Tag Archives: Textbooks

Apple’s “Textbooks” Potential: Curriculum Creation for Customized Learning

Apple’s announcement about selling interactive textbooks, iBooks Author for creating interactive textbooks, the iTunes U app for iPad, and opening iTunes U to K-12 prompted me to blog about my reaction to textbooks in general, how Apple’s tools might be useful for students to create products in PBL, and how the tools might be used as a platform for on-demand PD for teachers.

I think there is at least one other area of potential for Apple’s new tools: as a curriculum creation tool for educators working in customized learning environments.

In Maine, there are currently 12 districts who are members of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning (MCCL), and other districts and teacher preparation institutions are chomping at the bit to join.  MCCL has it’s roots in six districts that dove deeply into the work of the Reinventing Schools Coallition (RISC), and in the numerous districts who have read Bea McGarvey’s and Chuck Schwan’s book Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning.  These districts are working to start implementing some hybrid of ideas around preformance-based, standards-based, student-centered approaches which we in Maine have come to think of as “customized learning.”  In fact, Commissioner Stephen Bowen had all departments heads in Maine’s Dept. of Education read the book, and his new strategic plan focuses heavily on reinventing our schools to provide customized learning and having students work toward a standards-based diploma, not one based on seat time and credits earned.

Teachers are getting trained.  Cohort members are collaborating on converting the Common Core and Maine Learning Results into “measurement topics.” Schools are working on fostering a classroom climate of student voice and choice. And educators are exploring the kinds of instruction and school structures that can make this happen.

I also recently wrote about how we might consider structuring the curriculum as a series of shorter seminars, instead of semester-long and year-long courses.

What if MCCL had its own iTunes U account, where they posted videos of their best instructors (or their instructors’ best lessons). And what if teachers in Cohort districts created their own texts for seminars and these were shared across the Cohort (many hands make quick work). What if seminars could be set up as “course” in the iTunes U app, linking various videos, assignments, teacher-generated interactive texts, and other resources.

Focused collaboration with tools such as these could be a powerful way for teachers doing the grass roots work of customized leaning to restructure their curriculum.


It’s Your Turn:

How else could these tools (or others!) be leveraged to help organize curriculum for customized learning?

Apple’s “Textbooks” Potential: PD Creation Tools for Schools/Districts

This is another post where I explore the potential of Apple’s announcement about textbooks, textbook creation tools, and iTunes U for K-12 education.

I have already shared my reaction to textbooks in general and where I see potential in Apple’s tools as another choice for students creating products.

I think another potential use of these new tools is as a platform for schools and districts to create and deliver on-demand professional development.

I work on a couple school change initiatives focused on innovative approaches to student learning. One thing they all share is that teachers need lots of training and support since these approaches are often new to them. Trying to coordinate and deliver that training and support to any number of teachers (teachers who themselves are at all different developmental and readiness levels) can be a logistical nightmare. Further, all the current initatives I’m working on involve customized learning (learning systems that recongnize and respond to the fact that people learn in different ways and in different time frames), so it’s not a surprise that we’ve been exploring the idea of “just in time,” on-demand training and support systems as a component of an approach to PD that includes feedback and coaching, as well as traditional trainngs, workshops, and conferences.

I think the collection of tools announced recently may provide an infrastructure that would allow the easy creation and distribution of such a system.

My district could open an iTunes U Management Account, share webinars and videos that we would create, then use the iTunes U app to create “courses” (not just using our content, but that elsewhere in iTunes U) that each teacher could work through at his or her own pace. We could create interactive books to provide further support and reference materials (including interactive components). Teachers could then apply what they’re learning, with the support of peers and others who could visit their classrooms, team teach, observe, give feedback, and offer other kinds of support as teachers work on their practice.

This isn’t too different than the approach Carpe Diem schools use with students (online direct instruction with videos and coursework, followed by application activities with teachers), but generalized to the professional learning of teachers. Our iTextbooks and iTunes U courses could provide the background knowledge which teachers would then apply to their own classrooms under the support of a teaching coach.

Conferences, workshops, and training sessons would, of course, still have their place, but perhaps more of the time at those would focus on sharing ideas and resources, collaboratively processing and reflecting on experiences, and networking. But overall, districts and organizations could provide more training to more teachers, and, more importantly, on the teacher’s own time schedule.

It’s Your Turn:

How have you experienced (or are implementing) on-demand professional development and support?

Apple’s “Textbooks” Potential: Product Creation Tools for Students

Recently, I reflected on Apple’s education announcement about textbooks and my opinion of textbooks in general and how they are often used in schools. Although I’m a fan of teachers who use textbooks as one educational resource, my concern is that in far too many places the textbook IS the curriculum, and that textbooks are inadequate at and insufficient for helping students create meaning from knowledge.

Despite my concerns about how textbooks are sometimes (mis)used, I stated that I saw tremendous potential in Apple’s announcement of the iBooks Author Mac app and the iTunes U iPad app.  One of those areas of potential is as a product creation tool for students.

As I have hinted here, I don’t think a person really learns until they get the opportunity to use knowledge (read: “upper level Blooms”).  So, for me, one of the exciting opportunities from yesterday’s announcement was not that there was now a tool so publishers could create interactive textbooks, but rather that there was now a tool that would allow ANYONE to create interactive BOOKS! (Someone has already used iBooks Author to publish their comics.)

Now, students and teachers have one more tool for project-based learning.  Students have another choice at their disposal when they stop to think about what kind of product would they like to create to show others what they have learned and give them a chance to learn it too!


