Category Archives: apple

Finally…

iOS devices

One question I get asked again and again by colleagues in the sector is how should institutions purchase apps for their iOS devices.

The easiest solution before, was to move the entire institution to the USA, buy the apps using the volume purchasing programme and then move back…

What most people did was either:

a) rely on free apps only, which was a pain if there were apps you wanted to buy or relied on in-app purchases.

b) spend their own money on apps, easy to do, but not everyone wanted or could afford to do this, and certainly wasn’t a practical solution on shared devices.

c) give users iTunes gift cards which were then used to buy apps. This did rely on trusting the users to buy the apps and not go out and buy music and films.

d) breach their iTunes agreement, buy an app once and then load it onto multiple devices. You can do this with your own devices, but according to the iTunes agreement wasn’t a viable option for educational devices.

So I am finally pleased to see that Apple have launched their Volume Purchase Programme in the UK.

The Volume Purchase Programme allows educational institutions to purchase iOS apps in volume and distribute them to students, teachers, administrators and employees.

Apple Volume Purchase Programme

It is worthwhile reading the FAQ to see how this works.

The process looks quite simple, a nominated individual in the institution (and there can be more than one) buys apps in volume using a corporate credit card.

The institution then  gets a series of codes which can be redeemed in the iTunes store for the app purchased by either staff or learners. Mobile device management (MDM) software can also facilitate this distribution.

This ensures that the institution is staying within the terms of the iTunes agreement, that staff and learners don’t need to spend their own money on the app and that the users also have direct access to the app.

What is useful to know is that for app purchases, education institutions have the option of redeeming one app code per iTunes authorised computer, or “sync station,” and retaining the rest of the codes as proof of purchase. So they can then do the d) option, buy the app once and load onto a series of devices.

One limitation is that the programme does not cover in-app purchases, this was often a way of upgrading free lite versions to the full version, but now you can buy the full version.

I am pleased to see this programme finally in the UK and it should support those people and institutions rolling out iOS devices in their colleges and universities.

Thinking about iTunes U

Thursday in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app. I’ve already written about iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, so what about iTunes U.

Before today, iTunes U was in the main a marketing tool for universities and colleges. It was a way of showing prospective students great content and give them an idea of what they may expect to experience if they went to that institution. There were some institutions which used iTunes U as a delivery mechanism for their learners, it was even possible to “close” or “lock” down iTunes U so that only authorised users could access the content.

The key though was that iTunes U was a content delivery system and was not about interactive content, communication or collaboration. It also wasn’t a total content delivery system, as iTunes U was in the main focused on delivering audio and video content (and in some cases PDFs).

Most of the main UK Universities and Colleges were not using iTunes U to deliver all their content to their learners and certainly though there was some excellent content, it was just one delivery mechanism for learners. I would hazard a guess that in most institutions, once the learners are there, most of the content would be provided through the institutional virtual learning environment, a tool such as Blackboard or Moodle. These tools do allow for communication and collaboration and interaction. What was always lacking, until very recently, were usable and decent mobile access to the institutional virtual learning environment. Both Blackboard and Moodle now have either a mobile app, or a mobile optimised stylesheet, however these really don’t “work” as well as they could, as both products were designed to work in a standard web browser on a computer.

Apple have “upgraded” iTunes U to allow much more diverse content to be delivered to learners through iTunes and a new iTunes U app for the iPad. With iBooks 2, interactive textbooks can be “purchased” alongside the planned delivery of video and audio. iBooks Author allows teachers and lecturers to create their own “books” that either can be given or sold to learners (through the iBookstore). This means that much more varied content can be delivered through iTunes U.

What Apple have done with iTunes U for the iPad is design an app for the delivery of curriculum from a mobile perspective. The learner will be “given” a complete course that they can then use on their iPad complete with textbooks, video, audio and other content.

What iTunes U lacks is the social interaction, communication and collaboration tools that an institutional virtual learning environment can provide. Learners would probably say, “so what” as we interact and communicate using Facebook and Twitter. So though iTunes U fails from a two way student engagement perspective, there are other ways in which learners will talk, discuss and communicate, whether that includes the practitioner, that remains to be seen.

Will iTunes U replace Blackboard or Moodle? A lot depends on what we as consumers do. It’s true that iTunes has had a huge effect on the music industry and digital downloads. So there is a precedent for Apple changing an industry, the same can be said about the iPod or the iPhone. However we also need to consider Ping and iWeb, not everything Apple does has that golden touch.

Of course you can’t just use iTunes U, firstly your institution needs to apply to be on iTunes U and that isn’t a simple process, and it isn’t something an individual does, you will need to get management in your organisation on board. However I suspect this will be easier once more institutions get enrolled and you could argue about it from a competitive perspective.

