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RIP, Textbook O. Mine…

I can see it now. The tombstone will read:

Here lies an ol’ pal, Textbook O. Mine.
Since the 1800’s he worked mighty fine,
but the iPad is here so now we do fear
that he’s reached the end of his line.

College students agreed (see the recent Pearson Foundation study). Almost two-thirds of them believe that tablet devices, like the iPad, will replace the printed textbook in…get this…five years. That’s 2017. This survey produced several more astounding statistics:

  • 1 out of 4 college students in 2012 owns an iPad or similar tablet device; up from 7% a year ago.
  • 17% of high school seniors own an iPad in 2012; quadruple the 2011 figure of 4% ownership.
  • 63% of college – and 69% of high school – students believe that tablet devices will replace textbooks by 2017.
  • 36% of college – and 25% of high school – students plan to buy a tablet device in the next 6 months.
  • 63% of college students are considering the Apple iPad, compared to 26% Kindle Fire and 17% Samsung Galaxy Tab.
  • 70% of college students have used a digital textbook.
  • 58% prefer a digital textbook to a print version; a switch from last year where the same percentage preferred print.
  • According to the survey, the above statistic holds true for high school seniors as well.
  • 90% believe that tablets are a valuable tool in the educational experience.

What do you think about the battle that appears to be imminent between digital and print textbooks? Cast a vote and/or leave an expanded comment below. We want to know what you think.

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News: Apple to Enter e-Textbook Market?

The invitation was cryptic, but significant. Could it change the skyline of the U.S. textbook industry? Watch and see.

Apple has a date with the Big Apple. Wednesday the 19th.

Apple announced an education event in the Big Apple scheduled for next week. Speculation is abound that Apple will unveil a new iBooks for education program. Some say it will have an impact that rivals the splash made by iTunes in the music business about a decade ago (CDs are on their last leg, just in case you haven’t noticed).

Many conjecture that the new program will be designed for use on the iPad, and will provide tablet-toting students with weightless e-textbooks that incorporate interactive features.

Walter Isaacson, the official biographer of the late Steve Jobs, was first to hint at this as he cited Jobs’ plan to circumvent state certification of textbooks by making them free to the public on the iPad. In his book, Issacson indicates that Jobs planned to hire textbook writers to create electronic interactive versions for the iPad. Pearson Education has been speculated to be the first major company to cooperate with Apple on such a project.

According to Jordan Golson, an editor for the popular site MacRumors, “It seems likely that Apple will work with existing textbook makers to build interactive iPad editions of existing textbooks, rather than Apple hiring textbook writers directly and offering the content for free. Apple loves to be disruptive, but the company hasn’t turned into a publishing company like Amazon has. Just because Jobs had the idea, doesn’t mean Apple will follow it to the letter.”

While many are speculating on the announcement, Apple remains quiet about the event after the cryptic message. Only one thing is certain…

The education world will be tuned in.

Why are Teachers so Anti Wikipedia?

Today in my honors physics class I mentioned some whimsically chosen names for the fourth (snap), fifth (crackle) and sixth derivatives (pop) of position with respect to time. Few people know these terms, but the first and second derivatives names are quite common: velocity and acceleration.

As soon as I mentioned the names there was an outpouring of skepticism from students who doubted a science as serious as physics could also be whimsical. I thought the skepticism was great so I encouraged them to look it up and mentioned Wikipedia as one possible starting point. My students questioned the validity of Wikipedia. One even mentioned that “you are the only teacher who likes Wikipedia.” I’ve noticed that my opinion of Wikipedia does not exactly put me in the majority either.

The main complaint I’ve heard leveled against Wikipedia is that it has a lot of errors. I understand why people think that, but is there data to support this ascertain? At least one expert led study seems to suggest otherwise by claiming that the average scientific article in Wikipedia had four errors while the average Britannica article had three. I’ve read many of Wikipedia’s physics articles and have yet to find an error. Sadly, the same cannot be said about many of the high school physics textbooks I’ve read.

The other criticism I’ve frequently heard is that anyone can wreck havoc and vandalize Wikipedia. There’s no doubt that this is true, but how significant is it? Imagine for moment that we live in a medieval village where all hammers, crowbars & saws are controlled exclusively by a carpentry guild. Suppose a technological breakthrough allows all citizens access to these tools. Some might fear distributing these powerful tools which could be used to destroy. Fortunately though, we know that’s not actually what happens. For every destroyer multitudes more build.

I see Wikipedia in a similar light. Although some do vandalize, many more repair. And just like in the medieval town, Wikipedia has methods of limiting the damage caused by users who pollute.

How could Wikipedia be used?

I like Wikipedia because it is generally clear, deep, broad, well networked, and easy to use. I think we should encourage students to be skeptical of not only Wikipedia but also print sources and ultimately ourselves. This may not be practical for every discipline but we scientists are fortunate that the best test is rarely more then an experiment away.

If you’re interested, here is an interesting paper about teaching students to use Wikipedia properly and some insight into how Wikipedia works.

Are my thoughts on Wikipedia tragically flawed?  Somewhat reasonable? Or just plain crazy? Please comment below (: