Apple Beckons the Textbook Revolution with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author

Hyperlink to Apple's iBooks web page.In January Apple sent shock waves throughout the publishing world with the debut of iBooks 2 for iPad and the new Textbooks section of the iTunes Store. Three of the top textbook publishers: Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt were proclaimed to be committed to the platform and the iTunes Store was stocked with eight titles ready for distribution at a loss-leader price of $14.95.

As if that were not enough, Apple also announced and demonstrated iBooks Author, a free application for creating electronic textbooks for the iPad. Several stylish templates come pre-installed, making it easy to quickly build a beautiful and polished document by dragging and dropping content such as Pages or Word documents, Keynote presentations, 3D models or movies into place.

The glow of the free authoring application and the low-cost titles is tempered by the fact that content creation and consumption are confined to Apple hardware. iBooks textbooks can only be viewed on an iPad and iBooks Author runs only on Apple computers with Mac OS 10.7.2 or later.

Apple has also imposed constraints on the distribution of the finished textbooks. Unless the iBook is being given away for free, it can only be distributed through Apple’s iTunes Store. After about a week of public confusion regarding the interpretation of this stipulation of the end user license agreement, Apple clarified that this rule is meant to apply only to the iBooks-formatted document while the content elements in the textbook remain the author’s intellectual property to be distributed in any other format they may choose.

Over a month has passed since Apple’s press event and the Textbook section of the iTunes Store no longer flaunts the “new” badge, but the small number of textbooks for sale (10) stands in stark comparison to the hundreds upon hundreds of titles available from other retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Regardless, the democratization of textbook publishing has undeniable appeal. Kristin Burr, Associate Professor at Saint Joseph’s University states:

From an instructor’s perspective, the possibility of authoring your own iBook is an exciting opportunity. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to create your own text for each and every class you were teaching, but having a template and a simple method of publishing the iBook makes it possible to develop and organize material and to reuse it. I’m currently working on revamping FRE 201 by using interviews with French-speakers from the area as my primary material, and I’d love to explore the features of the iBooks Author app, since I’m essentially writing a new textbook that’s designed specifically for SJU students.

Measuring drag force in Newtonian Liquids


The Biology and Physics departments are currently in their fourth year of a Science education grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. This grant, focused on the integration of biology, physics, and quantitative analysis, has provided for the development of two new courses, Molecular and Cellular Biophysics, taught by new faculty member and biophysicist, Dr. Edwin Li, and Biomechanics, taught by Dr. Jonathan Fingerut (Biology) and Dr. Piotr Habdas (Physics). The Biomechanics course has provided access to new instrumentation and technologies to Biology and Physics majors enrolled in the class.

For example, in one laboratory experiment, students use high-resolution force sensors and an accompanying graphing datalogger to measure drag forces exerted on objects moving through different liquids. Changing the shape, velocity and even the medium through which they are moved allows students to isolate each factor and emulate and quantify the physical forces that different organisms face in their natural environment. The graphical interface provided by the PASCO Explorer GLX datalogger allows students to isolate specific portions of their data, easily visualize changes over time, and quickly identify problems in their setup and data collection protocols. The GLX are designed to work with over 70 different probes useful to many disciplines including the physical (e.g. force, magnetic fields), chemical (e.g. pH, temperature) and biological sciences (e.g. dissolved oxygen, light levels).

Blackboard Workshops for Jan-Feb 2012

Quick note:
All faculty are enrolled in the Bb tutorial site (BB_0000_000_200320). The Bb tutorial site has step by step instruction on Bb features. I hope you will find this site very useful.

Blackboard 9.1 Getting Started

This workshop will provide an overview of Bb 9.1 and will cover the “Student View”, Building course navigation and uploading Content and the Control Panel features.

Upon completing the workshop, attendees will be able to perform basic operations in Bb9.1.
The Bb9.1 “Getting Started” workshop will be repeated on the following dates:

Wednesday Jan 25, 3:00-4:30     Bb Getting Started    Merion 275
Tuesday Feb 7, 11:30-1:00         Bb Getting Started   held in the Library-Instruction Lab, on the main floor.

