What Apple’s Textbook Initiative Really Means for Public Schools
High school textbooks are boring. Plain and simple.
And motivated by boredom, many students quickly learn that reading the paragraphs with bold words and skimming the rest is sufficient to at least pass the quiz the next day.
And when it’s necessary to read an entire chapter, even the most studious among us have been bored to tears trying to muddle through each column of text.
Well, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) plans to change all that.
Yesterday, at the company’s education event in New York City, Apple revealed its plan to “reinvent the textbook” with iBooks 2.
Can Textbooks Actually Be Fun?
iBooks 2 allows publishers to develop new interactive textbooks to boost student engagement and the likelihood that they’ll (gasp!) actually enjoy learning something from each chapter.
Here are some key features Apple showed off at the event:
- The ability to highlight text with a swipe of the finger.
- Tapping on Glossary terms to pull up definitions.
- Digital study cards can be created (and shuffled) automatically from either highlighted text or the Glossary terms.
- Movies can be embedded directly in text.
- Interactive study questions at the end of each section give immediate feedback.
- You can quickly jump to page numbers or different sections, saving both time and headaches for teachers. (If you’ve ever heard 20 or more students flipping through pages at once, you understand.)
- Notes can be typed on the iPad and saved to the cloud.
- And a student’s copy of the book is always available for download anytime in the future.
Sounds like a solid upgrade from standard textbooks, for sure. Especially considering that these books are priced at $14.99 or less. And updating the text is as simple as downloading new editions as the publishers release them.
Some of Apple’s e-textbook features might sound familiar. Back in March, I wrote about a company called Inkling that was already reinventing the textbook with its own iPad app.
Sadly for Inkling, though, with a name like Apple behind the iBooks 2 initiative, it doesn’t really matter who broke ground first.
But is Apple’s position of power enough to turn the textbook industry on its head?
An Uphill Battle
There’s no doubt that iBooks 2 has the potential to revolutionize the way students engage with textbooks. That potential is why, earlier this year, I listed the digitization of textbooks as one of the five hottest ways to profit from the iPad’s success.
But I also specifically mentioned how – at least at first – this trend is likely to only hit college campuses.
When college students already spend hundreds of dollars each year on books, purchasing a $500 iPad so you can lower the cost of taking five classes to $75 a semester (at $15 a book) is a no-brainer. So we can expect that Apple’s announcement will have a huge effect there.
But K-12 is a whole other story.
In order for this to work in schools across the country, every student needs their own iPad. And since you can bet that schools are going to be responsible for purchasing the devices, the cost to the districts could be staggering.
Let’s say a school has an average of 250 students in each graduating class. With Apple’s 10% discount it’s been giving to schools, that’s $112,500 the district would need to shell out each year as new classes of students join their ranks.
And that’s not even counting textbooks, which public schools would likely have to cover as well. Sure $15 is a lot less than the $105 it usually costs for the average hardback version. But current textbooks can last for years.
If a student needs, say, five e-textbooks per year, that’s another $18,750. Which adds up to $168,750 for grades 4 to 12.
Such figures certainly explain why the major publishers are fully backing Apple’s efforts. But considering there are teachers who haven’t received a raise in three years or more, perhaps now isn’t the best time for schools to go on a technology spending binge.
Bottom line: As a former teacher myself, I’m all for technology in schools. And I’m convinced that getting iPads – or some other tablet device – in the hands of every student nationwide would take education to another level.
But if Apple really wants to make a splash outside of college campuses, it’s going to need to show schools an easier (i.e. cheaper) way to get the ball rolling.