Apple courts US schools with iTunes U

Apple’s spotless education record among richer students at higher-learning institutions in the US opened another chapter today, as it presented digital textbook software and services at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The Apple propaganda machine suggests that education was one of the late Steve Jobs’ pet projects. And so we have iBooks Author, iBooks 2 and iTunes U.

Apple’s presentation broke down into three parts. First came its new iBooks 2 software, which allows for interaction with textbooks directly from your iPad: read, comment, annotate, highlight, create cue cards and so forth all with a few swipes of your digit. Easy if you have a tablet already.

To complement iBooks 2, Apple will be introducing iBooks Author, which, like the name implies, will be the textbook authoring tool of choice of iBooks products. This might be a point of discussion for education roundtables. Freedom to pen your own content is great, but making that teaching material might warrant some supervision from the school board.

The software appears to work wonderfully, though. You can flow a word document or a presentation straight into a textbook with a few clicks and generate some highly-attractive digital content to sell off or circulate. Ironically, self-generated content of this calibre would be one of the first to fall to SOPA-like legislation.

Finally, because Apple thinks there’s serious money to be made, enter iTunes U. It’s an app that will buy you textbooks straight to your iPad. Apple’s electronic textbook service has extended its curriculum to K12 as well as university goers and was presented hand in hand with educational publishing industry heavyweights. The names of Pearson and McGraw-Hill had been thrown about lately in online media and today we saw HMH and Dorling Kindersley (DK) added to the mix.

iTunes U is obviously cloud-based, so there is an invisible infrastructure behind it that will allow teachers to deliver content and interact with their students inside and outside the classroom, bandwidth and internet connection providing. iBooks and iTunes U also looks at one of the greatest problems with electronic textbooks and electronic courses: feeding content back into the system, which could possibly be solved by this service, providing students to remotely submit essays, research projects or even exams. 

Several things come to mind with these launches. First of all, iPads replacing textbooks and allowing content to be centrally distributed from local media servers – in specific universities or in school districts – to the student body will teleschool the next generation of young American adults, if the system allows it.

Another scenario that plays wonderfully into iTunes U is the concept of the digital classroom. In Europe we don’t up and move 2,000 miles to go to university – we commute most of the time. In the USA it’s a different situation. Considering some universities are already offering free degrees by remote learning schemes, it wouldn’t be too complicated to envisage how an electronic textbook curriculum can be turned into a business model.

Duke, Stanford and Yale are some of the most notable universities who’ve jumped on this opportunity to offer online courses with digital textbooks.

The question is about how locked-in Apple’s approach will be. With this move, Apple may popularise digital learning, but if it continues to use its walled garden way of thinking, it might find itself usurped by others who think it’s quite a good idea, and already have the ecosystem for it.

*EyeSpy We were guessing about this earlier. Turns out that the domain redirects straight to the Apple website – yeesh, what has Cupertino got in store for the students of America?