iBooks Author and other stuff

So... you may or may not have heard about iBooks Author. Some have touted that it will revolutionize the textbook. There have been may reviews (here, and here) and some videos like this one. There has been much talk about iBooks Author's EULA (here, here and here). I do not want to rehash what has come before, but hopefully build upon and turn the discussion in a bit of a different direction.

I think that on the surface of things iBooks and the accompanying authoring program may seem revolutionary. We now can have the Potter-esque moving newspaper, text interspersed with audio and video, while also allowing users to interact in a somewhat limited way with the content. As was mentioned before, one piece that iBooks do not yet include is a way for social interaction with the content. This is limiting pedagogically because much learning happens in discourse and the exchange of ideas around content. So digging deeper, iBooks are, albeit shiny and handsomely packaged, still really just a text book.

There have been other projects that have tackled this idea before. I have seen and played with Sophie a bit. I was encouraged to see that the project is continuing and has progressed to offering options for mobile devices.  I think the piece that is missing from both iBooks and Sophie (at least what I have found so far) is the social interaction piece. Without this we have a souped-up version of a text. Yes, these tools can do things that plain text cannot and allow an author to write in different ways than plain text, but the end product is a standalone solitary experience. In contrast, I think about tools like Voicethread. This tool allows the users to have conversation around a piece of text, image, audio or video.

So what now?

There is a push from some for open content. I think this is similar in some ways to the brouhaha we saw over music becoming digital and the change iPod/iTunes and more recently the SOPA/PIPA vs. free internet uproar. (If you need an explanation of what that is, watch this.) I think that generally speaking it will be difficult to revolutionize the text book when there are very large lucrative businesses built around publishing and distributing these books. I have heard the idea of going textbook-less, which is not completely uninviting. There is value in textbooks, but that value is waning as the rate at which information is produced becomes faster and faster. By the time (depending on the field) a text book is published some of the content will most likely be obsolete, "old news".

I think that the open content movement will continue to push education, higher ed in particular, to a model of open sharing. the Most recent version of Moodle (2.x) allows instructors to license content with Creative Commons for the purpose of sharing. This is a good thing.

UPDATE 2.14.12
As I was researching for another post I cam across another iBooks alternative, Pressbooks. This is still in beta, but allows the author to publish in many different formats (HTML, ePub, printo on-demand, Indesign ready XML). I don't think that it will support the 'interactive' media like iBooks and Sophie do, but it will allow the author to publish on many differnt fronts, which is appealing. I haven't delved into it more than that, but it looks very interesting.

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