Goodbye, student backpacks loaded down with expensive, heavy textbooks? Well, goodbye to the heavy part, at least. Apple, which has made a habit of revolutionizing the way we interact with technology, is now turning its digital sights on the venerable analog textbook. Every costly new edition of a textbook means the old one is outdated, so Apple is betting that in the swiftly-changing information age, both the market and the halls of academia are ready for virtual textbooks – and that their wildly popular iPad tablet computer is the perfect platform to host them.
Virtual textbooks are portable and easily updated – and they can deliver videos, animations, definitions, flashcards, quizzes and interactive content. A pilot program at Amelia Earhart Middle School in Riverside found that students who used digital algebra textbooks on Apple’s iPad in the 2010-2011 school year scored 20 percent higher than their fellow students using traditional textbooks in the California Standards testing in the spring of 2011. But some experts are wary. Apple’s traditional 70/30 revenue split with content providers has ruffled feathers in the music business and Apple’s policies dictate that what is created with Apple software can be sold only through Apple’s iBookstore. Apple says that they can provide digital textbooks for $14.99 or less, but worries persist that cash-strapped schools won’t be able to provide a $499.00 iPad to every student, thereby widening the “digital divide” between school districts in wealthy and poor areas.
So are virtual textbooks a leap forward or a different but perhaps equally expensive and more profitable way to help kids learn? Would you prefer a digital version of your old school study aids?
Maggie Reardon, senior writer at CNET/CBS Interactive
Jay McPhail, Director of Instructional Technology for Riverside Unified School District