Saturday, January 14, 2012

iTextbooks

Seven years ago, I worked at the Fundación Chile when we visited the manager of the Textbook Unit of the Ministry of Education to convince him to start preparing the Chilean school system for digital textbooks, which undoubtedly would be, and will be, a reality sooner rather than later. Of course we were aware that Chile was not then nor is now able to replace the text printed by digital alternatives. But it seemed urgent to start preparing.

 Most importantly, we raised at that meeting was to separate the bidding of textbooks into two: one for content, giving the Ministry of Education the right to use that content distribution on any platform and in perpetuity, in order to start generating a Bank of educational content, and another separate tender for the printing and distribution of texts on paper. Just look at the reality today, to notice that we were pretty bad at the meeting. The ministry continues to spend 11 billion pesos ($ 11,000,000,000) each year to distribute, the best they can, boxes of printed books, purchased as closed units to large publishers and without forming the bank of digital content and curricular activities. Perhaps this is the moment to insist on the idea.



On Thursday 19, in New York, Apple will introduce a new product for education, and if all the rumors are true, it will be a platform for digital textbooks. In the biography of Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson, already announced that this was one of the projects in which the founder of Apple was working when he died. And is not about take it lightly, considering that this is the company that revolutionized personal computing market, design and print publishing, telephony, music and more recently, the print media. They are not the first: we discussed earlier that South Korea has already begun to use only digital textbooks in their schools.

What can you expect from this release and the changes could mean for the lives of students and teachers in the future?

Digital textbooks will have very distinctive features of its predecessors printed. And not just mean the obvious: videos, interactive animations that students can manipulate to understand content, experimental activities, dictionary and encyclopedia incorporated. They may also be a source of increasing collaborative work, allowing students to work in activities with their classmates, their teachers ask questions online and even to communicate with students from other schools, cities and countries working on similar content . The digital textbooks will be the gateway to educational social network. And if you still do not see the potential, imagine texts that include assessments of learning through experimentation and exercises embedded test, in order to know the level of student progress, providing content calibrated, differentiated and customized reporting to teachers the progress of each student in his class.

What Apple announced on Thursday and how that will determine the future of textbooks? That nobody knows, but we have options with which to speculate. So far Apple has followed three different business models with digital content. In the case of music, through the ability to purchase individual songs at a low cost, without buying the whole album. Is it that schools and teachers can buy separate thematic units, choosing between the supply of large and small publishers, assembling textbooks a la carte and then digitally distribute to their students?

innovate in the format, allowing them to deploy multimedia and interactive content, which users access the same cost (slightly lower) than the version previous paper. I think this will certainly be part of Apple's offering, and will involve agreements with major publishers.

Finally, in the case of applications, Apple has been bolder. It has opened a huge freedom for companies and independent developers to prepare and offer their work for free or giving the price they see fit, creating a huge range available. Will Apple offer the option of enthusiastic teachers develop and share their work, creating more diversity and a wide choice for those who want access to digital textbooks, allowing school communities are not only consumers but also producers of content?

Rest just a few days to resolve these and other questions very relevant, for example if it is an initiative that will only work on Apple devices, such as iPads, iPods and iPhones, or work on other platforms. Requires more time for schools in Chile and students can enjoy the advantages of digital textbooks, but it might be worth starting to prepare. Maybe now there is someone in the Ministry of Education prepared to hear the idea and move forward.

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