A Teacher’s Take on iBooks 2.0

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Warning: Long article is long.

Ever since the announcement of iBooks 2.0 I was livid on how people thinks that apple is causing the paradigm shift in education.  Maybe what was getting to me more, is how people know so little about the process of learning, and how to teach.  Since they are a luddite when it comes to technology, they (people, parents, educators) see that any technology brought into the classroom is beneficial (believe me, it isn’t).

Let’s start off with the idea of “what is teaching?”  Let’s follow that up with “what does it mean to teach kindergarten vs elementary school vs high school vs college?”  When you really think about it, the definition changes, based on age, but the purpose stays the same.  You are some expert in a field where you have to impart knowledge to the people who pay money (albeit tax dollars) to hear what you have to say.  The way you do it makes you valuable.  If you can socialize it, then you take the greatness out, and reduce it to an algorithm.  Reducing it to certain characteristics or methods, isn’t inherently bad (just like socialism), but who becomes that writer of the “best education has to offer?”

Remember the teacher teachers, nothing else.  A good teacher can teach without a book (I’ve done that enough times).  A book, a computer, calculators, projectors, ipads, etc… are just teaching tools.  If they were better than the teacher, than teachers would have been replaced with a book.  The fact is, if students could just read a book, then schools would be obsolete.  I teach computer programming.  A course that is inherently a holding tank requiring you to practice.  Do you think I can do a better job than any O’Reilly book.  The reason I have a job is because you need someone to explain and force you to produce.  I teach comprehension and adaptability more than anything else.  A teenager won’t bother to read the drivers test manual, then complain that they failed it.  The most important test in a teenager’s life (to them) and they can’t pass it.  All they have to do is read the manual.

The reason we have textbooks is because there hasn’t been anything better yet to replace it.  How do you go about replacing a textbook?   The natural progression is putting it online, but nobody can figure out to do it.  When you figure it out, I’ll buy the idea off you.

The first obstacle is convenience.  The kindle is succeeding only because reading a novel is easy to do.  You just read.  You very rarely go back 50 pages, to understand a difficult plot line.  If you do, you can bookmark it, but it usually happens (maybe) once.  A calculus text is a foundational work, where you constantly have to go back and relearn material.  Hard math problems and simulations are hard, and to have to remember which bookmark and which gesture is which, makes life much more difficult.  Adding a layer of obscurity in flipping virtually back and forth doesn’t help.  When I was solving calculus problems, I would have three bookmarks: 1) The problem, 2) The example or algorithm, and 3) The solution.  Sometimes the example was a composite of three of four other problems of various other disciplines, and those had separate bookmarks.  How am I supposed to do that (easily) with a virtual book?

Reading a novel or in a linear fashion is one thing.  Reading parts of a whole is completely different.

Enough on the background, why am I angry?

Non educators think that iBooks solved the above problem.  By digitizing the book, adding some interactive simulations, making a digital flash card app, and packaging nicely,  made life slightly easier, but doesn’t do anything other than appease the people who can’t see beyond the problem.  Teaching correctly is the problem, and technology isn’t the solution.


The first problem is that even at $14.99 the book is still expensive. Publishers took the average cost and divided by the average length of ownership.  What they do not understand is school budget margins are so razor thin, school districts like to purchase once, rather than have a new constant line item that they have to have approved.  If a book upgrade doesn’t get approved, schools just use last year’s book one more year.  In this model, you MUST buy the book every single year.  While the publishers save a ton on costs, schools end up paying the same amount.  There needs to be an incentive to help the publishers eliminate costs.


Apple is in the business of making money.  They stumbled across the idea of an app store, but now they see a way to continually generate revenue.  Every time you buy a book, you are giving 30% to apple.  Not only that, Apple if forcing you to use their hardware.  You must create a book on an apple computer, and you must use it on an Apple device.  Apple has literally found a way to advertise in the last place advertisement is still banned.  From the age of 6 (Kindergarden) they will give iPads to students, and it will follow them through graduation.  Somewhere in there a student will end up with an iPhone because it just makes sense.  When they graduate, they will want a Mac (albeit a harder justification), but why not continue the lock in.

Even if there is a worthy competitor you have to buy the whole system.  Tablets / computers / hardwares are expensive.  So even if you change the hardware, the software is still necessary.  You just don’t change them (unlike books) whenever you need it to work.  By keeping the prices high and (slightly discounting) when necessary, you force people to stay with you.


The book manufacturers just found a way to prevent copying.  I am guilty of borrowing content from my one copy, and giving it to my students.  For most cases I fall under the fair use in education clauses, but sometimes I don’t.  All teachers have copied a whole textbook because they were short a copy or two.  This prevents copies.  You will need to spend the money on more hardware and books.  By preventing printing, there will be no way to store things “for later” other than to bookmark them.   If one book has a section on a topic that is better than the current book, there is no way to use it as an aide unless everyone buys that book.  So the excuse the book is way cheaper just showed us another unintended consequences.


How does a school get each student an ipad?  If a student moves away, what happens to the book?  Who controls the ipad sync?  Who owns the content when the tax payers pay for the school budget?  All these questions need to be worked out a head of time.  Usually these questions are not answered by people who can logic through the answers.  Most board members are elected lay townspeople.   While not important to the topic at hand, it is important if you market to public education, you must provide help in solving the above problems.  In a 12 year stretch of a student’s tenure, how many ipads are they going to need.  The average lifespan of a computer in a school is 6 – 10 years (I have only anecdotal evidence for that statistic), but will 2 ipads get them through school?  If a student switches levels that involves a change in textbook, who absorbs that cost?  If a student moves out of district, or comes into district, who is responsible?

The article deals with the assumption that ipads are staples in education.  Also, you can’t fault apple for providing the ability.


The last complaint is size.  Each book is between 1 and 2 GigaBytes.  A 16 GB ipad will hold 8 books with nothing else.


While I do think iBooks 2 is a step in the right direction, it will be marred by the complete money grab that the textbook manufacturers and apple are going to compete for.  While there isn’t a solution, there are steps that can be taken.  How about offering cost competitive online editions.  Don’t bundle it up with some useless portal that is difficult to navigate.  Remember schools can’t pirate your book.  DRM is only as good as buying a scanner and scanning every page individually.  And while I can’t provide a great solution, they do exist.


6 Responses

  1. A digital book only speaks to one kind of learning. People forget that reading isn’t enough to commit something to memory, and actually be able to learn from it. When i studied I had to read out loud, summarize paragraphs, hightlite key sentences. i-Books are still only one piece of the puzzle that is trying to learn a concept.

  2. You present a couple of very valid points, however you fail to see common uses of textbooks. Apart from simply supplemental tools in a teaching environment, textbooks are great sources of review. Once a topic has been covered once, teachers are overs and done with, a textbook allows the student to review the topic and re-learn the concepts.
    Think about the children who are homeschooled, this is an incredibly valuable addition at a cheap cost.
    Whether you think it’s worth it or not, being able to buy a textbook at a fraction of it’s printed price, one able to be consumed in an interactive and digitized way is a great addition to the learning tools of students.

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  6. […] iPads can’t hold all the books students need: It’s safe to assume that most schools will be happy just to afford 16GB iPads for their students, but the reality is that for iBooks to replace textbooks, it’s likely they’ll need to spring for the 32GB model. One teacher points out that with most books coming in at 1 to 2 GB each, a 16 GB will hold eight books and nothing else. That means students may not be able to fit all of the books they need for school on one device, and they won’t be able to take advantage of educational apps on their iPads, either. (note: also read this review from Tech The Plunge) […]

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