Author, Author! Apple, Apple!

Apple's new interactive textbook authoring system might just revolutionize the way districts develop their own curriculum. T.H.E. Journal Editorial Director Therese Mageau was on hand for its product announcement in New York Jan. 19, and has her own take on it.

As I watched Apple's iBook2 product announcement in New York last week, my reaction was less enthusiastic than that of the people in the front rows of the theatre in the Guggenheim Museum, who must have been Apple employees or paid seat-fillers. Sure, the interactive books that Apple Vice President for Productivity Applications Roger Rosner was demo-ing were sexy and engaging--but no more so (and maybe even less so) than similar i-texts from Inkling or Kno.

But then they showed iBooks Author and I felt ready to applaud. iBooks Author is a simple, drag-and-drop multimedia authoring system that promises to change the lives of curriculum and instruction designers everywhere. I will say that I haven't yet tried it--I'm going to over the next week or so--but if it's as easy to use as it seems, I think we're going to see a minor revolution in educational content creation among educators.

Right now there are hard-working districts all over the country that are tired of outdated textbooks, and, seeing Common Core standards lurking around the corner, are taking curriculum development into their own hands. They have instructional specialists scouring the internet for digital content and are cobbling together these so-called learning objects to create their own curricula.

Well, their lives just got easier. Not only does the new Apple authoring system appear to be incredibly intuitive, it's also free. Yes, free.

iBooks Author is not going to put the likes of Pearson and McGraw-Hill out of business (who, in fact, released iBooks2 interactive high school math and science textbooks to coincide with the launch), but the new system could give educators much more control over the curriculum that their schools choose to teach. I don't for a second think that a school district could create its own version of Modern Biology (whose parent publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is also an iBooks2 partner), but educators do know better than any company which content they want to focus on and how they want to teach it. I can imagine the big publishers disaggregating their content (or much of it) into learning objects that schools can then use in ways that make the most sense for their teachers and students. I know we've been hearing about disaggregated content for years, but, in fact, publishers like Pearson, with their Online Learning Exchange, are already doing it. With iBooks Author, that professionally created and vetted learning content will be even easier for educators to take full ownership over.

However, as excited as I am by the new Apple digital book authoring system, I have to say that I am dismayed that once again it's all part of the closed Apple ecosystem. If you are a school that thinks that netbooks or Android tablets are a better investment than iPads, you are sadly out of luck in using iBooks Author--as in, you can't.

And the licensing terms are, to put it mildly, restrictive. As Audrey Watters describes it in her excellent blog on this topic, "If you choose to utilize the new 'free' e-book creation tool to build and sell your e-book content, then you are signing over exclusivity rights to Apple as your sole distributor. Even though you'll have an ISBN, you are barred from listing your book in other e-bookstores." She adds that it's not clear you could even give the book away, lamenting that overall,  "this is a bad deal. It's a bad deal for authors. It's a bad deal for schools. It's a bad deal for students."
If Apple really wants to support education, it better figure out something around its licensing that allows schools to freely create and distribute books that they make. Maybe Google, which is making a big push for its Chromebooks in education at FETC this year, can equal or better Apple in terms of an interactive text authoring system (including licensing) for its OS. That's a hint, guys.

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].