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Apple's Higher Ed Play
LIVE UPDATES: Officials announce 100 new courses produced with colleges, and plans to make textbooks far more versatile.
NEW YORK CITY -- Apple officials today announced major new pushes in education, including 100 new free college courses prepared with colleges and universities, and suitable for viewing on an iPad.
The effort involves such leading institutions as Duke, Stanford and Yale Universities. (Apple's announcement is here.)
Phil Schiller, a senior vice president at Apple who is acting as emcee of the announcement, said that the iTunes U. courses would enable "anyone anywhere at any time to take courses for free."
He spoke here at a packed briefing in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Material below was current as of Wednesday night:
NEW YORK CITY — One of the exhibitions currently on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is a celebration of pop art, intended to demonstrate the museum’s “ongoing interest in the legacy of the style.”
Apropos, the Guggenheim today will host an event — an installation, of sorts — celebrating part of the legacy of one of the most prominent commercial stylists of his time, Steve Jobs. At the event, Apple intends to unveil a new offering having to do with education. The company’s iconic founder is said to have been working on the project for years before he died late last year.
A widely circulated passage in a recent biography of Jobs hinted that the project’s goal would be the “digital destruction” of the $8 billion-per-year textbook industry. Rumors abound as to what Apple plans to unveil. The loose consensus seems to be that it is not a gadget, but software designed to change the way electronic textbooks are either authored or distributed -- possibly both.
Another big question in the run-up to today’s event at the Guggenheim is this: Does Apple plan to carry out this creative destruction with the help of the titans of the textbook industry, or does it intend to sweep them into the bin?
Steve Kolowich and Inside Higher Ed's team of tech bloggers -- including Josh Kim, Audrey Watters, Eric Stoller, Barbara Fister, Tracy Mitrano and Casey Green -- will be providing live coverage and analysis of the event today.
Steve will update this article as developments unfold, and the others will live blog the event here, beginning at 9 a.m. (Weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments section there.)
And read the bloggers' recaps later on their own pages and on this special blog feed.
It is not yet clear. Some reports suggest that certain major publishers might be involved in league with Apple. Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, where appeared the first foreshadows of the company’s designs on the textbook industry, suggested that Jobs had approached Pearson, one of the biggest publishers, about a possible partnership. (Pearson would not comment on any potential partnerships prior to the Guggenheim event.) And The Wall Street Journal says another textbook giant, McGraw-Hill, has been working with Apple on the project since the summer.
Still, there is the possibility that Jobs — who reportedly once said that “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy” — was planning to subvert the textbook industry.
“The most aggressive model is if Apple follows Amazon in their Kindle Self-Publishing program and cuts out the publisher middlemen altogether,” wrote Phil Hill, executive vice president of the Delta Initiative, in a post on the blog e-Literate. “Will Apple (or has Apple) found academics and designers to create textbook content independent of the publishers? If so, Apple could even offer digital textbooks for free through the iPad.”
That would put Apple on similar footing as Flat World Knowledge, which contracts with academics to write textbooks of which it then makes a basic electronic version free (while selling print-on-demand versions). “I would note,” Hill adds, “that this aggressive model is closest to what Steve Jobs described in the biography. "
Apple’s approach to transforming the music industry might offer an instructive example. Rather than wade into the nitty-gritty of content creation, Jobs negotiated with major labels. Apple eventually persuaded them to agree to break down their products into individual songs and sell them through Apple’s iTunes library. One could imagine a similar set-up for digital learning content, where students could use iTunes (or an equivalent platform) to purchase whole e-textbooks, or individual chapters, from existing publishers. “Apple is not trying to kill the incumbents,” and “Apple does not want to get into the content publishing business,” said Matt MacInnis, the CEO of a company called Inkling, which develops iPad-compatible e-textbooks, in an interview with Fortune.
But that is not to say that Apple will not compete with apparatuses the incumbents have set up to distribute their electronic content. CourseSmart, a shared platform built by McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Cengage Learning, Wiley & Sons, and Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group for the purpose of hawking their digital wares, fired off a pre-emptive statement on Wednesday that implied it would be competing with Apple’s new offering.
“…[I]t is not surprising that Apple would want to make a late entry into the market,” wrote a spokeswoman for CourseSmart. “The company, though, is going to face stiff competition from some very well-established players, like CourseSmart.” The release went on to boast of CourseSmart’s own partnerships with several dozen publishers, including the biggies that founded it.
Another theory is that Apple has built “GarageBand for textbooks.” GarageBand is an Apple tool that allows amateur musicians to record and mix their own songs. Despite various tools already available to instructors, “authoring standards-compliant e-books (despite some promises to the contrary) is not as simple as running a Word document of a manuscript through a filter,” writes Chris Foresman in Ars Technica.
“The current state of software tools continues to frustrate authors and publishers alike, with several authors telling Ars that they wish Apple or some other vendor would make a simple app that makes the process as easy as creating a song in GarageBand,” writes Foresman.
Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project, pondered the implications of such a tool for the open educational resources (OER) movement. “Imagine new curricular content created with the new Apple tool(s) that can be easily uploaded into an iTunes-like distribution channel,” Green wrote on his blog, Digital Tweed, which is hosted by Inside Higher Ed.
“What emerges,” he continues, “is lots of new stuff that [can be] easily accessed on a very large, well-cataloged, easily searched, low cost, cloud-based distribution platform.”
Inside Higher Ed will refresh this story throughout the morning as the details roll out and the reactions roll in. Please check back frequently for news updates and analysis from our technology bloggers.
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