Apple Aims iPads at High Schools

Would you fork out a few hundred dollars for an iPad so your kid can keep up with classmates? An IT director of public schools in Ohio discusses the pros and cons of making iPads available to high schoolers.

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Mon, January 23, 2012

CIO — When I was in high school, I wanted my MTV. Today's students want their iPad.

High school students have been eyeing the iPad and now their wish might come true. Apple is making a strong push for iPads to be practically required in classrooms.

Last week, Apple unveiled iBooks 2 for the iPad, a storefront for multimedia high school textbooks. Major publishers are on board, such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as well as other educational publishers, such as DK Publishing and E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.

Apple also began offering a free Mac OS app, called iBooks Author, for teachers to create multimedia textbooks complete with text, video and interactive features. Most e-book authoring tools are pricey and complex, but Apple says iBooks Author is simple to use. Think GarageBand for e-books.

TJ Houston, director of IT at Huron City Schools in Ohio, says the timing is right for iBooks 2 as many teachers have a keen interest in creating their own textbooks.

"I was talking to a teacher about iBooks Author, and she told me that she was going to do her master's program on creating her own textbook," says Houston. "We're an all-Mac district, which means I can push out iBooks Author to every teacher."

The iPad promises to bring high schools into the digital age. Imagine students virtually dissecting frogs in a multimedia biology textbook in preparation for the real thing. Multimedia textbooks could be updated with the most recent information regularly. Students won't have to lug backpacks full of heavy books anymore. Unlike laptops, the iPad's battery life lasts the entire school day.

Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work

There's just one little problem. Who is going to pay for all these iPads? Strapped public schools don't have that kind of money.

Publishers plan to sell multimedia textbooks for $15-a-pop, whereas the traditional textbook costs $75. But this doesn't mean schools can roll these savings into iPad purchases. That's because the traditional textbook lasts for five years, but publishers won't allow a multimedia textbook to be passed from student to student for multiple years. Do the math, and the publishers are charging the same amount; schools won't save a dime.

(Terry McGraw of McGraw-Hill told AllThingsD that McGraw-Hill will sell multimedia textbooks directly to each student, who can keep the textbook but won't be able to resell or pass it along to another student the following year. It's still unclear whether or not a school can pass along a multimedia textbook if the school owns the iPad and purchased the textbook.)

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