Imagine a class where the teacher breaks down the class into teams, each team taking responsibility for one chapter of their book (animals in an ecosystem; countries in the European Union; time periods in your state’s history, themes in a novel, etc.).  And within those teams, not only would they be responsible for researching the topic of their chapter, but for deciding what was important for others to know about it, and thinking about how they could best help others learn about each aspect (text, videos, interviews, demonstrations, interactive models, illustrations).  Of course, all this under the coaching of their teacher.

Eventually, the students and teacher would compile all the components in an audience-friendly format, publish, and share.  It could even be published to the iBookstore for others to buy.  Students don’t only get a chance to use knowledge, but they would have a real audience for their product.


What might that do to the level of student engagement?

It’s Your Turn:

How might you use iBooks Author with your students?

Apple, Textbooks, and Carbon Fibre Buggy Whips…

The other day, Apple held a big education event in New York, focused on textbooks on the iPad. (Info here or watch the event here). Apple released several products and tools, hoping to further impact the education market.

Apple released iBooks 2.0 (supports multimedia in the books, interactive elements, highlighting, note taking, pinch for TOC etc.) and a new category in the store: textbooks. Pearson, DK, and McGraw Hill already have a couple textbooks available. They’re cheaper than a regular text, too: around $15, but I think the goal is to sell one per student, instead of using one with 5-8 students over a period of 5-8 years. (Cool Cat Teacher blogs here about what it was like to work with/test out an interactive text.)

There is a new Mac app (Lion only) called iBooks Author for making your own “textbooks” (think Pages combined with iWeb combined with Keynote). Completed books can be sold in the iBookstore.

Finally, there is a new iTunes U app for iPad which lets teachers harness “courses” based on content from iTunes U, and the addition of tools so you can add your own syllabi, message with your students, make assignments, etc. Looks kind of like if iTunes U, Noteshare, and Newstand combined. Apple also announced that although iTunes U has traditionally been for University use, K-12 can now sign upfor accounts.

I can’t blame Apple for wanting a piece of the textbook market. According to Wired, in 2010, Pearson had over $8 billion in revenues and McGraw-Hill over $2 billion. (Yes. Billion. With a “B”! As in 9 zeros!) And the traditional print publishing industry is struggling. Newspapers, magazines, trade books are are struggling to redefine themselves in a digital world.

What print textbooks share with those other genre’s is that they are not interactive in an age when our students are accustomed to accessing interactive media (as illustrated by Joe’s frustration at his non-notebook computer). At least Apple’s new textbooks and textbook creation tools address this issue and allow publishers to create textbooks with videos, interactive models and other elements. So, if you’re going to use a textbook, I guess I’d rather you use one with interactive elements than a static one…

But in general, I’m not a huge fan of textbooks. I think for me, the problem is that too many places use textbooks AS the curriculum. I’m perfectly happy with good teachers who see textbooks as one educational resource to use as they design (or as students design) learning experiences. But too often it seems the textbook is the only resource. Textbooks are insufficent for the curriclum because they only provide background knowledge. They don’t provide context, or experiences, or allow students to synthesize or apply information. In other words, by themselves, textbooks essentially only provide facts, they don’t help students create meaning.

Textbooks seem out of place in a day when schools are trying to reinvent themselves from a system that was designed to work for only some students. In this economy, we need systems that work for every student. And those systems need to engage students not just in aquiring knowledge, but in creating meaning from it. Textbooks are so “last century”! Given today’s interactive, digital world, educator and blogger Fraser Speirs refers to the new textbooks as “the equivalent of carbon fibre buggy whips.”

In my opinion (and other’s, and other’s, and other’s, and other’s) often the best learning (and teaching) happens when teachers don’t use textbooks. This is especially true, living in a state where every middle school student, and about half the high school students, have a school provided laptop (and all of my district’s kindergarten students have iPads!). You’d think teachers would work with students not only on how to find information, but then also how to leverage their technology to apply, evaluate, and create with that knowledge.


For example, imagine an introductory lesson focused on building a student’s background knowledge on a topic. Instead of having students read a chapter on the causes of the Civil War and then discussing what they read (which, by the way, every single child not only read the exact same description of the causes, but they all have been exposed to only one take on those causes – the textbook’s), have students open their laptops and ask them, “what were the causes of the Civil War?” Students could search and share what they found out. You could ask, “Did anyone find anything different?” You could even compare sources or discuss approaches to surfing and searching. You could have them find perspectives that would reflect substantially different points of view. You could explore and discuss different kinds of sources and the apparent relative value.


Well, maybe not the first time you do this with students, but certainly the more times you do, the more you model for them, and the more they reflect on the process, the more your “introductory” lessons could look like this. And think about the “learning” skills and digital citizenship skills your students would develop!

That all said, these announcements are ripe with possiblities and potential! There is certainly some incremental improvement having texts with interactive elements (still no real model of an interactive text). But I think the understated power of Apple’s announcement last Thursday are iBooks Author and the iTunes U app. I agree with Fraser Speirs’ assessment:

iTunes U is the game changer. Put iBooks Author and iTunes U into the hands of great teachers, put iPads in their students hands, put them all in a room together then step back and see what happens. That’s the ballgame.

Over the next week or so, I’m going to publish a series of posts that explore some of that potential:

  • Product Creation Tools for Students
  • A Platform for Creating On-Demand PD for Teachers
  • Curriculum Creation Tools for Customized Learning

It’s Your Turn:

What was your reaction to Apple’s textbooks announcement? How do you think it will impact schools, education, and educational reform?