Archive | January, 2012

Overhyping Apple’s iBooks Textbooks

23 Jan

Apple held it’s much hyped education event on January 19 in NYC. “Digital destruction of textbooks” and “Garageband for ebooks” were two of the many rumors floating around in the tech blogosphere. Apple announced a simple and easy-to-use tool for ebook creation and a simple distribution system through its iBooks store. The initial products are available only for the school market. Similar to Apple’s other integrated product offerings, will this e-textbook model succeed?

The Good

  • The price is the best part – only $15 for a textbook compared to the more common $75
  • Interactive (and possibly engaging) content
  • Easy-t0-use device (iPad) with a touchscreen that kids love
  • Easy to create an ebook using the iBooks Author and distribute an ebook
  • Ultra-portable, kids don’t have to carry heavy textbooks
  • Tens or even hundreds of books on one device
  • Internet connected for easy access to the Web

The Bad

  • Public schools buy books in volume and distribute them to the students. The average cost of a book is $75 that they use for about five years. A $15 ebook will be tied to individual student accounts, which means every year, the school has to pay $15 per ebook. The total cost in five years: $75. And an additional $500 for each iPad. Where are the savings? Our public school systems are in disarray. The budgets are cut every year, teachers and staff are laid off, the number of students per teacher increases. Do the schools have enough money for an upfront investment in iPads for every student?
  • Book publishers have been developing interactive ebooks for a few years now. Those ebooks can be used on any computer using a Web browser and are not tied to a single device from a single company. Making the same content available on an iPad instead of a laptop is not going to improve learning.
  • An iPad might increase engagement in the beginning, but once the novelty wears off, the kids will be more interested in playing Angry Birds. Pedagogy is more important than the device and this initiative doesn’t enhance the pedagogical value of the books.
  • The books can easily be created by anyone and distributed through the iBooks store. But schools don’t use books written by anyone. They want books from reputed authors and publishers. It will be a low-margin, high-volume game, and hyper-competitive as well. Creating an interactive ebook means investing more on developing multimedia content. High cost of creation and low margins. Will the publishers come along?
  • Nothing is more distracting than an internet connected device, which opens a portal to all kinds of information. Will the kids read the books or surf the Internet, play games, or visit Facebook? Learning is more influenced by people’s motivation than anything else. And the iPad cannot do anything to increase the kids’ motivation to learn. Today’s kids have a thousand other things to do than study, as indicated by the school and college dropout rates and falling behind of the US on PISA tests. The No Child Left Behind Act has made the situation worse.
  • The downloadable ebooks will take up about 1 GB each. Which means it can store only a limited number of books. Buying the higher-capacity iPads would cost even more. If the books are not downloaded, they will not always be available, given the state of our broadband connections.

The Ugly

  • Apple’s End User License Agreement (EULA) for iBooks states that the authors are free to provide the books on their Web site if its free. However, any ebook created with iBooks Author software that the author wants to sell can be sold only through the iBooks store. And Apple will set  the price and take a cut from the sale. The author works hard but apple limits the market. Apple is not working to improve education. The only things it wants to do is sell more iPads.
  • The books must be approved by Apple. This means any book can (and often will) be rejected by Apple for arbitrary and unexplained reasons. What if Apple doesn’t like the content in a history book? It will have the power to alter history. I wonder if schools will allow Apple to set their curriculum.
  • If the schools don’t have money to buy iPads for their students, can they make it mandatory for the parents to buy one for their kids? This would immediately lead to a class-action lawsuit against the school. Many people can’t afford an iPad, or in my and several other cases, will not be willing to buy one. How do you create equality in the classroom?
  • It’s morally irresponsible. A great book should not be the sole preserve of rich school districts. It might create a 1%-99% situation and increase inequality instead of bridging it.
  • A closed system will stifle innovation. An ebook that’s available to everyone on any device opens up a huge market that further incentivizes innovation.
  • One drop and the iPad is gone. Who replaces the iPad? The school or the parents?

Related Readings
iPad a solid education tool, study reports
Why the iPad Won’t Transform Education — Yet
The Unprecedented Audacity of the iBooks Author EULA
iPad Textbooks: Reality less revolutionary than hardware
Apple Textbook Controversy Isn’t About Books—It’s About Teaching

Cincinnati Is The New Happening Place

10 Jan


Five years ago, I’d visited Cincinnati for the first time at night, and it looked marvelous from the bridge connecting Cincinnati with Kentucky. After living in silicon valley for over a year, it felt different. I took up a job in Mason, a sleepy suburb of Cincinnati (CNN Money recently ranked it the 24th best place to live in the US, which is kind of cool), and have stayed in this area ever since. I love it here. Sharon Woods park ( and other beautiful parks), Sawyer Point (my favorite place during summer), Fountain Square, Union Terminal (a collection of three museums and an Omnimax theater), Kings Island, Coney Island, Newport aquarium, the zoo, and a few other attractions make the Cincinnati area a pretty nice place to raise children. But eventually, I got used to this life. And I felt that it’s a boring place with nothing to do during winter and not many career opportunities to explore. The economy is weak too. The Mason school district is awesome, by the way.

Downtown Cincinnati

To my surprise, Lonely Planet named Cincinnati among it’s top ten tourist destinations in the US for 2012. And here is a detailed explanation by Steve Fuller, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Also, Bloomberg Businessweek named Cincinnati third in the cities with highest growth in the tech jobs.

I’m proud that I live in a happening place :).

Related Readings
Travel: Cincinnati’s profile grows
The Geography of Stuck
Stuck, or Content?
Top 10 US travel destinations for 2012
From ghost town to night-on-the-town: Downtown Cincinnati’s revitalization

Reading List – 2011

3 Jan

A list of books I read last year (2011). Target: 25 . Actual: 30. Not bad.

  1. Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis
  2. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
  3. Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators by Clay Shirky
  4. The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins
  5. The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common: 8 to Be Great by Richard St John
  6. That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum
  7. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica
  8. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
  9. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, Norman
  10. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring
  11. Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert
  12. First Day First Show by Anupama Chopra
  13. It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong
  14. Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson
  15. 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks
  16. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
  17. Living with Complexity by Donald A. Norman
  18. Resources for Student Assessment by M.G.Kelly
  19. Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries by Peter Sims
  20. Poke the Box by Seth Godin
  21. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa
  22. Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Robinson
  23. The 17 Day Diet by Mike Moreno
  24. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey
  25. 10 Days to Faster Reading by Abby Marks-Beale
  26. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
  27. The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships by Clifford Nass
  28. Abs for Life by Neil Frost
  29. Who’s Got Your Back by Keith Ferrazzi
  30. Eat This Not That! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding