In the last article (Evolution of the Textbook Part One), we began our examination of the evolution of text books by looking at the transformation of paper based texts into eBooks and ePubs, and some of the resources currently on offer to enhance and, in some cases, even replace the tradition paper based texts.
In this issue of Education Technology Solutions, we will continue our discussion on the evolution of the textbook by taking a closer look at Apple’s iBooks and how teachers stand to benefit both technologically and practically, by implementing them in the classroom.
The iBook announcement from Apple appears to offer a much simpler method of operation than some of the alternatives discussed in the last article such as ebooks and the like as the iBook resides in the device and does not require an online connection to operate. For example a Google doc can be embedded within the EPUB and remain connected and interactive for the teacher to observe when online, but allows the student to edit the document offline. Animations can be embedded and although this uses HTML5 not Flash, Adobe Flash to HTML5 converters are readily available.
This announcement is of no consequence for netbook users (the majority of the NSSCF funds were used to purchase low cost netbooks), or the broader PC world. However, for the legions of converts to iPads and users of iPads in education, it could be a game changer. No longer ‘flat file’ pdfs, the EPUB allows for non-linear texts with active media embedded. While standard pdfs and EPUB have had some of this functionality, the new EPUB creator, iBooks Author, establishes greater possibilities.
iBooks Author Has An Answer
iBooks Author provides a neat solution. All course materials – URL references, movie URLS, embedded movies, keynote presentations, any iTunes media – can be inserted within the EPUB3 document. Google docs, surveys, graphs and space to write essays can also be added by the students.
Any teacher with a Mac running the Lion OS (OS X 10.7.3) can download iBooks Author for free from the MacAppStore. Within ten minutes, a feature-rich publication will be ready (assuming a reasonable iTunes library of pictures, movies and music) for transfer by dock cable to an iPad2 (or iPad3) using Preview. Within a minute the new EPUB is installed in iBooks and ready to access on the iPad.
Interactive learning requires the flexibility for comments to pass to and fro without being programmed. Many previous attempts were limited by the available programming. For example the somewhat expensive Successmaker for Mathematics attempted to cover all possibilities before the student began. Simulations (or games to some) are far more adaptive to students and levels of understanding are easily demonstrated.
Game-based learning may be more successful if a minor rebadging takes place to establish a greater level of credibility in education. Simulations are a regular part of serious science and engineering. A student using a federally funded computer device to play a game about atom models doesn’t have the same ring to it. These simulations can be embedded within the iBook using Hype, a free HTML5 tool.
This Is Magic!
With iBooks Author e(lectronic) books are no longer good enough, the i(nteractive)Book has arrived! Flat file PDFs and Flash websites which rely on fast wi-fi networks continue to be the most common offering. A recent experience observed in schools with fast wi-fi are the bottleneck moments when, at the start and end of the session, all devices attempt to open or save files as they log in/out. Teachers have been requested to stagger the connections to the network as many schools have well over 500 devices connecting, some well over 1000 when staff computers and smartphones are counted.
A major determining factor for the function of ICT will be the courses of instruction and the assessment of those courses. The current HSC and VCE require very little computer function to provide support for a largely memory recall end-of-year examination system. The emerging Australian Curriculum will determine the level and degree of creative learning that can reasonably take place from P-10 in English, Mathematics, Sciences, History and Geography by 2013. Senior years will be determined by 2015. ACARA is both a curriculum authority and an assessment authority. The balance between the Federal and the states’ jurisdiction will be of interest to all concerned. It is reasonable to assume that online testing will be considered at some stage, however, this seems likely to remain a states’ responsibility.
The innovation is with the iPad, however, the Australian education scene is ambivalent to Apple technologies. Recent published comments by IT officials in NSW and Victoria Departments for Education actively discourage the consideration and adoption of iPad and Apple technologies. On the other hand, the CEO (Catholic Education Office) in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania has openly embraced these technologies and large scale rollouts have occurred in both primary and secondary sectors.
The next round of computers for students is due in 2014, it is currently included with the forward estimates of both major political parties. Only time will tell whether Australian schools are ready and able to adopt interactive learning technologies, or remain with fact-based, content-filled websites which coach for the end-of-year test.
A major consideration for composing a multimedia EPUB3 document using iBook Author is: Where does the content come from? All commercial publications are protected by copyright legislation, which prohibits for profit use of their material. A limited ten per cent or one chapter is possible for internal use within a classroom.
Into this situation iBook Author will create chaos unless urgent attention is given to print and electronic copyright restrictions and usage. The existing copyright authority, CAL, automatically pays publishers after a survey of schools establishes the quanta of photocopying of learning materials by schools. Essentially the amount paid depends on the number of photocopies made in schools.
The entire assumption about photocopying no longer reflects current practice in schools as printing is a cost that can be dramatically curtailed with Netbooks and iPads. However, increasingly schools use the pdf version provided with the textbook on the netbooks. Mostly the pdfs are unchanged. However, iBooks Author allows repurposing of content, contrary to copyright regulations.
Instant Alpha is a tool in iBooks Author(and Pages and Keynote since 2005) which can remove the background from images and screenshots with a single click. Photoshop is no longer necessary (though Photoshop Elements is provided on the Netbook rollout image).
EPUB3 documents can be installed on the iPad with the dock cable, and no posting to iTunes Bookstore is required. In the UK last December, a major consultation by Government canvassed the possibility of significantly removing any copyright restrictions on materials used for education purposes. This idea is still being considered and highlights the need for Australia to consider modernisation of copyright rules to reflect current and future usage.
It should be noted, the upsurge in YouTube videos posted frequently includes no longer available movies and documentaries. The access to these videos is unreliable as many copyright restrictions have been flagrantly ignored by posting internationally. A cease and desist order usually has the video removed once the copyright holder calls attention to the breach. However, the video usually reappears under another username a few hours or days later. Many publishers do not provide ‘hard’ URL links to videos for this reason, just the title, which does not change and can be successfully searched in a few seconds.
We live in interesting times…
The existing orthodoxy is being challenged. Text based materials can be easily enhanced and embellished using many technologies. iBooks Author is the latest, simplest tool which provides powerful multimedia manipulation and presentation options for educators impatient with traditional textbooks and constantly out-of-date reference materials. When coupled with iPad, anytime, anywhere and more effective learning materials become a reality. Interactive materials that respond to and record student progress can be embedded within the iBook. Any multimedia resource can similarly be included, or a URL link can jump to the online material (when connected – most school iPads are wi-fi only).
Of course, the converse is also true. A poorly written, badly illustrated text may look more attractive, but it is still a textbook, instructing students what to know, and providing answers to questions not asked nor thought of.
The main challenge, apart from copyright, is to take the next step in developing engaging learning materials that encourage students to explore a topic with passion. The iBooks Author provides the tools. The rest is up to the educators. If the future is an unknown country, it is certainly time to go exploring…The evolution continues.
Gary Bass is an Apple Distinguished Educator 2011 and Learning Leader, Science at Macleod P-12 College in Melbourne. He uses iPads every day with middle school students using Doceri and Airplay on AppleTV to dramatically remove the need for paper handouts. He is also co-author of the Nelson Cengage science series Nelson iScience, which is specifically designed for iPad and Netbooks using web2.0, as well as embedded quality approaches and thinking tools.
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