Can the iPad finally Replace Textbooks?

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The iPad was unveiled this week by Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs to rave reviews from techies everywhere. It is predicted that base models will cost about $499. I was lucky enough to spot a pre-production version of one at an ad firm last summer and I have longed for one since then.  This device promises the usability of the iPhone in a package that is better for learning because it offers more real estate for the display of information.

I can’t wait to see what app developers do with the screen extra space. Here is a video of a great app that proposes ways this tool can be used on the university level to do away with textbooks and enhance education:

It is also revolutionary because it offers the wealth of info found on the web to students anywhere, anytime if you opt to spend a bit more ($130 or so) for the 3G connected version. As an instructional designer/technologist the combination of form and function that this new learning tool offers is powerful. At this point iPhone OS is accepted as being rock solid and free from the crashes (and even mobile virus issues) that hinder Windows Mobile devices. That said, it is is still hindered by its inability to display Flash-based media on websites.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this device will be using the open ePub format for electronic books. This is a huge endorsement of the Open Education movement and it’s exactly the tool educators, like myself and the members of  The Learning Collective have been waiting for. The open education movement is a consortium of educators and institutions that feel,

“…that knowledge should be free and open to use and re-use; that collaboration should be easier, not harder; that people should receive credit and kudos for contributing to education and research; and that concepts and ideas are linked in unusual and surprising ways and not the simple linear forms that textbooks present.” via

Tools like this can hasten the development of Open Educational Resources (OER) because has been created to seamlessly blend the tools that convergence has touted. It’s limitations lie in the restrictions that Apple places on developers. Understandably these restrictions are the reason that the iPhone OS has remained virus free and the App store is well trusted but these restrictions also hinder the development of a truly open ecosystem of innovation. Grassroots developers that don’t have limitless funds like major software development firms are stifled by the seemingly arbitrary approval process that can cause your app to sit for months or even years awaiting approval without explanation. It seems Apple is loosening up this process a bit with the victory of the, innovative, live video sharing app Knocking Live. It has been rumored, developers had to pull strings and call Steve Jobs personally to get the app released after it was initially denied approval (due to a private API). The jury is still out on whether the iPad can overcome this inertia of this strict approval process and become the democratizing educational device I think it can become.

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