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Revolutionizing textbooks: the iPad and e-textbooks

Options:     Print Version - Revolutionizing textbooks: the iPad and e-textbooks, part 2 Print view

Article Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. Commercially available e-Textbooks
  3. Advantages of e-textbooks
  4. Creating textbooks
  5. Conclusion
  6. References

Commercially available e-Textbooks

At a much-hyped event at the New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and proclaiming that education was in their DNA, Apple announced its new educational offerings on January 19 2012.

The first product was a new version of iBooks (iBooks2), which better supports interactivity. (Presumably to draw attention to their touch technology, they refer to e-textbooks as "multi-touch".)

The second was iBooks Author, software which enables creation of interactive books without needing to understand programming (to be discussed later).

IBooks 2 is firmly linked with Apple devices – it only plays on Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod.  Books are download-able from the iBookstore, and appear on a virtual bookshelf.

According to Roger Rosner, Vice President for Productivity Applications, Apple focused on three areas when bringing textbooks to iPad: fast, fluid navigation, beautiful graphics, and a good way of taking notes.

The textbooks it displays are, according to Apple’s description, filled with interactivity and image in the form of diagrams, photos, videos, 3D objects that can be rotated, and more.

You can highlight text and add notes, which are then automatically organized and displayed as study cards.

Apple has partnered with three textbook market leaders – McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt. As of January 2012, the initial focus is on the K12 market, and the textbooks will retail at around $15.

Apple’s venture has been a great success: according to Global Equities Research, within three days of the iBooks launch between 350,000 and 375,000 textbooks, and 90,000 to 110,000 copies of iBooks Author were downloaded (Elmer-DeWitt, 2012).

Student textbooks

There are currently fairly few digital textbooks aimed at the undergraduate market. Nature Publishing Group has taken the lead with its Principles of Biology, developed and trialed with California State University, and released globally in February 2012 (but to be continually updated).

The striking thing about Principles (which is also a template for other science textbooks to follow) is not only that it is an all-singing, all-dancing multimedia born digital textbook with first class graphics, but also that it is designed to be as flexible as possible and fit in with course requirements.

Image: Figure 1

One of the interactive images in Principles of Biology

Organized round nearly 200 modules, each module contains pages which can be tabbed through, with a right-hand margin which includes both a note-taking facility and also links to advanced learning resources in the form of scientific articles from Nature publications.

This structure means that instructors can add their own comments whilst students can take their own notes, and have access to the latest research.

If an instructor adopts Principles, they gain access to a "classroom space" where they can post announcements, have access both to the textbook and to other teaching resources, and keep a record via a gradebook of students’ scores of the textbook’s tests.

(For more information, see http://www.nature.com/nature_education/interactive_textbooks.)

Principles of Biology is device independent: it can be viewed on an iPad or smartphone but is not tied uniquely to Apple. A similar approach (at least as far as platforms are concerned) is taken by the publisher MediaTechnics (mediatechnicscorp.com), which produces interactive multimedia textbooks for the computer market. 

Judging by the sample book on their website, Computer Concepts 2013 however, the interactivity is limited both in quantity and diversity. There are a few Camtasia-enabled videos, hyperlinks to glossary definitions and to websites, as well as some rather neat interactive graphics embedded in the text.

Image: Figure 2

Video showing an interactive graphic in Computer Concepts 2013
A big plus is the use of explanatory audio, which helps reinforce the lessons of the graphics.