didactic and inert. I’ve always been endlessly distracted by sound and movement. Put me in a quiet room with no other living thing and I might have a chance at success in comprehending. But that isn’t the nature of the classroom, or even home. We live with other people who move around, talk on the phone, watch television. To many, that movement and those noises are invariably more interesting than the static black print before them that is supposed to teach.
My interest was pricked when the announcement was made last month introducing Apples iBook Author application, a program for designing multimedia, interactive textbooks. You can drag and drop almost anything you have access to. One of the major limitations--you need a MAC (OS X), and only iPad users have access to the textbooks. But I happen to own a MAC, and allegedly 25 million or so iPads have sold, so my curiosity has potential. They’ve partnered with the three biggies in the industry, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin and McGraw Hill. This is no small potatoes. I can imagine the process of building a textbook to be quite exciting and creative with the ability to utilize videos, photos, and 3 D diagrams. The user can highlight, take notes and generate flashcards. After building it, you simply upload to the iBookstore. Somehow, it goes through a review process. (hmmmm, I’m curious as to how this works and who performs them) And then, like mainstream publishing, the company gets a cut of sales and has exclusivity to the product.
Audrey Watters, in a Mind/Shift article regarding the Apple announcement, stated “Considering the involvement of the three largest education publishers — a group that currently controls 90% of the textbook market — I don’t think we can pronounce the textbook industry “digitally disrupted.” Maybe not, for the time being. But it’s just the beginning. We will keep moving toward a major shift in teaching techniques. We have to. We can’t go backwards with technology.
I submitted to McGraw Hill in 2006. They replied that my approach had merit and would maybe fit into their line in “the future” Well, this is that future, and I don’t need to wait for their acceptance any longer. That’s pretty exciting. And if we just imagine that of the 25 million iPads sold, 20% is for use by children (I think I'm being conservative), and of those 5,000,000 children, a mere 1% would purchase my iBook, that’s 50,000 books sold. I would say that’s a better chance than waiting for “the future”.

Submitted by Fran McDowell

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