Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How Revolutionary is Apple's foray into Education

Vidit Bhargava

An education based even was hosted by Apple, last month. The event emphasized on how the company will try to change the decaying American education system.

Phill Schiller took the stage to kick-start the education event by emphasizing that USA wasn't a leader when it came to global education. He didn't forget to mention that the iPad had been the most desired gadget amongst the teens. Phill also mentioned about iPad's contribution in helping students study.

There were three things, that Apple Launched that evening. I'd like to go through them one by one and try to give a feed-back on exactly how revolutionary they are:

1.    iBooks 2
iBooks, Apple's book-reading app for the iPad now features some really interactive content from popular textbook publishers. These are books specifically designed for the iPad. They are interactive, more colorful and much less boring than the books you might be reading today. And They have the same quality of content.

One such book is  E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth. Its a biology text book which is fully loaded with interactive content. You can pinch inside a human cell, interactively study the parts of an insect, get video lessons, visit interactive image galleries related to the topic, test yourself and get an interactive feedback there and then. Apple has redefined how a book looks like.

While these books may be great when it comes to 'reading the content' but when it comes to the books which concentrate less on the reading material and more on providing extra questions, the interactive way of learning faces a challenge. When you add more questions and less of content, you ultimately end up compromising the interactivity of the book. Which is something you won't want because the selling point of these books is interactivity, followed by other supplementary factors.

The interactive iBooks also have a task of luring the kids into studies, while this may convert a few students and make them study 'more' but not many will 'start' studying just because their new books are on a touch-screen device, have a video or are interactive. Moreover to such kids, the iPad might prove to be more of a distraction than a learning ground. This is something perhaps no-one can change and technology's intervention doesn't help.

* iBooks 2 is a free update from Apple's App Store.

2. iBooks Author
This is a tool for the publishers. The iBooks Author lets you create interactive textbooks and test them on your device. It provides the Author with an opportunity to put content or add interactive media. This can be in the form of an interactive HTML5 widget, a 3D figure, a video or even a simple quiz. Publishers have a choice on what they can put.

iBooks Author is just like Instant food. It can create a new book in a matter of minutes. All you need is, the content to fit in and a suitable collection of pictures and video. iBooks Author manages almost everything. Also you can test your book on your iPad before publishing it to the iBookstore. Authors can choose their own price.

However, iBooks Author has a large scope of improvement. Not only do authors have limited control to how their book can look, many of the services are only linked to Apple's ecosystem. For Example if you wish to add an HTML5 widget you just can't embed an HTML file. You will need to create a widget using Apple's proprietary dashcode and then embed it into the iBook. There is also little modification you can do with a set template. You don't have much say when it comes to changing the look and feel of the book. This might lead to a set pattern of stenciled textbooks on the iPad, in the future.

Apple Likes having a full control in all its products and iBooks Author is no exception. Its dead closed and all you can do is, play around with the Apple software. Its like a Garden with many swings, but it is closed on all sides. No where to escape. No room to expand.

On the whole the iBooks Author is a good desktop publishing tool but there is a lot left to desire over here.

3. iTunes U
iTunes U has enjoyed a good 4 and a half years of existence. It has been helpful to all kind of students and provides a good variety of courses from the world's best universities. Apple decides to expand it now, with an iOS App.

The new iTunes U iOS App features courses. What are courses? Well, Courses are just like the courses you might attend at your college. They involve Video Lectures, Mini Quizzes, Assignments, Study Material and Tests. They are a digital replica of a college course. Not only does iTunes U help you get all the content, It also helps you maintain notes, and allows you to search through the study material and keep a track of your tests.

The iTunes U App is a nice addition. It is also the most effective way of learning and grasping content amongst the three announced by Apple.

The App has a good, clean and sensible UI which allows the users to concentrate on studying and lets them build a good understanding of whatever they are learning. Also the Tests, Quizzes and Assignments are very helpful.

While Apple may like to portray how revolutionary these new iBooks and this Digital Content is, It remains to be seen how well it performs. The Book business might turn out to be as good as the iTunes Music Store or might end up being one of the few failures Apple has faced in the past decade. Completely changing a country's education system is a big task, This is just a small step in one direction. Only time will tell if it is the right direction.

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