Rethinking Medical Education

The ThinkerQuestions, observations, and recommendations toward reform of the process and content

Apple’s Education Announcement: 
A potentially large step into the future for textbooks and learning
Today (19 Jan. 2012), Apple Inc introduced three initiatives intended to "reinvent the textbook” and enhance learning. Did they live up to my dream of yesterday? No. Instead, they surpassed it!
Instead of announcing the “rental” system for textbooks that I had imagined, they are doing something better. To make textbooks more widely affordable, they announced agreements with several dominant textbook publishers to make their new e-textbooks available online for $15.00 or less each! At least 15 of the new generation e-textbooks, within this price limit, are already available. (Conventional texts in the US are typically priced at $60-100 each.) And these are permanent purchases. No need for them to be returned! And they will be so much more than static, printed texts. Among their main characteristics, they will be:
  • Highly dynamic, including audio, graphics, animations,  and videos.
  • Interactive, with adaptive questions and answers, changeable graphs and diagrams, and more.
  • Easily up-dateable by authors.
  • Customizable by students, with easy highlighting and note-making.
  • Fully searchable, for words, phrases, highlights and notes.
  • Enriched, with glossaries, study guides, and more.
In addition to announcing agreements with major textbook publishers, Apple unveiled a new, free app that will make it relatively easy for teachers (and others, perhaps even students) to create dynamic, “modern” textbooks using iBooks Author, available now for free download at the Mac App Store.
For accessing and using these new kinds of books, Apple also announced an update of their iBooks iPad app to iBooks 2. This app is also free, and also available now. Once installed or updated on you iPad, launch that app, click on the Store link in the upper-left corner, and you will see the promotions for the newly available textbooks. I suggest you consider downloading the free sample of the first two chapters of the E.O. Wilson Foundation’s new e-book, Life on Earth. It will give you a glimpse of this new category of “textbook”.
To see Apple’s video on these and other initiatives, including public commitments to these new style textbooks by the CEOs of 2 textbook major publishers, click here .
iTunes U app: Apple also introduced their enhanced iTunes U, with a dedicated app for accessing and using the resources offered there. As you likely know, many universities have been making some or all of their courses available online via iTunes U. The new iTunes U app lets teachers create and manage their courses, including components such as lectures, assignments, books, quizzes and syllabi, and offer them to iOS users (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch users) anywhere. Some highly regarded universities, including Cambridge, Duke, Harvard, MIT, Oxford and Stanford have offered courses via iTunes U. As of today, elementary and high schools can also offer full courses through the iTunes U app. 
Learners anywhere can now take an entire course, with complete access to all course materials. Students are able to access their e-textbooks from within the iTunes U app, and any notes and highlights they add in these iBooks can be consolidated for review in one place. In addition to reading books, viewing presentations, lectures and assignment lists, registered students can receive notifications of the latest class information, can make appointments with their teachers and advisors, check class and school events, and more. The iTunes U app is available today as a free download from the iTunes App Store.
Educators are said to be able to quickly and easily create, manage and share their courses, quizzes and handouts through a web-based tool and utilize content and links from the iTunes U app, the Internet, the iBookstore, or the App Store as part of their curriculum. They can also upload and distribute their own documents such as Keynote, Pages, Numbers or books made with iBooks Author.
How much of a breakthrough is all of this for future education? That remains to be seen. On first exposure, the tools made available today seem genuinely impressive, with considerable potential for helping move education into a more engaging, meaningful, participatory, and consequently more effective era for learners. But this potential won’t be realized without major transformations in the sensibilities, understandings, and skills of the teachers who need to adopt, learn, and implement these resources. The record of our species generally, and of teachers specifically, as constructive responders to new opportunities that require alterations of assumptions, mindsets, and attitudes is hardly encouraging. But, enough teachers may have already moved into the world of twenty-first century technology to have the comfort base that will help them welcome, rather than be intimidated by, these new tools and processes.
I’ll be watching closely and hopefully (while experimenting a bit with these new tools myself). 
Hilliard Jason, MD, EdD
Jan. 19, 2012


  1. Bart Windrum  

    I wonder about the politics of the curriculum at different grade levels. Consider iBooks Author the GarageBand of the education world. But school districts and regents sit between the teacher/author and student/consumer. Where does a lesson plan end and a new textbook, albeit a short one, begin?

  2. Unknown  

    Thanks, Bart. Those are important questions, especially in the current US public school system. We'll have to see how this all plays out. A large part of their target with iBooks Author, I think, are the college and university setting, and the individual classroom teacher. The external constraints in those two settings are different, and probably less overall. I will find all of this quite interesting to follow.
    - Hill

  3. layne longfellow  

    Excellent "column" - highly enthusiastic yet informative.
    Layne Longfellow

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