Voices in Education

Will the Apple iPad Transform Schools?
The recent introduction of devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad is a reminder that the printed book will evolve in the face of new digital devices, new capabilities for users, and new business models. In some disciplines taught in institutions of higher education, such as statistics, there is already substantial use of electronic textbooks. Change is coming to the K–12 schools, too.

One vision of the textbook of the future is something like a basic pdf (Adobe Acrobat) file stored in a handy, lightweight device. However, if that's as far as schools go, shame on us all! E-book readers and the iPad are computers, after all.

Suppose the textbook of the future included movies, animations, and interactive models so students could better understand complex ideas? What if end-of-chapter quizzes were interactive, allowing students to immediately see their scores as well as links to tutorials for questions they got wrong? How about allowing students to respond to homework assignments directly from the textbook, or permitting teachers to make modifications in the electronic text to meet needs of their students (by changing vocabulary, say, or adding more problems)? Can the textbook accommodate limited readers of English, by speaking text aloud or including an interactive glossary?

These examples are more than distant possibilities; indeed, many are available now (see http://kineticbooks.com, for example). The so-called e-ink in devices like the Kindle and the Nook will be in color soon, not just black-and-white. Internet access is already included in the iPad as well as some of the e-book readers. The highly capable, flexible electronic textbook is not far off. Students will benefit if schools make effective use of this powerful emerging technology.

How do you think tomorrow’s e-textbook could help improve schools?

About the Author: Andy Zucker is the author of Transforming Schools with Technology: How Smart Use of Digital Tools Helps Achieve Six Key Education Goals and is a senior research scientist at the Concord Consortium.