Blackboard 9.1 Campus Pack, Blogs and Wiki

This training session will focus on how students can use blogs and wikis to communicate and collaborate in class.  You will learn how to create wiki, blogs, and journals for your students.  You will also learn the appropriate application of each of these tools.

Upon successfully completing this course, attendees will be able to:

  • Create Blogs, Wiki, and Journals in a Blackboard class space

The Bb9.1 “Campus Pack, Blogs and Wiki” workshop will be repeated on the following dates:

Tuesday Jan 31, 11:30-1:00        Campus Pack, Blogs and Wiki     held in the Library-Instruction Lab, on the main floor.

Wednesday Feb 29, 3:00-4:30     Campus Pack, Blogs and Wiki    Merion 275

Blackboard 9.1 Bb Wimba

Wimba can be utilized by those instructors that need to communicate with their students online in real time.

Wimba takes Blackboard’s “Virtual Classroom” tool to the next level by adding voice, video, and application sharing

Upon successfully completing this course, attendees will be able to:

  • Have a general knowledge of  how to communicate with students online using tools in Wimba.
  • Have a working knowledge of  how to synchronously share content and web sites with students online.

The Bb9.1 “Wimba” workshop will be repeated on the following dates:

Thursday Feb 2, 11:30-1:00        Bb Wimba  held in the Library-Instruction Lab, on the main floor.
Wednesday Feb 8, 3:00-4:30     Bb Wimba    Merion 275

Blackboard 9.1 Bb Rubrics

The Bb Rubrics tool allows you to specify criteria and performance levels for grading, providing clear guidelines for students, instructors, and teach assistants.

The Bb9.1 “Bb Rubrics” workshop will be repeated on the following dates:

Thursday Feb 23, 11:30-1:00     Bb Rubrics  held in the Library-Instruction Lab, on the main floor.

Blackboard 9.1 Bb Assessment

This workshop provides a hands-on introduction to the assessment function of Blackboard Learn, with a focus on creating and grading tests.  There are five major stages, you will experience a test as a student, you will learn how to create, deploy, and grade assessments.  We will also discuss best practices in online assessment, and explore how statistics can help evaluate the effectiveness of assessments.

The Bb9.1 “Bb Assessment” workshop will be repeated on the following dates:

Thursday Feb 9, 11:30-1:00   Bb Assessment  held in the Library-Instruction Lab, on the main floor.
Wednesday Feb 22, 3:00-4:30     Bb Assessment    Merion 275

Blackboard 9.1 Grade Center

The Blackboard Grade Center is more than just a way to record students’ grades; it is a dynamic and interactive tool.  The Grade Center can record data, monitor student progress and communicate information to students.  Use this valuable tool to help understand student progress and make informed decisions on how to improve educational performance.

The Bb9.1 “Grade Center” workshop will be repeated on the following dates:

Thursday Jan 26, 11:30-1:00       Bb Grade Center   held in the Library-Instruction Lab, on the main floor.
Thursday Feb 16, 11:30-1:00       Bb Grade Center  held in the Library-Instruction Lab, on the main floor.
Tuesday Feb 21, 11:30-1:00         Bb Grade Center  held in the Library-Instruction Lab, on the main floor.

Source: Al Labonis, ITDL

iPad 2 in the Humanities Classroom: Revolutionary Educational Technology?

by Jim Caccamo, Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Regular readers of the CAS tech blog might remember from a post in May that I recently co-authored a two disc, interactive software and video publication entitled Living Worship. For that publication, I served as technical director as well as author. I did much of the programming, instructional design, and video production myself. I am in the humanities but I am no luddite.

