Apple reinvents textbooks and curriculum with iBooks 2, iBooks Author, updated iTunes U

I can’t remember the last time anyone was so interested in education technology, but leave it up to Apple to whip up excitement. The company held an “education related” event at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum today, where many expected it to take on the textbook industry with new, interactive e-books.

And so it did. Apple announced iBooks 2, an updated iPhone and iPad app that will offer highly interactive electronic textbooks, as well as a new textbook section in the iBookstore. The company also showed off a new version of iTunes U, which gives teachers the ability to do much more than create lectures for download.

Catch all of our coverage from the event below.
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Apple and education

“Education is deep in our DNA,” Apple marketing senior vice president Phil Schiller said as he introduced the event. “We’re so proud to help students learn. We try to bring the same passion and energy that we put into every product we make into our education business.”

Schiller is positioning the iPad as a “remarkable” tool for education, and goes on to mention the poor state of education in America. In a short video played at the event, teachers discuss some of the problems facing education, like large class sizes and a lack of materials like textbooks.

“These teachers need help. We try to figure out what we can do at Apple to help,” Schiller said. “One place we think we can help is in student engagement.  It’s not a big surprise that students get excited to learn on the iPad. It was #1 on teen’s wish lists this holiday.”

Schiller says there are over 20,000 education apps for the iPad currently, and that there are now 1.5 million iPads being used in education (I’d be interested to know how he got this number).

Reinventing textbooks with iBooks 2, iBooks Author

Now for the real meat of the event: Schiller says Apple has two methods in mind for helping education. First up, “reinventing the textbook.” He discussed how textbooks aren’t the best learning tools. For example, they’re not very portable, durable, searchable, interactive, and they can’t be kept up to date. But they do have great content.

Schiller unveiled iBooks 2, Apple’s attempt to fix the traditional textbook. An Apple representative showed off the new app at the event, demonstrating how a biology book can have a dramatic introduction movie, the benefits it gets from multitouch capabilities, and support for nifty interactive elements like 3D cell models.

If you want to just focus on the text of the book, you only need to rotate your iPad into the portrait orientation.

Other nifty interactive elements: There’s a built in glossary for explaining individual concepts, easily accessible index links, as well as visual interactive Q&A sections at the end of chapters. You can also easily highlight and take notes in the e-books, which appears to be greatly helped by multitouch.

iBooks 2 takes the notes a step further, allowing you to see all of your notes in a particular book in one spot. It also automatically turns your notes into study cards, along with glossary terms.

Apple is adding a new textbook section to the iBookstore to make the new e-books easy to find, and it will also offer free samples. The company recruited early partners to create digital high school textbooks, priced at $14.99 or less. Apple is currently working with  Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who make 90 percent of the textbooks available in the U.S. It has also partnered with DK Publishing and the E.O. Wilson foundation, the latter of which will be launching its next book, Life on Earth, exclusively on the iBookstore.

To create these glossy new e-books, Apple also announced iBooks Author, a new free app for Macs. It offers simple templates, as well as drag and drop designing for laying out the pages. Building on the company’s experience with the Keynote presentation app, iBooks Author also allows you to easily make your own unique experiences within the e-books without any programming knowledge.

The more technically inclined can also use HTML5 and Javascript programming in iBooks Author. There’s also a nifty preview function that will allow you to see your e-book in progress on your iPad.

Reinventing curriculum with new iTunes U

But Apple isn’t done yet. Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of Internet Software and Services, came on stage to discuss how the company is going to help teachers “reinvent the curriculum” with iTunes U, a service that lets students download lectures and other materials from iTunes. Cue says Apple has seen over 700 million downloads from iTunes U, and that it has mostly been used for lectures.

Cue introduced a new version of iTunes U that seems to let teachers do everything course-related on their iPad, like manage a syllabus, office hours, and post assignments. It seems cool, though I wonder how students who don’t have iOS devices will feel about this. Students can still download lectures using the app, but they can now stream them as well.

Over 100 courses have been created by participating colleges with iTunes U, Cue said. Even better, he says that Apple is opening the service up to K-12 schools now as well.

All of this is very exciting, but it’s strange that Apple made no mention of how students can more easily get a hold of iPads in the classroom. While cool, Apple’s plans to reinvent education could leave a lot of students out in the cold.

Via All Things D, The Verge’s live blogs; Front photo via Marcus Kwan