Will iBooks Replace Textbooks in Universities?

"Patch" rounds up the facts on Apple's recently released iBooks® 2 for iPad® and how the new platform could affect students in St. Louis-area universities.

Apple’s iPads have been a hot topic of discussion among students, teachers, bloggers and tech columnists in the past couple of weeks thanks to the company’s January announcement that it had released a new, interactive digital textbook to the market.

In a Jan. 19 press release, Apple said that iBooks 2 for iPad is “an entirely new kind of textbook that’s dynamic, engaging and truly interactive.” The new “iBooks” offer fullscreen text books, complete with “interactive animations, diagrams, photos, videos, unrivaled navigation and much more.”

In addition to weighing less, the ability to be kept up-to-date and the fact that students could keep their textbooks essentially forever, teachers could feasibly create custom books and study-guides for their classes with the iBooks Author tool. Apple said that “anyone with a Mac” can use it to create their own iBooks textbooks—it’s a free download in the App Store.

“With 1.5 million iPads already in use in education institutions, including over 1,000 one-to-one deployments, iPad is rapidly being adopted by schools across the U.S. and around the world,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing in the release. “Now with iBooks 2 for iPad, students have a more dynamic, engaging and truly interactive way to read and learn, using the device they already love.”

Three days later, the Huffington Post reported that Apple was selling a special version of the iPad for high schools, which would come pre-loaded with certain popular electronic textbooks, including “Biology” and “Environmental Science” from Pearson and “Algebra 1” and “Chemistry” from McGraw-Hill, all of which contain interactive elements, including video.

Though the idea of text books that will cost just $15 or less sounds very appealing, the cheapest iPads retail around $500, and Apple didn’t offer a plan for defraying costs for students.

And while Apple reported an explosion of text book sales that weekend, according to MSN Money, critics are questioning the viability of the venture—especially since iBooks can only be used on iPads, exclusively. That means that not only can they not be viewed on PCs and tablets, but they can’t even be viewed on other Apple products.

Will colleges and universities jump on the Apple iBooks bandwagon?

While the current model is directed at high school students, many wonder how much college text books will cost if and when they’re released. MSN reports that rumors suggest Apple will charge $75 for “the equivalent of a $200 textbook.”

While those numbers can add up to a significant savings, they aren't quite as dramatic as the amount of savings high school pricing model could produce.

MSN reporters Louis Bedigian and Benzinga write that a more realistic model would mean pricing textbooks at $40 to $60 at launch, and then to increase the price by a small amount every other semester.

“Apple would attempt to justify the increase by pointing to the interactive features, among other exclusive elements,” they write. “But with or without an excuse, most students would not complain about a $5 increase every six months.”

Current use of ebooks in St. Louis-area universities

Though college textbooks aren’t yet available in iBook form, ebooks are being used by many area universities—but most aren't required.

At , one class actually requires an ebook textbook. Web Programming and Perl, taught by Dr. Ed Chang, lists an ebook as its sole text—but it appears to be free on the Perl website. And the university library’s databases include a comprehensive ebook collection available to students on campus.

's library has nearly 5,000 ebooks available for student use, and the university has an ebook download service that features more than 40,000 titles, including audiobooks and more than 1,000 textbooks. Students can use e-textbooks for a wide variety of MoBap classes on campus, and the school offers many of its classes online. Students can earncertain undergrad degrees online.

Elizabeth Hise Brennan, ’s senior communications and marketing coordinator, said that she knows students on campus use e-readers, but there’s no actual policy on it.

She said she checked with the school’s office of Academic Affairs, and the school does allow the use of e-books.

“At this time, however, Joyce Johnson, who is our associate dean of academic affairs, is unaware of any instructors who actually require them,” Brennan said. “Also, our library has a few different types of e-readers that the university community can check out and try.”

 helps its students save money through a Rent-A-Text program it launched in 2010. And while its campus store does offer digital textbooks and various hardware (including an extended warranty for the iPad, but not an actual iPad), the school has no policy in place that requires the use of ebooks or digital textbooks. Like most universities in the area, ebooks are optional.

The school’s library also offers a selection of ebooks as well as a comprehensive list of other places to find ebooks.

 provides a short list of online books, including some ebooks, in a resources section on its website and the university library includes ebooks and resources to find more. Webster’s bookstore sells ebooks for use in classes, but the books will expire after a minimum of 12 months, according to an FAQ on the website.   

Will iBooks make it to colleges and universities?

With the release of its new iTunes U app on the same day, students are able to access enhanced university courses for free. Students can download the app (free) and select courses that combine both audio and video lectures with supporting materials, including books and articles (some are free, some aren’t), exercises, slideshows, transcriptions of lectures and more.

The iTunes U app will also feature lectures from major universities, such as MIT and Yale.

Some bloggers, such as Doctorate in Education student Ryan Tyler at BetaNews, are skeptical and openly against the idea of requiring the use of iBooks in school.

In an open letter to his university president, Tyler said that while the idea sounds great, the cost of the required iPads would hit students hard—even if the university chose to pay for them.

“That $500 you’re paying per iPad (at a minimum) is coming out of some budget, and budget holes are almost always covered by increasing my tuition or asking taxpayers for more money (usually both!),” Tyler wrote, also pointing out that while iPads and other auxiliary services might attract new students, they also drive up costs. “So even if the university issues me an iPad to access my iBook 2 materials, I’m still paying for it, albeit indirectly.”

And like many of his fellow students and their teachers, Tyler points out that a more practical, cost-effective approach would be for required digital media to use a software that is “device agnostic,” meaning that it could be used on any device that supports ebooks.

“That means that instead of telling me what kind of computing device to buy, you’re giving me the choice to pick my own,” Tyler said. “Everyone has different personal preferences and financial realities to deal with, after all.”

Will iBooks be required in universities anytime soon? Probably not, but as students and teachers begin to use and enjoy the iTunes U app, it's possible that eventually, it could evolve into the use of the iBook platform--that is if Apple can sell (or eliminate) the exclusive device factor.

What do you think? Are iBooks the way of the future in universities? Share your thoughts in the comments section, below.



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