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iPads in the Classroom

February 6th, 2011

Georgia is considering buying an iPad for every middle school student in the state. The deal with Apple would include setting up WiFi in all the schools, loading the textbooks onto the devices, and training the teachers. A test program at a private school worked well, and so they’re looking into it statewide now.

This really is what we need to be seeing. Tablets have been a long time in coming, and they really do have enormous potential. Many people I have spoken to in education are excited at the prospects. An iPad app, Inkling, is getting off to a slow start but now offers two textbooks we use at my college branch here in Tokyo. Whenever I demo the app to students, they are blown away. All of my textbooks on that little thing? I can highlight, take notes, share notes wirelessly, listen to audio and watch video? I can buy only the chapters I need? They love the idea.

The problem: publishers. Of course. They have a sweet deal with college textbooks, charging a steep premium and limiting used-book resale with constant edition updates, most of which are really not needed. Ironically, tablets could increase their profits even more–no more paper printing or shipping, no more unsold textbooks to deal with, no textbook resale at all, and they can probably sell with less taken out by the sellers than bookstores currently take. The problem is, they’re afraid to try something new, afraid that piracy will prevail and they’ll lose their sweet deal.

News flash, idiots: textbooks are already being pirated. And a lot of piracy takes place because publishers don’t make a good deal available as an alternative. If they don’t move to set the trend before the pirates (inevitably) will do, they’re going to pay the price. Hell, already in Japan, publishers are seeing businesses pop up–like this one, called BookScan–which scan books for people for as little as ¥100 ($1.20) a pop, maybe double that for an OCR’ed version.

I am pretty sure that if they opened the floodgates or flipped the switch or whatever, and got downloadable textbooks going full-speed, that a lot of students in my school would get an iPad right fast and start using that. hell, the ability to search text alone would be a big plus.

But no, instead we’re going to see the same crap we saw from the music industry, and now the movie and TV people. Like I said: idiots.

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  1. Troy
    February 6th, 2011 at 03:40 | #1

    Apple should buy all the textbook publishing companies. Dur.

    One thing I can say about Apple is that they’ve made the lamest strategic use of their corporate cash, and have since day 1.

  2. Tim Kane
    February 6th, 2011 at 05:24 | #2

    And now there are android tablets that are selling for less than $200.

    Seems to me that these devices will have very few moving parts (a few buttons) which makes me think that these devices will someday sell at below $100 – especially for a volume purchaser like a state school system.

    I think that’s an important price point because it basically means any and every student can have one, and they can probably even afford to lose or break one.

    (I lost a lot of text books in high school… because of friend of mine’s father started comparing his son to me and my performance in school – unable to keep up, he started stealing my books to undermine my performance which was costly and frustrating – yeah I know, with friends like that who needs enemies. My mother suspected as much, but I couldn’t find evidence, it only came out decades later inadvertently when he described someone else doing that, and that person got good grades and really wasn’t the type to do that. Most kids won’t lose books as much as I did, but they will lose/break some of these devices and at $100 it’s not a catastrophic loss.)

    The problem is the textbook publishing companies. They want their copyright interests protected. Itunes can do that. I’m not sure if the same protection can be set up in an android environment, but you can be sure that every volume manufacturer from Korea to Singapore will be doing their level best to see to it that that is made possible. An android solution would be better because it’s platform neutral which means the cost of the device has more downward pressure. I’m not sure if school systems want to be captive to Apple.

    A nice feature will be if tablets/Ipads can be standardized so that every desk has a docking station for easy access to attachments, like a key board (if wanted and desirable – and may not be, as some people might be just as happy with a soft virtual key board on the screen).

  3. Luis
    February 6th, 2011 at 14:20 | #3

    The problem is the textbook publishing companies. They want their copyright interests protected. Itunes can do that.
    Well, kind of. It was not very hard to break the DRM in iTunes music downloads (just burn them on a CD and then rip them back, DRM gone). And the Apps Store is not preventing software from being pirated (though the extent one has to go to has put up a bit of a barrier, slowing pirating down).

    As for textbooks, they could easily set them up with a format which is complex enough and integrated enough into a dedicated reader that it would again be difficult to pirate the wares. But nothing will be pirate-proof.

    And when it comes down to it, that is not really the important thing. It’s stupid to (a) try to make something completely pirate-proof, or (b) stay out of the market for fear of piracy. Too much of the former will only inconvenience paying users, and doing the latter will only encourage more pirating.

