The Textbook Project

January 4th, 2012

Clayton Morris hears that Apple’s January event will be about iTunes U and the textbook project Steve Jobs was working on, as mentioned in his biography.

Walter Isaacson wrote:

In fact Jobs had his sights set on textbooks as the next business he wanted to transform. He believes it as an $8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction. He was also struck by the fact that many schools, for security reasons, don’t have lockers, so kids have to lug a heavy backpack around. “The iPad would solve that,” he said. His idea was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple. “The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt,” he said. “But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money. (pp. 509-10).

I am incredibly excited, if not surprised, that Apple is working on a project so integral to education. Our education system, from elementary school to university, is very much broken, both in its overall intent and how it uses technology. Education today is too expensive and too irrelevant.

Fortunately, though, that also means there’s huge improvements we can make. Apple has quietly built an incredible educational resource, iTunes U. Anyone, for free, can download lectures from some of the world’s best universities and watch them on their own time. They can be taught how to develop iOS applications by Apple engineers at Stanford, cosmology from UC Irvine, economics from UC Berkeley, China’s history after the collapse of the empire from Harvard University, or even how to bake and make pastries from the International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes.

It’s an incredible resource, one that we should probably all take advantage of more often. But what it also shows is that education does not necessarily mean attending a single university, choosing a narrow major to focus on, purchasing a $200 textbook, sitting through several lectures each week and taking a midterm and a final. It could still be all of these things, but it doesn’t have to be.

We need to begin finding new models for education, because our current one is failing us terribly, and certainly not sustainable, either. I don’t know what Apple’s planning nor the extent of it, but I’m glad to see that they are trying to improve education.