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Apple’s new iBooks: a force for good?

February 1, 2012

JISC has long been associated with licensing and exploring ebooks for education, and research by JISC Collections has shown increasing numbers of students enthusiastic about such resources as publishers and librarians seek to find suitable business models in a changing environment. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to me to hear that now Apple’s released their own version of ebooks for learning (BBC article here), which you can see reviewed elsewhere. But a week on from the announcement I am interested to know where individuals at JISC stand on Apple’s product.

Amber Thomas, programme manager at JISC, knows the issues well because she works on our open educational resources programme and gave a presentation earlier in the month (see her slides here) which outlined the benefits of content sharing and reuse. Amber says, “Personally I welcome the provision of easy content creation tools, and the ability to create attractive usable content.”

However, she also raises concerns about the proprietary nature of Apple’s resources, adding, “What concerns me is that Apple control a ‘technology stack’ through devices, software apps, content collections and delivery platforms. I am not sure that the drivers on them to ensure interoperability will be strong enough to avoid their business model being a form of vendor lock-in.”

There are complex issues around intellectual property when it comes to sharing resources. Amber says, “We all need to be savvy about the ownership of our content and data these days, so that we are at least aware of the trade-offs we are making, and the effect it has on our ability to share content with each other.”

If you’re concerned about these issues you might be interested to consult the advice in our infokit around the legal aspects of OER.

Doug Belshaw, of JISC Infonet, echoes Ambers concerns. Doug is a practising teacher and former Director of e-Learning and he welcomes Apple’s new software.

He says, “Yes, it involves significant vendor lock-in, but so long as you go into it with your eyes open there’s potential for really engaging, contextualised content to be produced by both teachers and learners.”

Doug points out as others have done, that “where Apple leads others tend to follow.” His hope for the future? “We’ll end up with equally shiny, but more open, versions of iBooks Author.” That remains to be seen – but it wouldn’t be the first time that Apple’s announcements act as a catalyst.

Which leaves the final say to JISC programme manager and OER expert David Kernohan, who is a staunch supporter of the move. He agrees with Paul Riley who blogs about it here that “the announcement is an outright win for advocates of affordability and open textbooks.”

David explains, “iBooks looks like an attempt to prove that the idea of a text book (the single, codified, unmodifiable, static source of information) is still pedagogically and technologically valid.”

However he does have concerns about using the web effectively for learning and is concerned whether we are simply replicating analogue artefacts.

He concludes, “The question should not be how cheap textbooks should be, or how shiny, but whether we need them at all.”

If you’re new to ebooks, you can learn more by joining in the JISC Advance webinar on ‘getting started with ebooks’

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