Apple’s Education Event – iBooks 2, iBook Author, & iTunes U

This morning was Apple’s unveiling of their answer to the education textbook market.  Their attack is three-pronged.  The first is a way for publishers, authors, and even teachers to easily create textbooks for students to use and learn with.  The second  is a new updated iBooks application to take advantage of all these new features the interactive textbooks can now do.  And for you college students and professors (and soon for all you k-12 students too) out there, Apple hasn’t forgotten about what is needed to keep up with the courses and classes as well.  For the third side to update education, they are also introducing a new app, named iTunes U, to make all your class tasks even easier and more informative.  As well as for the K-12 crowd to be opened up to the iTunes U online section, so they can host and stream their classes just like the big college kids.

So if  you aren’t a parent, teacher, author or student this probably won’t change your life all that much.  For those that fit that do happen to fall in that category… prepare for a completely new way to learn and teach in school.  You can get a feel for what Apple has in store for us by watching their short video up on the Apple website.

(Note – Apple has now released the entire keynote event up on their website.  It lasts about an hour.)

iBooks (v2.0)

  • Free (requires iOS 5.0 or later)
  • Universal App
  • Updated: Jan 19, 2012

iBooks 2 brings in a new category of books: textbooks.  I remember how expensive books were in college and even for some High School classes that required a purchase of a new book, so any change to the model is a welcome.  However Apple went far beyond just digitizing and lowering the cost (not to mention the weight) of textbooks.  They made them fully interactive.

The new iBook Textbooks integrates multimedia like images, 3D content, images, and video.  Study helpers like quizzes, glossaries, definitions, highlighting and note cards also help you out, and all for no more than $15 a textbook.  All of which can stay up to date, via updates.  Pretty sweet. So lets dive into what enhancements the new textbooks can come with.


  • 3D models – Most things that students study aren’t flat images.  iBooks now allows you to view and manipulate models of the brain, or a molecule so you aren’t stuck with one view.  The models can also move, wiggle or have full video to completely show off whatever the subject matter is covering.
  • Interactive images – Plain old images also have gotten an  update too.  You can now select different parts of an image and have it show labels, or more information.  You can pinch and zoom to get high-resolution images to focus in on the important parts.  you can move around to get an image much bigger than would ever fit in a traditional book.
  • Interactive Galleries – Traditional textbooks are strapped for space.  As such you typically have a lot of text, and just 1 image to explain it.  Why stop with just one?  Digital text-book can have complete galleries with captions to guide a user throughout a subject visually.

Study Helper

  • Note taking – One huge advantage of a physical book is highlighting passages for later use.  You simply hold down your finger over the words you want and slide to have all the items highlighted.  You can even choose different colors, choose underlining, or switch to a note view to see everything you’ve highlighted at once, or jump back to different sections with just a click.
  • Study Cards –  Anything you highlight can also become a study card.  You can name your notes and flip over to quiz yourself.  You even get all the glossary words in a  chapter automatically added to your study cards, or have the cards show up randomly to make sure you know your stuff.
  • Quizzes – many text books have built-in study or quiz guides at the end of chapters.  Digital textbooks take it one step further and allow you to take sample quizzes right in iBooks.  You can have multiple choice, true false, images, all sorts of questions just like on a real quiz or test.

iBook Author (v1.0)

  • Free (requires 10.7 or later)
  • Updated: Jan 19, 2012

But creating all this up to this point has been rather time intensive.  Apple’s solution to this is iBook Author.  If you are familiar with any of the iWork suite, this layout shouldn’t require much extra learning. And the cost? Free.  You do need a mac running 10.7 or later in order to run it.  But best of all you don’t have to be a publisher to make use of it.  yes, you can publish it directly to the iBook Store, but you don’t have to.  You can give your digital textbooks to your class and just have them load it on their iPads.  No middle man.  So if you’re a teacher and want to create something for your class it’s pretty simple to do, without a lot of hassle.  Get your information and study sheets right to your class.

Creating a book is pretty simple.  First you choose from one of the templates apple provides you.  Or if you plan on making a bunch of books, you can create your own custom theme for later use.  Choose whether you book will be in landscape or portrait.  and start adding to it.

