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Metro State students welcome electronic textbooks

8:02 PM, Jan 19, 2012   |    comments
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"I think they should've done this a long time ago," said Lagerborg, senior at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Thursday, Apple executives unveiled a revamped version of iBooks which will now offer interactive electronic textbooks as a way to alleviate pain on the back and the pocketbook.

"I have two accounting books and two statistic books," said Langerborg while holding his textsbooks. "I spent $450."

Apple is working the three major textbook publishers Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt which will contain videos and other interactive elements all for $15 or less.

"We have other bills to pay and it's not very easy to come up with money for books," said Jesse Freelong, a sophomore at Metro State.

Major textbook publishers have been making electronic versions of their products for years, but until recently, there hasn't been any hardware suitable to display them. PCs are too expensive and cumbersome to be good e-book machines for students. Dedicated e-book readers like the Kindle have small screens and can't display color. iPads and other tablet computers work well, but iPads cost at least $499. Apple didn't reveal any new program to defray the cost of getting the tablet computers into the hands of students.

"What does this mean for our students? They're actually touting content, accessible or easy access to content at a lower price, but in what format?" said Ben Zastrocky, director of the Educational Technology Center at Metro State.

Zastrocky says not all students can afford iPads. He also worries about accessibility.

"When I talk about accessibility, I mean students who have visual impairments or hearing impairments," said Zastrocky.

The new textbooks are legible with a new version of the free iBooks application, which became available Thursday.

Albert Greco, a professor of marketing at Fordham University in New York and a former high-school principal, said schools would need to buy iPads for its students if it were to replace printed books.

It wouldn't work to let students who can afford to buy their own iPads use them in class with textbooks they buy themselves, alongside poorer students with printed books.

"The digital divide issue could be very embarrassing. Because if you don't have the iPad, you can't do the quiz, you don't get instant feedback ... that is an invitation for a lawsuit," Greco said. "I would be shocked if any principal or superintendent would let that system go forward."

Greco said hardback high-school textbooks cost an average of about $105, and a freshman might need five of them. However, they last for five years.

That means that even if an iPad were to last for five years in the hands of students, the e-books plus the iPad would cost more than the hardback textbooks.

Apple also released an app for iTunes U, which has been a channel for colleges to release video and audio from lectures, through iTunes. The app will open that channel to K-through-12 schools, and will let teachers present outlines, post notes and communicate with students in other ways.

Greco called the new app "a shot across the bow" of Blackboard Inc., a privately held company that provides similar electronic tools to teachers. It, too, has applications for cellphones and tablets.

Apple also revealed iBook Author, an application for Macs that lets people create electronic textbooks.

According to biographer Walter Isaacson, reforming the textbook market was a pet project of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, even in the last year of his life. At a dinner in early 2011, Jobs told News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch that the paper textbooks could be made obsolete by the iPad. Jobs wanted to circumvent the state certification process for textbook sales by having Apple release textbooks for free on the tablet computer.

Jobs died in October after a long battle with cancer.  

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)

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