I’m truly honestly sick of the town mob grabbing their pitchforks as soon as anyone holds a press conference for any new educational offering. Is there a more thankless job than the people who dare to try to change any aspect of education? Mozilla got shit on for taking a hard look at our outdated idea of credentials. Apple is even worse because if you’re not with the hate mob you’re a fanboy that hates freedom and “openness”. What is it about educators in that we ask our students to think critically but then we’re absolutely justified to voice our uninformed opinion half way through a keynote announcement of a product?
Today Apple announced a few things specific to Education and textbook publishing in particular (although the tools have a broader reach to interactive texts of any genre). We have a new pricing model that drops the barrier of cost for textbooks to $15 (compare that with the ~$60/semester I priced when the iPad came out and I looked into digital textbooks, not to mention those would expire). We have updated books that include interactive elements that few publishers outside of PushPopPress have been capable of producing. And we have a new authoring tool that allows you to create these interactive books. It removes yet another barrier of self-publishing by giving any person the power to create visually stunning books and publish them to the iBooks store. It has the potential to do for indie writers what the App Store did for independent developers.
But there wasn’t all gold in today’s announcement and I don’t mean to write it in rose-colored glasses. The iBooks marketplace remains iOS-only and these new textbooks would be no different. The authoring tool is only available on the Mac. Export formats are limited to iBook, PDF, or TXT, no sign of ePub and no way to import a Pages or ePub document into the authoring tool. It appears right now there is language in the EULA that indicates all books built in iBook Author and sold in the iBookstore must be exclusive to that marketplace. I’m sure I’m missing many other criticisms but you get the idea.
And here’s the thing: I’m not discounting these arguments. Do I want these books to have HTML5 publishing capabilities? Hell yes. Do I want to be able to grab an ePub version of any of these $15 textbooks for my various devices? Of course. Is that EULA language bullshit? Absolutely. I want it all to change. But am I disappointed in what I heard today? Nope, not even a little bit.
With every new product announcement by Apple we here the chorus of people that wanted “Revolution”. They read the rumors and came expecting the multicolor unicorns to fly in from the rafters pooping gold coins. Turns out the unicorns are limited to a few colors and pooping currency may or may not be coming in a later update. And they’re all pissed. How dare you attempt to change the status quo without consulting us first? $15?! We want it all for free. You mean these won’t load on the $75 Lookreader I got on sale at CVS? Greedy pigs!
When the iPhone first launched (and it strikes me this post is very Apple specific but hey, it’s Soup du Jour. Insert any company doing anything to disrupt education) many people were highly critical of it. No MMS, crappy camera with no flash or autofocus, no ability to run flash, no Bluetooth stereo audio headphone support (yes people are actually very specific about these things), no support for Exchange, no ability to publish native apps, etc. It was a laundry list of reasons why this phone would fail. Over the years Apple has checked off a ton of things on that list (every single one I mentioned there and that’s just a small sampling). But let’s take native apps for example. When Apple launched the phone they told people they believed in the power of the web and HTML would bring enhancements to make amazing web apps. They even made a few impressive ones themselves to get folks started. Awesome, right? They were crucified. You’re locking us out of native app development because you want to control your device! You have access to things like the camera and GPS that we can’t get! This isn’t fair! So they build an SDK and the ability for developers to create and publish applications. And now the token line is that they’re creating a walled garden ecosystem that you can only be a part of by developing for iOS and dammit this unicorn still doesn’t come in my favorite color, which is brown.
I’m not saying don’t fight for what you believe in. I’m not even saying you’re wrong. What I’m asking you to do is to look at these things not as a zero sum game, but rather as parts of a whole. Instead of expecting Apple to save education, why don’t you appreciate the waves they’re making in the water and use that momentum to keep the conversation focused and moving? We got a lot of interesting things today and all I hear are people unhappy. When we set the ship on fire before it has even made it out of the dock we’ll never get to sail..I don’t know where this metaphor is going but thanks for reading.