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.
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.
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.
So are you thinking about running a pilot or a trial?
How many pilots do we need? Or is it more a question that we need to run a pilot at our institution before we think about “rolling” it out across all curriculum areas. I am also aware of successful pilots in one curriculum area which have been followed by virtually identical pilots in a second curriculum area… Why? Well the learners are different! Really! How different, they have two heads or something? That actually raises a question on any pilot, well successful pilots have resulted in a roll out across the whole institution?
We do see institutions that use tools such as Powerpoint across the institution, similarly we see some institutions have embedded the use of the VLE. However was this via projects and pilots? Or was it something different?
Do pilots actually help institutions move forward in using learning technologies or are they causing problems rather than solutions?
Do you read about pilots and projects from other organisations? Do you follow their advice when implementing new technologies or do you decide to run your own pilot? If we don’t learn from pilots that others do, is there any point in doing or talking about pilots?
I also had a recent conversation where the institution was going to do a pilot as it couldn’t afford a mainstream rollout of the technology. Now this I really didn’t understand, you already know from the research undertaken that the technology works and has a positive impact, however rather than buy enough for the institution you’re only going to buy enough to repeat the pilot already done. Why couldn’t they buy enough? Well they weren’t given the funding.
Maybe the question is, why aren’t the people who are making the financial decisions reading the research and project outcomes?
Personally my view is that if there is only enough money for a pilot, it’s probably not worth doing and you would be better off spending the money on reinforcing and enhancing the use of a technology you already have. However many might see that as boring.
I thought I would mention some of things I have done at my institution in relation to the introduction of new technologies and the impact they have had.
When the JISC Collections e-Books for FE announcement was made, I immediately signed the college up. I recall talking to a colleague who said “so which group of students should we pilot this with”. I thought for a minute and wondered why we needed to do a pilot or a trial. Hadn’t JISC Collections already done that, seen the need to provide the collection and given us an opportunity. So I replied, “no we’re not going to do a pilot, we’re going to launch it for all learners and tell everyone about it, the pilot projects have already been done by JISC, e-books do work, they support, enhance and enrich learning, why on earth would we want to repeat that work, to get the same results, oh and get no funding to do it?” As a result of the mainstream launch of the e-books into the college, we now have learners and practitioners using e-books to support their learning. No need to do a pilot, we knew it worked elsewhere, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?
I could go on about Flip’ping Pilots, but when an opportunity came to purchase some SD card based video cameras, rather than buy a set of 15 and see how they worked out with groups, we purchased over 300 cameras. The result was just what I expected. More practitioners creating and using video in their teaching. Learners using video for assessment and reflection. Availability of the cameras was the real issue, having lots of them meant that whenever someone wanted to use one, either they had one in their pocket or could get hold a class set really easily. Was I concerned about spending that amount of money on cameras that wouldn’t be used? Well probably slightly, however pilots and projects done elsewhere had demonstrated again and again that video had had a really positive impact on teaching and learning, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?
I remember seeing a demonstration of Activexpression by Promethean at my college and been very impressed, the main reason I liked the system over other “clicker” systems including the Promethean Activote was that you could use the system without needing to spend ages preparing the questions in advance.
However another thing I knew, from reading about projects that had implemented clickers in other institutions was that staff didn’t use their sets of clickers very much because they weren’t sure if they would be available, but when they did use them they really thought they worked effectively. The lesson was simple, ensure you have enough clickers available. We also had a need to make assessment more engaging and “fun”, clickers or voting units seemed like an ideal solution based on the work done elsewhere. So once more when some funding was available, we purchased 1500 Activexpression handsets, nearly enough for a hundred classes! They were made available in a range of departments. The result? Well most of the sets were used and used on a regular basis to the point where they are embedded into practice. However I should say not all departments engaged with the technology and some were left in cupboards. However after a period of implementation and relection we relocated the sets not been used. The result was across many curriculum areas the clickers were been actively used to enhance and enrich learning. I had seen the results of many pilots and projects that had used clickers and voting units, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?
When the iPad first came out, I didn’t think it was going to be the radical device for me that it has eventually come to be. In the end I was really impressed with the device and how it improved my efficiency and workflows for my job. As a result I bought every member of the management team in my centre an iPad. As well as the Libraries and e-Learning, my centre includes Construction, Engineering and Schools Liaison. I certainly didn’t see this as a pilot or a project, much more about them benefiting from the lessons I had learnt. I have had quite a few people in the college come and ask me to provide them with iPads (like I have the budget for that) or have asked to “pilot” them with a group of their learners. As far as I am concerned there have been lots of iPad pilots and projects elsewhere in the world and my college doesn’t need to repeat those experiences, the lessons have been published, the problems identified and many of the issues resolved. For me the question is now, now are iPads useful or will they enhance and enrich learning, no the question for me is, will iPads solve a specific problem we have in the college, will they increase retention and achievement for a particular cohort? If I can answer those questions I can then ask the question will the cost of the iPads be outweighed by the benefit they will bring? We don’t have that many iPads at my college, those that do have them, find they are really useful and have had quite an impact on their work. Elsewhere other iPad projects have demonstrated the value they can bring to learning, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?
So with all the wonderful stuff that has been discussed at various conferences and events, I wonder how many of you are thinking about your next project, your next pilot, your next research grant bid… Do I only want to do a pilot because a) everyone else is doing a pilot and b) it means I get an exciting new gadget to play with c) I need to be seen to be doing new and innovative stuff. Pilots are fun, aren’t they?
Or are you thinking differently, thinking about why wouldn’t this work at my place? Why can’t I do a mainstream roll out of this new technology.
Are you thinking differently?
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