All of your textbooks could weigh less than 2lbs

Hardback and paperback used to be the only choices when it came to books. However as technology advances in the 21st century new options are becoming available, and one of the world’s biggest corporations is getting in on the act.

Having sold nearly 15 million iPads by the end of 2010 Apple is looking at ways to make iPads a regular tool in many classrooms around the world. They have paired up with online publishing company Inkling to make a range of textbooks available, exclusively on the iPad. Two of the world’s largest educational publishers, McGraw-Hill and Pearson have made investments worth millions into Inkling, which was established in San Francisco in 2009. The former will make their top 100 textbooks and medical school curriculum available through the service. Whereas Pearson will publish their 24 most popular MBA titles as well as the top undergraduate arts and science books. So does this new form of publishing have the durability to replace a good old fashioned textbook?

Nat Herold is the proprietor of Amherst Books in Amherst Center. He is of the belief that the concept of eBooks is merely a fad. “The problem with this type of technology is that in 10 or 15 years it will be outdated. Something bigger and better will come along to replace it.” Mr Herold, who opened his store 8 years ago, believes it is actually the older generations who are using this new technology and not the present ones. “I know of many people over the age of 65 who have started using these devices. I talked to a panel of college students and none of them had an iPad or a Kindle.”

The iPad is still a relatively new implement that has classroom potential but it is not Apple’s first foray into the world of education. In May 2007 iTunes U was launched. Through this over 800 universities around the world, including Cambridge and Harvard, made hundred of thousands of courses available for free downloading. Students can gain access to audio and video lectures and exclusive interviews. Dr. Eric Poehler is an Assistant Professor in Classics at Umass Amherst, which also uses iTunes U. He airs on the side of caution when it comes to this, “I’m very much in favour of using open sources however by putting all of this information online it cuts the value of our employment.” It is not just students that can obtain this access. It is available to everyone. “This increased availability means that anyone can cause the destruction of someone’s words after they have been written,” Dr. Poehler stated. In theory non-enrolled students can gain access to information and courses that students have to pay thousands in tuition fees to experience.

Despite his rather negative opinion of iTunes U Dr. Poehler believes that, with the iPad, Apple has developed a tool that could transform the classroom. “I use the iPad pretty consistently in the classroom for power-points and attendance forms. Of course I use it for textbooks. For one of my classes I have made all my readings available in PDF form.”
Clearly the iPad has already started to manifest its way into classrooms but is it really a financially feasible method of education?

In the year 2010-11 the estimated cost of textbooks for college students per year averaged over a staggering $1000 nationally. Compare this to the cost effectiveness of the iPad. The base cost for the device is around $500. If the cost of the iPad could be balanced out with the cost of the eBooks it requires then Apple may very well be able to challenge the conventional textbooks. Alexander Jones is a Junior at UMass Amherst. He thinks that the iPad has a lot of educational potential. “I would certainly use an iPad for my textbooks. It would definitely beat carrying a rucksack full of books around with me all day.” In spite of his positive thoughts he concedes that there are a few issues with the idea, “$500 is a lot of money to spend in one go. So I think that if I could afford one I’d buy one but it’s unlikely on such a tight budget.” Nat Herold echoes this opinion. “Publishers have been charging far too much for electronic text. They can sell a Biology textbook for $180 but the physical cost of that book may be as little as $2, that is an outrageous amount.”

There are both positive and negative aspects to using the iPad as an educational tool but it is still a very recent development in the educational world. Users are able to highlight certain paragraphs within an eBook and leave notes on the section they have chosen. Their notes are there for everyone to see and discuss, enhancing class discussion. It is certainly more convenient to have all your required texts in one single place. That place could very easily be an iPad within the palms of your hands. There is a degree of uncertainty with the level of security regarding content on the iPad. Dr. Eric Poehler states, “With all this information online I do take caution sometimes when I put my work up there. At times it can be hard to tell who owns the copyright. Also there is a problem with the terms of fair use.” Dr. Poehler’s views back up the problem that absolutely any person with access to iTunes can gain access to materials on iTunes U and its other resources.

Apple is clearly making huge technological strides that could seriously impact how college students are educated. The deal struck with Inkling proves that they are committed to this initiative. This move could be the start of the transformation from the physical process of print and set type to a world of digital learning. There is still a distinct affinity for some people towards the physicality of books so this transition may take some time yet.

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