Assessment in the Apple orchard

The Apple announcement yesterday about iBooks (e-textbooks), the free iBook Author and how these will integrate with the iTunes U app, caused quite a stir. People are talking about this being a game-changer for the publishing industry.

A new authoring tool, the iBooks Author, will enable anyone to create their own e-textbooks, publish and even sell them via the iBookstore. The iTunes U app, which can be installed on an iPad, iPhone or iPod can be used to build and access courses using content from the iBookstore, the internet, iTunes and App store and can include quizzes, documents etc and connect with the iCloud (Apple’s cloud service that users can sync Apple mobile devices with).

It seems that this mix of iBooks Author, iBookstore and the iTunes U app, has the potential to create a seamless way of generating, publishing, accessing content, assessing knowledge – and tracking all of that – across multiple (Apple) devices. For example, notes taken by highlighting sections in an iBook that is integrated into a iTunes U course, can be consolidated and viewed on an iPad or iPhone and can be turned into study cards which can be shuffled for revision. MCQs can be embedded into an iBook, alongside other rich media. Students can be notified of new message or assignments and these assignments can be checked off when complete. If assignments involve video, a specific point in the video can be set for students to go to.

This all sounds pretty good but as some pointed out in the torrent of tweets about the announcement yesterday, these developments would require the use of Apple products, which could potentially further exacerbate the digital divide. There would be those who have the Apple a day and those who don’t.

Is it a game-changer? Publishers have been accused of charging high prices for paper based textbooks for years and this development by Apple could help to democratize who can develop, publish and distribute textbooks via a popular and easy to use infrastructure. Apple announced that they have been working with commercial publishers though such as Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who have already developed and are selling e-textbooks through the iBookstore.

And this won’t be the first time educators have published their own content. There are already a healthy number of Open Educational Resources (OERs), which have been developed and made available by educators, using licenses such as Creative Commons to define how the resources can be used, shared and modified.

I think perhaps the shiny, extra piece that Apple have provided, is to supercharge access to self-developed content, allowing this to be easily integrated with material from a range of sources and enabling it to be tracked (across a range of Apple devices). This liberates content (within the Apple orchard at least) and could mean access to glossy, rich, interactive courses with linked content and opportunities to study and test on the move, anytime, anywhere. I think that sounds a pretty tasty combination!

Image © copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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