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Phil Schiller and associates took to the Guggenheim Museum in New York today to hold a special event which couldn’t have been further away from the traditional format that we grace Apple product launches for. In a smaller, stripped down event, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing introduced a strategy which was all about education. No specifications, aesthetics or launch dates for the media to speculate and report on, instead we saw a straight to the point presentation which featured innovation, new applications and a vision to change the face of education across the world, not for profit, but for the good of change.

AppleEvent

An introduction by Schiller began the event, with an immediate jump into the guts of what the event was about:

We try to bring the same energy and passion we’ve put into every product we make into our education business as well. There’s something really profound starting to happens, it’s remarkable. We’re seeing that, as students are introduced to iPad, remarkable things are happening. Kids are getting smarter thanks to their tablets, whether they’re older and studying for finals or kids playing a Dora game.

The tone of the event became clearer with not only focus on education, but more specifically on the benefits that the Apple iPad can provide to those being educated. With the United States being 17th in the world for reading, 21st for Math and 23rd in Science, it isn’t hard to see why Apple feel the education process needs a boost. In an attempt to get more iPads in the educational system, and help students learning accelerate, the company held an event in the Big Apple to introduce two new initiatives.

Reinventing The Textbook

iBooks 2

Textbooks have been part of education for as long as anyone can remember, and if you visit the library of any educational institute you will undoubtedly find textbooks which pre-date your own birth. That in itself shows one of the major issues of using such books. However, Apple also feels that the use of textbooks in education provides a number of other problems, mainly that they are expensive and wear out easily, they aren’t portable or durable and they aren’t searchable or in some cases very current. However, they are packed full of useful content. They believe that the iPad is the reverse of that and solves all of the shortcoming of textbooks, but lack meaningful content.

The introduction of a new reading experience for the iPad aims to solve the problem of content by bringing learning to the tablet device. iBooks 2 is a new, free of charge application which brings beautiful, interactive books to the iPad, perfect for learning. The books provide a dynamic, engaging and interactive experience for the reader, making use of multi-touch gestures and finger swiping to navigate through the chapters and pages. The embedded media can be manipulated through a user’s touch to provide more in depth views or more detailed images, or even 3D models which no printed book could compete with. The books are also presentable in two reading formats, activated through the orientation of the device which will appeal to different people. Landscape mode presents rich media to the user whilst changing to portrait forces images and video to take a back seat and makes the text and reading content more prominent.

The launch of a second application, this time through the Mac App Store will allow authors and developers to create these beautiful books which can then be published to the catalog for sale. iBooks Author is available now for OS X and is a free of charge download. Author is primarily focused on the creation of textbooks, but can be used to create any type of book imaginable. The simplicity of the application removes the challenges which were once faced with other software packages and implements the WYSIWYG interface; allowing the ease of drag and drop. One of the remarkable things about iBooks Author is that it is also compatible with documents from Pages, Microsoft Word and Keynote; meaning, you can drop any document or presentation into it and Author will auto format it for you books as either content or a dynamic widget.

The books can be made up of text, images, video and of course widgets exist to make things a little more interesting. Developers can also create their own third party widgets through the use of HTML and JavaScript so it is likely we will see a thriving community effort sooner rather than later, with a number of these widgets being made available. By connecting an iPad to the Mac, a book can be sent instantly to the device for testing and reviewing before being uploaded to the iTunes team for review and sale.

The iTunes U Initiative

iTunes U

iTunes U has been around since May 2007 and exists to provide education content and lectures through the iTunes store. Educational providers have been able to sign up to the program in order to offer their content for download by users around the world. At present; over 1000 colleges and universities are already signed up for the iTunes U program, which makes it the world’s number one catalog for education content with over 700 million downloads delivered since 2007.

With iTunes U already being so successful, it may seem difficult to see how it could be improved, or what additional features could be added. However, Apple want the emphasis to be on teachers to do a lot more, and with the introduction of the free of charge, dedicated application, it lets teachers and students do everything they need to right on their iPad. Providers can upload online courses in pretty much any subject or category which users around the world can enroll, free of charge. The course view via the application will provide details of the teacher in charge, a complete breakdown of the syllabus and even additional information like office hours and the credits involved.

Inside of the application there are entries which allow students to publish notes and posts, as well as important information about what materials might be needed for the course. The beautiful thing about the iTunes U application is its ability to link directly into the new iBooks app, meaning that books can be purchased directly, should any reading material be needed for the course. As well as making notes directly in the application, students can also publish those notes into viewable virtual cue cards from which they can learn and revise.

The announcements made today may not compare the glamour of launch events which give us things like the iPad 2 or the iPhone 4S, however, it is evident from all of these new free resources that Apple wants to play a huge roll in changing the education system for the better. Phil Schiller uttered some words toward the end of the event which brought back memories of Steve Jobs, "Apple exists at the intersection of liberal arts and technology, and never has that been more evident, that is true today as it ever has been before". They believe that students achievement can be measured by their learning engagement, and any innovations which exist purely to engage people in education around the globe, free of charge, can only be a good thing.

You can watch the stream of the New York event, or download it via iTunes.

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