Taking a Looking at One of the New iBooks Textbooks
A couple of weeks ago a colleague came to me and said that the administration at our school wanted us to take a look at some of the new digital textbooks offers through iBooks. I’m sure both of us would have preferred being able to play around with some really slick, cool, feature-laden digital Literature textbook. But that isn’t an option at this stage of Apple’s push into the textbook world. So, we decided to look at a couple of the science offerings. Because she also has a degree in Biology, she decided to look at McGraw Hill‘s Biology textbook. You can read her thoughts on that book at her blog awritablelife. You really should check it out; she is far more eloquent than your’s truly.
I opted to check out McGraw Hill’s Physics Principles and Problems because I was a physics major in a former life.
Once I had the book installed on the Ipad, it just took a few swipes and taps to learn how to navigate through this new form textbook. The first major thing I noticed is that there are some differences when looking at the book in landscape (horizontal) mode vs portrait (vertical mode). In portrait mode I would get a table-of-contents when I performed pinching gesture on the screen. The sections within a chapter could be viewed by tapping the arrow for a drop-down menu.
Using the same pinching gesture used in landscape brings up a side-scrolling, thumbnail view of the pages for a chapter. You can also side-scroll through the chapters in this orientation and vertically scroll through a list of topics for each of the chapters as you come to it. As I played around with the book for awhile I realized that I preferred the landscape view better because there are images that only appear when the book is oriented this way. Additionally, the other graphics used throughout the book seemed more prominent and part of the text as opposed to their smaller, thumbnail versions in the margins when using the vertical orientation.
Perhaps one of the biggest promises, or selling points, advocates of digital textbooks point out is that the new era of textbooks will offer features not possible with traditional print textbooks. The McGraw Hill Physics book offers lots of images that you can enlarge for a better view along with interactive images that are usually used to animate some physics principle. Some images are actually slideshows. I frequently found myself tapping on every image I ran across just to see if it did something else. Just having the possibility of something extra existing beyond the surface invited exploration and engagement. The book also has embedded videos throughout the book. Entering the term “video” into the search tool returned 25 results labeled as enrichment videos.
Another feature in the book is that each chapter has a set of built-in study cards covering essential terms. What makes this function even better is that when a student highlights text, it automatically gets saved into the study cards for that chapter. The highlighting function is very easy to use and appears to be the same as with other books in iBooks: if you tap and hold on a word, you can select some options from a menu which allows for the highlight color to be changed and/or adding a note linked to the highlighted text. If you hold on a word and just slide you finger across the words, you automatically highlight, or underline, them with the last color used–I found this to be easier than highlighting on a Kindle.
The search function for the textbook works just like it does for any book on the major ereaders–it allows you to search the web or Wikipedia for your search term.
The interactivity of the book is also seen at the end of each chapter section where students can take a section self-check quiz consisting of 5 questions. An 8 question assessment practice can be found at the end of each chapter along with a standardized test practice. In addition to these self-grading checks, there are traditional static assessments at the end of each chapter.
Some Basic Info
While interactivity and video in a textbook are the flashy, shiny items that we look for when first navigating through a digital textbook, it is the content that is the really the heart of any textbook. The McGraw Hill Physics book does have this as well. The book is divided into 30 chapters as follows:
- A Physics Toolkit
- Representing Motion
- Accelerated Motion
- Forces in One Dimension
- Displacement and Forces in Two Dimensions
- Motion in Two Dimensions
- Rotational Motion
- Momentum and Its Conservation
- Work, Energy, and Machines
- Energy and Its Conservation
- Thermal Energy
- States of Matter
- Vibrations and Waves
- Fundamentals of Light
- Reflections and Mirrors
- Refraction and Lenses
- Interference and Diffraction
- Static Electricity
- Electric Current
- Series and Parallel Circuits
- Electromagnetic Induction
- Quantum Theory
- The Atom
- Sold-State Electronics
- Nuclear and Particle Physics
Admittedly, it has been a long time since I have looked at a Physics book, but these topics do seem to cover the basics I would expect in a high school physics text. Each chapter also has the lab experiments and practice problems you would find in a traditional print textbook. I wish I had access to a current print copy of the McGraw Hill Physics textbook to see if both versions were the same in terms of organization, experiments, and practice problems.
Some Cautions–and 1 Curiosity
While there are many good, or even great, aspects to the textbook, I think I should mention a few things I noticed that did give me pause (these are in no particular order):
- It took some time to download. It took me about an hour to download; whether that was due to its large file size, or traffic, I can’t be sure.
- The file size of the book is big. 1.22 GB to be precise. Some of the other new textbooks in iBooks are over 2.5 GB. A student with 4 or 5 textbooks in their iBooks library may find themselves running low on available space on the Ipad. I would think the file sizes will increase as publishers optimize their offerings for the higher resolution screen of the new Ipad.
- There are typos. While I gave up hope of ever finding a completely error-free book of any type a long time ago, I thought I should point out that I did find some typos.
- Some reviewers say they found errors in the section self-check quizzes. I didn’t notice any errors in any of the quizzes I tried, but since I did not try every single self-check quiz in the book, I thought I should mention this also.
- Missing Video. One of the first experiments in the book gives instruction to watch a video–but there is no video provided. That seems like a pretty serious error or oversight.
- Teacher Edition? One question that kept coming to mind as I looked through the book is “What does a teacher do about a teacher’s edition of thetextbook?” There isn’t one in the iBooks store and I haven’t been able to find an answer online so far.
- Why is Everyone in the Videos British? This isn’t so much a caution, but a question born of curiosity. Given that McGraw Hill’s corporate headquarters and office for the education division are in New York, along with the fact that the textbook incorporates US National Standards in the book, I just found it odd that everyone in the videos were British. There isn’t really anything wrong with that, it is just something I wasn’t expecting.
Overall I would have to say that I liked the textbook. The portability, ease of navigation, tools, and interactive features sold me on this 21st century textbook. Even with the cautions I mentioned above, this seems like a pretty good textbook to me–especially for a first attempt at a tablet friendly version of a textbook. I can only imagine that better versions of digital textbooks will be developed as publishers push into digital platforms. The one thing that will lead to the inevitable adoption and spread of digital textbooks will be the price. I would imagine that it would be hard for an administrator to pass up a $15 science textbook.
Yes, for schools that do not have a 1-1 iPad program getting an iPad for every student and then buying a digital textbook would be more expensive than just buying new, traditional, print textbooks. But for schools planning on starting a 1-1 program, why would they get the iPads and stick with a print version of a textbook? That would mean they are spending more money. As for schools that already have a 1-1 iPad program, it would seem pretty hard for them to pass up a digital version when it comes time to adopt new textbooks for a subject.
What are you thoughts about digital textbooks? What are your impressions of the textbooks for the iPad?
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