Sunday, January 22, 2012

Textbooks have a future—paper, not so much

The day the iPad was announced in 2010, I printed out Apple's product description and brought it to a school administrator with the comment, "We should start thinking about repurposing the textbook storage room." That particular VP was more pragmatist than visionary and was completely immune to Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field. So be it.

I waited for the third iteration of the iPhone (3GS) before jumping into that pool. My 2005 candybar Nokia was all the cell phone I needed until 2009. I planned on waiting for the iPad 2 until I discovered some utility for the iPad during the summer of 2010.

When my principal found out I had one, he expressed an interest in piloting classroom use. Suddenly I was the pragmatist. "Not yet," I replied, "let's let others work out the bugs and wait for the app market to expand."

With Apple's recent announcement of iBooks textbooks for iPad and iBooks Author, many of the classroom-use bugs seem to be getting worked out. The big publishing houses seem to be on board with post-paper textbooks. I'll nourish a hope that the good people at PhET engineer a way to migrate from the dead-end of Flash toward modern, iPad-friendly software.

Frank Noschese over at Action-Reaction has a nicely robust vision of what an iBook textbook for physics might include. Frank's vision looks good to me, but I don't expect it to come in one tidy package. More likely teachers will need to cobble together apps and weblinks on their own and get them configured on student tablets.

The promise of iPad textbooks is great. There are obstacles to overcome, but when has it not been thus. I will not miss paper textbooks (I say that because I know some who will). And I have no idea what will become of our voluminous textbook storage room, but I do look forward to its repurposing.

Edited to Add: Some people think iPads in education are a flash-in-the-pan, flavor-of-the-month, pie-in-the-sky (etc.) boondoggle dreamt up by educrats and salespeople. "Is there any evidence that these things actually help kids learn?" That question is often rhetorical, because any evidence offered will be rejected in favor of a negative personal opinion (see the post below for more on that).

Knowing that iPads have not yet existed for two academic years, the question-as-criticism is easy to level. Even if iPads do help, there hasn't likely been enough time to develop the software or test its efficacy among real students in real schools.

Until last week, that is. That's when the findings of a pilot program in Amelia Earhart Middle School in California's Riverside Unified School District were announced.

Some students underwent traditional instruction using the best practices known to the school's veteran teachers. Other students used iPads with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Fuse: Algebra 1 in conjunction with their instruction.

Fifty-nine percent of students in the traditional group earned scores of Advanced or Proficient on the California Standards Test in Algebra 1. But 78% of students using the iPads with the HMH app scored Advanced or Proficient on the same test. The difference is significant.

Hat tip: AppleInsider.

1 comment:

CJ Chretien said...

The Physics Classroom is almost perfect on the iPad. The one problem is that the modules don't work on the iPad. I have one student in honors physics who whips out his iPad to do problems while everyone else is waiting for the classroom laptops to boot.