    No, the only way to fight piracy is to offer a decent alternative. Make all textbooks available. Load them up with nice features–links, audio & video content, lectures & tutorials, etc. Make them available for chapter-by chapter download, and keep prices reasonable. The whole frequent-edition scam will not even be necessary because that scam exists to the extent it does in order to defeat used book sales, not necessary with ebooks that allow no resale.

    …they can probably even afford to lose or break one.

    That’s always an issue, but I think that students tend to be a bit better at protecting valuable stuff they possess, like game consoles and cell phones. They probably are less careful about textbooks because they value them less and because it’s less likely that someone else would steal them. But as you demonstrate, there will always be problems.

    A nice feature will be if tablets/Ipads can be standardized so that every desk has a docking station for easy access to attachments, like a key board (if wanted and desirable – and may not be, as some people might be just as happy with a soft virtual key board on the screen).

    WiFi access and long battery life make most uses for a dock moot. The keyboard would be a major thing–as it is now, the iPad keyboard is not really viable for normal typing. The difficulty of accessing numbers, punctuation, and symbols (bizarrely under-utilized use of the shift key) slows that down significantly. In which case a keyboard dock would make the most sense, though students could use privately-owned ones as well. Though I agree, having them in desks would be cool–but that would require all tablet makers to standardize to one connector, and then stick with it, something which is pretty unlikely.

  4. Tim Kane
    February 7th, 2011 at 01:40 | #4

    Well, what we seem to have hear is an industry that has enjoyed monopoly type rents for a long time because of their long suffering customers are captive. As a student, I didn’t choose the text books, still I had to buy them and haul them around.

    I wonder if there are many cases histories out there documenting where an industry went from sclerotic monopolistic rents to competitive ones.

    In this case, it would seem to me, it would take massive collusion to avoid text books manifesting onto Ipad/tablets. When technology change occurs, it’s an opportunity for an underdog to leap ahead.

    In aerospace this happened a couple of ways. Before WWII, Douglas, by virtue of the DC3, had commanding position in civil aviation (though at the time the barrier to entry was still low). Boeing leveraged it’s work on bombers to the air force to create the first successful jet airliner (707). Likewise, McDonnell moved from obscurity to commanding position in fighter aircraft in a very short time frame thanks to the paradigm shift to jet propulsion – While others cranked out thousands of propeller planes during WWII, the defense department used smaller companies to experiment on jet propulsion.

    The big publishers will certainly balk at abandoning a model that provides them with monopoly rents. But a smaller player would seemingly see the opportunity to shake up the structure and rush in to fill the void. And that, would start the hole process, and you never know, but some big player might end up as an also ran and have to merge or go out of business. It all would depend upon the level of collusion in the industry. That collusion will have powerful enemies in the technology industries though. So we’ll see what happens.

    Paradigm of technology change and it’s ability to let nimble new comers in is why countries like Korea and China focused their industrial policies on new technologies where they can, for Korea, its’ flat panel displays, semiconductors and cell phones, whereas China is betting big on green technologies. The newness allows them to take a big position. Also, the new the technology/industry the less the amount foreign market protection. The oldest legit industry, Agriculture, is also the most highly protected (though countries have a legitimate security interest in ensure themselves a good reliable local food supply).

    In law school, one teacher picked a fanciful contracts book. It was over 4 inches thick so very heavy and we had to take contracts for an entire year. Being fanciful made it counter productive to trying to figure out contract law, but made it more fun for the teacher. Also, I think she had an association of some sort with the authors. I can’t complain I suppose because I got good grades in contracts. But the idea of trading in 40 lbs of books for a two pound tablet and all the convenienes it might offer is powerful. I don’t see how any company could not see this as inevitable – and thus should be rushing in to find how to be first with the most and best features. The fact is, they can put other media in there as well. I remember documentary films shown in the 6th grade still, but little else. The whole learning process is about to be revolutionized. We don’t know how thorough this will be or how long it will take, but a century from now, the average adult from a first world country should have a much better education than we do now. Well, here’s hoping anyway.

  5. Troy
    February 7th, 2011 at 09:32 | #5

    ^ I agree Tim. This is prime bottomland free for the taking for the first movers.

    Integrated review questions, collaborative elements, actual edutainment, multimedia.

    Apple hit a grandslam with the iPad, and it’s only going to get better.

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