Yet, if you were to visit my classroom, you would find it a relatively low-tech affair. Early in my teaching career, I experimented quite a bit with a variety of ed. technologies. From the humble email list serv to complicated in-class, four point video conferencing, each promised to revolutionize the learning environment. Each was very interesting and novel, but I found that the techs rarely enhanced student learning sufficiently enough to justify all the time and effort behind them. (Yeah, Blackboard, I’m talking to you.). I remained open to new ed. techs, but as time went on, my tech portfolio slimmed down to things straightforward and entirely reliable, and only thing that did something I could do no other way.

Enter the latest ed. tech phenom: the iPad 2. On paper, it looked like a great device. But even with it on order, I was still a bit skeptical. Another “revolutionary” technology? Would it really help me do new things in the classroom? Or if not new, would it actually improve what I already do?

After about 6 weeks with the device, I can say that to my surprise, the answers are “yes” to each.

One way that that iPad has changed my classroom has been to serve as a central hub for my presentational media. When I use media in the classroom, I tend toward things I can’t just write up on the board. Most of the time, this means playing videos and songs, which the iPad is perfect for. With the video mirroring capabilities of the iPad 2, I simply hook the VGA and audio outs to the classroom “laptop in” port, fire up a media item I’ve put on the iPad before class, and we’re good to go. While I applaud IT’s ability to keep classroom computers running at all, no longer having to deal with abused hardware, out of date drivers, and systems that faculty have decided to “fix” has improved classroom flow.

But what I really like about the iPad as a presentational device is it’s elegance. On those occassions when I want to throw a piece of text on the screen, I can use Pages to entirely remove all of the interface from the screen. There are no menus, no scroll bars, no rulers or buttons. There’s just the text. Beautiful and clean, there’s nothing to draw focus away from what’s important.

The iPad has also changed my classroom enhancing two activities we do all of the time: examining texts and laying out ideas on the board. Pretty much every day in class we spend a good chunk of time talking about things the students have read. As we do that, the students and I constantly point out key passages in the readings. The only problem is that there’s always a lag as people turn, for instance, to “the third full paragraph on page 24, about 3/4 of the way down,” trying to find exactly where the quote is. Using GoodReader on the iPad, I can quickly throw the article that we are reading up on the screen (I have my course readers in pdf format) and circle the text we’re focusing on. Students can then quickly find the right spot without much mucking about and feeling lost. It’s a simple thing, but it has been really helpful.

The iPad has also enhanced the way that I lay out ideas on the board during class. Being a more aural than visual person, I have had to work on developing ways to help our visually savvy students engage the material. Many faculty do this by throwing images or outlines of text on the screen. Yet, that never seemed to me a particularly interactive way of proceeding. It is hard to edit PowerPoint on the fly based on student input! So I’ve focused on working with students to build diagrams of concepts and arguments on the board as we move through the class. This works well to facilitate student participation in collaborative construction of knowledge. But it has the disadvantages of being difficult to save, hard to read (due to my poor handwriting), and often quite messy. Interactive yes, but ideal, no.

Using the iPad, I have started to experiment with a couple of different apps (SimpleMind and MindNode) that do what is sometimes referred to (grandiosely) as ”mind mapping”. These apps allow you to draw flow charts, decision trees, and “mind maps” that connect major premises and ideas to their supporting concepts. Using the touch screen, you draw shapes, type in text, and connect items to one another with arrows and lines. Best of all, you can save the completed maps as jpg or pdf files, email them to the class, edit them, and bring them back up in later classes. While I have quite a bit of work yet to do in order to gain real facility with the software, we’ve been able to use it successfully in the classroom to collaboratively create visual guides to course readings and concepts. Again, a simple thing that has been really helpful.

The bottom line is this: the iPad 2 has helped me do what I do better. And in the end, that’s the most important thing to me: I haven’t had to change my teaching for the sake of the technology. I haven’t had to adopt new pedagogical strategies to use it. I haven’t had to rethink class sessions and assignments. I haven’t had to adopt new workflows. And I haven’t had to expend energy worrying about whether or not the hardware or network will work. It has been utterly reliable across a variety of classrooms.

With the iPad, I have been able to keep my mind squarely where it should be: helping students learn. Now that’s a revolutionary educational technology!