The main part of iBook Author is divided into 3 sections.  The first section is all the normal stuff:  Title, index, glossary, table of contents, even media for the intro.  Most of it gets generated automatically based on tags and info from the main section, but you can tweak it to what you need it to be.

The sidebar part looks much like Keynote.  You can separate pages into chapters and sections.  Doing so will automatically help create your table of contents, and make it easy to jump around to different parts of the book.  You can also quickly add some pages by from word or pages documents simply by dragging them into the sidebar.

The bulk of the editing will be in the main pane.  From there it behaves very similarly to Pages in terms of page layout.

  • Page layout – This behaves the same way that Pages does.  You place down text, move images around (with the text moving around where you place the image), and arrange everything the way you want.  Templates will help you out, but feel free to make it your own design.
  • Widgets – You can place widgets the same way you pace an image.  But this is where the iBook Author really shine.  The Galley widget allows you to create a slide show of different images.  The Media option allows for any audio or video, to be played on page open or when pressed.  Review allows for quick tests within the book to test your students knowledge and understanding.  Keynote allows for full presentations imbedded in the book.  Interactive images let you place diagrams and other complex images with pop up labels and notes for students to explore.  The 3D widget lets you place models into the textbook.  You can even place your own Dashcode HTML widgets you create yourself for all to enjoy.  Apple has a whole page of examples to show off what a widget can do to enhance your digital textbooks.
  • Accessibility – For those that have trouble reading, iBooks allows you to build in options to make it much easier to learn compared to a physical book.  Any text inside the iBook can be read out loud via VoiceOver.  Audio and Video embedded allows for people to experience the subject without having to rely just on images and text.  You can even add descriptions to any widget you add, so they can enjoy illustrations even if they have trouble seeing.

iTunes U (v1.0)

  • Free (requires iOS 5.0 or later)
  • Universal App
  • Updated: Jan 19, 2012

The last big announcement that they’ve enhanced their iTunes U offerings.  No longer is it just a place where colleges can host online class video.  Now it’s open to all levels of education (yes even your elementary schools).  It’s also no longer just online video.  Now it is your one stop place to host all your class needs.

Multiple platforms
iTunes U is spread across all platforms.  You can access it via any webpage, or via the app for the iPad or iPhone. And with iCloud all that information is synced across all those platforms.  Got notes in one book?  It will show up on your other devices.  Updated that you did your homework on your computer, it updates on your iPad.  Simple as that.

And how do you get all that info in there in the first place?  Apple has created a web app called the iTunes U Course Manager with instruction how to set all this up.  (NOTE – Doesn’t look like it’s quite yet active but should be shortly.)  Form here you can add:

  • Audio and video
  • Presentations
  • Documents
  • PDFs
  • iBooks Textbooks for iPad
  • ePub books
  • iOS apps
  • Web links

Once you (or your teachers) have this all set up and submitted it can then be accessed by anyone that wishes to subscribe to that class.  Any changes and updates that are done automatically show up.  Notifications and reminders can be added for events, projects or homework.  It’s rather powerful devices that I’m sure we’ll see a lot more from in the near future once people figure out the best ways to use it.

Check out the iTunes U catalog to see if your school is already set up with some info.   iTunes U currently already includes StanfordYaleOxford, and UC Berkeley, along with other institutions such as MoMANew York Public Library, and more.  There is even a fair amount of K-12 schools in place, although for most people I don’t assume they will have their primary schools there.  But I expect many schools to start taking advantage of this interaction shortly.  Its too good, and easy to pass up.

Everything needed for a course
So once the backend stuff is in place you can start using it as the student (or perhaps parent).  Directly from the app you can watch presentation or link to section of the digital textbooks.  You can mark of that you finished homework, and see how many things are left for you to do.  Even better you’ll get notified when your teachers add new events and assignments that need your attention.

Wrap up
These three categories that Apple introduced today won’t immediately change the education world.  However by placing this event in January, they have positioned themselves just right for schools to play around with all the new features and get a handle on it before actually creating content for the fall semester.  The new iBook Author app will allow for tons of new textbooks to be in place for fall as well.

So short answer will this change the way we look at education? Definitely.  It’ll just take some time for everyone to come on board.  People have been studying the same way since the 1950s.  Time to change the way that works.  It’s a new digital age.  I believe education just caught up to it.

Categories: App Review, Tech with TaselTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 comment

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