The real textbook dilemma

Sat Jan 21, 2012

Yesterday, Apple announced the arrival of interactive textbooks on it’s new iBooks2 platform, as well as an online course delivery system through iTunesU. Thus fulfilling Steve Jobs’ dream to take on the textbook industry and relieve students everywhere of their back-breaking packs filled with dead trees.

A digital textbook seems like a great idea, but that’s where it ends - just a nice idea. The reality is that our educational landscape is so uneven and broken that the idea of iPads for every students seems a pipe dream at best. This sobering editorial says it best - the devil is in the hardware. Who’s going to pay for all these iPads? And who will replace them when they inevitably break? Can families afford it?

It seems that a few pilot projects in the richest schools is about all we can hope for, leaving poorer school districts drooling in envy. If you’ve seen the excellent documentary Waiting for Superman, then you’ll know that the education system, in the US at least, has a lot of catching up to do before entering the digital age.

What about university? I can really see the value of digital textbooks shining here - but not on the iPad. Students have enough to distract them without the temptation of tweeting or playing Angry Birds during that boring biology lecture. Perhaps it would work if there was some sort of classroom equivalent of “Airplane Mode” where you could lock the iPad into textbook mode. I can’t see that ever taking off with students though.

Am I being a bit of a Neanderthal? Perhaps. But I was educated with a blunt pencil and the back of a ruler and turned out just fine.

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