Though a lot of stuff on iTunes U can be viewed on a computer, to take advantage of the real potential of the new iTunes U, the learner is going to need an iPad. You can’t read the new textbooks or books created with iBooks Author on a Mac or a PC, only on an iPad. So if you do put content on iTunes U for use with the iTunes U app then you will need to be sure that either a) all your learners have an iPad, or b) you provide the content in a different format. The latter will be challenging as the export functionality in iBooks Author leaves a lot be desired, the alternatives to the iBook format are PDF and text which don’t utilise the use of media or interactivity.

If every learner in your institution has an iPad, then iTunes U is a great way of delivering content to your learners, if every learner doesn’t… well I wouldn’t bother with iTunes U.

Get iTunes U in the iTunes App Store.



iBooks Author

A new free tool, iBooks Author, from Apple that should mean creating content for iBooks on iOS will be much easier.

Today in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

I wasn’t too impressed with iBooks 2, on the other hand, iBooks Author I think has real potential for practitioners in allowing them to easily create content that will work on the iPad. Practitioners have been wanting a simple tool that allows them to create simple content with added bells and whistles. This will I think have a greater impact than the textbooks for iBooks 2.

Why?

Well practitioners now have a tool that allows them to not only easily create content they can give to their learners, it also gives universities, colleges and schools the ability to convert and create content, that they can they give away within iTunes U, but also sell in the iBookstore to learners, not only in their institution, but also sell to other students across the world. You will also see individual practitioners creating and selling educational content that before was only mainly done by publishers and software companies. With iBooks Author there is now a tool that is not only free and simple to download, it is also very easy to use. Practitioners who are using Keynote and Pages (or even Powerpoint) will find that it is relatively simple to reuse or convert content, publish and sell it on Apple’s iBookstore.

Having given iBooks Author a try, in a similar vein to iWeb if you don’t mind following the Apple template then the app will work just fine. If you want to go out of the box? Then at this time the app isn’t a solution and you will find it very frustrating.

The export options are limited to iBooks, PDF and text. The PDF option is horrible in that it exports the “pages” in frames with a watermark underneath each one, and none of the media work, even though PDFs can support video and animations. There is also no ePub export option available either. It was rumoured that Apple would be using a ePub3 standard with HTML5 extensions that would allow the use of interactivity and media. Now that may very well be the case, but they are using their version of it which means that firstly any book you create will only really work on the iPad, and won’t work on other readers such as the Sony Reader let alone the Kindle. Secondly if you didn’t want to use iBooks Author to create an iBook then you probably wouldn’t be able to create (easily) an iBook using the ePub3 standard with HTML 5 extensions.

So there is no easy way to export as ePub or import ePub. From the perspective of the average practitioner this isn’t going to be an issue, but for some learning technologists this will probably create some real headaches if they are trying to reuse or repurpose existing content.

I can certainly see a lot of practitioners and institutions deciding to create and sell content using iBooks Author and as a 1.0 release I think it has potential, however it currently reminds me too much of iWeb and not enough of Keynote. For “normal” people I think it will be “awesome” and “magical” for everyone else it will be iWeb.

Get iBooks Author in the Mac App Store.

“Reinventing” Textbooks, I don’t think so!

So has Apple reinvented the textbook?

I don’t think so.

Today in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

With iBooks 2 it is now possible to read e-books that also contain media and interactive content

I have to say to Apple and all those sites out there that are saying iBooks 2 has reinvented textbooks, I don’t think so. I felt a little underwhelmed by the textbooks that were announced by Apple. They are for all intents and purposes digitised textbooks with some fancy video, slideshows and other effects. There are already apps within the iOS App Store that provide a similar experience, the Dorling Kindersley releases for example. I have already reviewed some of these in my review series, and I think some of those, such as Eureka, are much more innovative and exciting.

Don’t get me wrong, the use of video, animations, slideshows, 3D diagrams, interactivity can be so much better than the diagrams and photographs in a paper book. We mustn’t though forget that interactive doesn’t always mean engaging. Sometimes something very uninteractive and be very engaging, likewise in the past many interactive textbooks (we called them CD-ROMS back then) did not engage learners. It takes a lot of skill and thought to create engaging interactive content, and clever animations and video is only part of the picture.

What is missing is the Apple magic in the user interface. iBooks and devices such as the Kindle work for “normal” books such as novels and non-fiction where the reader moves from one page to another in a linear fashion. From a user’s perspective, the experience is comparable.

However this is not how academic textbooks are used by learners. Learners rarely (if ever) read an academic textbook from page to page. No they are more likely to flick through the pages to the relevant chapter or section, flick back to other parts of the book as they make notes, sometimes on the book (annotations) but also on paper (or using a word processor). Now you can do that in iBooks 2, but not nearly as easily and smoothly as you can with a paper book.

In May 2010, I wrote about how the Seattle Times outlined how student at the University of Washington did not like using the Kindle compared to using printed books.

There were some interesting results and comments from the pilot. 80% would not recommend the Kindle as a classroom study aid for example. However 90% liked it for reading for pleasure.

Though I hazard a guess that maybe a slightly lower percentage would not recommend the iPad as a classroom study aid, I said back then:

This is a lesson that educational publishers need to recognise when publishing content to platforms like the Kindle and the iPad. Though novels are linear and as a result eBook formats can “work” like a printed book, educational books are used differently and as a result eBook versions need to work differently. Students need to be able to move around quickly, annotate and bookmark.

Creating a digital copy of an academic textbook for a lot of learners is not going to work, as it doesn’t allow them to use the digital textbook in the way that they would use a paper copy. There needs to be a paradigm shift in understanding how learners use content, so that the advantages that a device such as the iPad can bring to learning are fully exploited and learners are not left thinking that the digital version is a poor relation of the paper textbook.

Those advantages that Apple outlined in their presentation that the iPad is portable, durable, interactive, searchable and current are just part of the story, digitising content misses out on the other advantages that the iPad brings to the desk. The touch interface offers so much more than just highlighting and flicking backwards and forwards in a linear fashion. Magazines such as Eureka and Wired have started to understand that, I am surprised that Apple haven’t.

There is also a complete lack of communication and sharing within iBooks 2. Learners are unable to share their annotations, copy their notes to their peers, discuss the content. All that is missing from iBooks 2, it is about consuming content, individually and then probably writing about it using Pages or creating a spreadsheet in Numbers.

The new textbooks in iBooks 2 make the mistake of creating a digital equivalent of the paper book with a few added bells and whistles and does not take advantage of the iPad interface and connectivity that could add so much. Textbooks need a new way of thinking, however this time Apple are not thinking differently enough.

What do you think?

iPublisher or iBooks U

Tomorrow there is going to be an announcement from Apple in New York.

As you can see from the invite the event is about education. The word on the street (well on the rumour sites) is that this is something to do with electronic textbooks, as major publishers have been invited to the event. This wouldn’t be too much of a surprise as it was hinted at in the Steve Jobs biography.

In terms of academic e-books I think we may see either a new way of looking at e-books with much more media within them, or possibly a new way of selling them, by chapter for example as demonstrated by Inkling.

We use to buy music either as albums or singles, now with the iTunes Store or Amazon we can buy individual tracks from albums. I am sure similar changes will happen with books, with e-books just been the start of this process.

One thing I have said is that publishers need to move away from the traditional approach of selling the whole text book as an e-book and start thinking about selling individual chapters to users, in the same way that we can buy individual episodes of a TV series.

I have said we should move away from digitised versions of print books and take advantage of the digital medium with interactive content and media.

We may also see an iBooks for the Mac too; at the moment you can only read iBooks on an iOS device. So if you have an iPad or an iPhone, great you can read e-books from Apple, however if you have a Mac then you can’t. It would make sense that if there are going to be lots of academic e-books for iBooks, and many students will only have a MacBook then there will be a need for iBooks for the Mac.

So what about the creation of content for iBooks? There has also been a lot of discussion and rumours about a possible Apple e-Book publishing tool announcement. At the moment it is quite difficult to create nice looking e-books, yes you can do it in Pages, but it’s not easy or perfect. So the rumour is Apple may announce something like Garageband or iWeb, but for creating e-books. If they announce support within iBooks for the EPUB 3 standard then within iBooks it will be much easier to view and engage with interactive e-books; then we will need a new tool that allows us to easily create EPUB 3 e-books.

This new app, which I guess could be called iPublisher, would allow people to easily create and edit e-books that can then be read in the iBooks app or any e-book reader that supports EPUB 3. There might even be an iPublisher Pro that enables Publishers to create more sophisticated e-books.

Part of me hopes that we will see an “iPublisher” app, but part of me thinks if that was going to happen then why would Publishers (who would be threatened by such a tool) are invited to the event. So as a result I am slightly sceptical that we won’t see an iPublisher tool, but hoping that we will.

Something else we might see tomorrow is iBooks U in the same way the record companies have iTunes and Universities can have their own iTunes U, I wonder if as well as an iBooks academic store, we also have an iBooks U where Universities and Colleges can publish their own iBooks to the EPUB 3 standard, complete with multi-media and interactive content, something that in the past we may have called a learning object.

iBooks U wouldn’t exclude an iPublisher app, if we look at music or audio, we have iTunes Store for commercial content, iTunes U for academic content and within iTunes we have podcasts for other audio content, to which people like me can publish using a tool such as Garageband.

So if we have an iBooks academic store, iBooks U for content from Universities and Colleges, we could also have a “place” for content created by people like me, using a tool that may be called iPublisher…

Well that’s what I am thinking, what do you think?