Apple’s mega announcement of their new iTunes U courses and, more interesting to me, their new iBooks Author app has many of us thinking anew about the state of textbooks and informal learning and openness and a whole bunch of other things. It’s been interesting to watch the “debates” on Twitter (and elsewhere) between those in the “Oooo shiny” camp and those in the “Apple doesn’t get it” camp. I think I’m falling more toward the latter as it seems to me at least that this is more about repackaging the same old stale content into the same old interactive content provided by the same old content providers with little of the spirit of sharing that I find most powerful about the Web built in. Far be it from me to suggest Apple doesn’t have the right to float this model, but I’ve yet to see how this really advances education in meaningful ways without having something with an Apple logo on it in your backback or pocket to make it work. That’s a bug, not a feature.
But as I said, the interesting part of this announcement is the iBooks Author app which, in theory at least, moves us more toward construction than consumption. I know, I know…pretty much anything we construct with it becomes a part of Apple’s domain, and that part of it contradicts, I think, the best part of writing and sharing on the Web. Again, I may not have poked around in it long enough to know, but it doesn’t look like “authoring” via the app is collaborative, social, linkable…all the good stuff that at the end of the day fuels the learning that I, at least, do here online.
iBooks Author made me think immediately of a snip in an op-ed piece by Stanley Fish in the New York Times last week, a piece that anyone interested in the changing nature of authorship would do well to read. In it, he cites extensively a new-ish book by Kathleen Fitzpatrick titled Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy. These two paragraphs get to the salient ideas around the new tension to authorship on the Web:
The effect of these technologies is to transform a hitherto linear experience â€” a lone reader facing a stable text provided by an author who dictates the shape of reading by doling out information in a sequence he controls â€” into a multi-directional experience in which voices (and images) enter, interact and proliferate in ways that decenter the authority of the author who becomes just another participant. Again Fitzpatrick: “we need to think less about completed products and more about text in process; less about individual authorship and more about collaboration; less about originality and more about remix; less about ownership and more about sharing.”
“Text in process” is a bit of an oxymoron: for if the process is not occurring with an eye toward the emergence of a finished artifact but with an eye toward its own elaboration and complication â€” more links, more voices, more commentary â€” the notion of “text” loses its coherence; there is no longer any text to point to because it “exists” only in a state of perpetual alteration: “Digital text is, above all, malleable … there is little sense in attempting to replicate the permanence of print [itself an illusion, according to the digital vision] in a medium whose chief value is change.” (Fitzpatrick)
More about “text in process,” more about “collaboration,” more about “remix,” more about “sharing.” Forget for a moment the question of whether we are helping our students author in these contexts. (Hint: we’re not.) Are we seeing ourselves as authors in these ways? As I write this, do I see it as a “text in process?” Do I expect collaboration and remix? Do I understand the value of sharing and how to share it most effectively?
Admittedly, none of this is one or the other. I write and publish books and articles for journals who don’t embrace these shifts. Those are texts in finished form, little remix or collaboration possible. I’ve convinced myself at this moment that there is still worth in that, to attempt to disseminate ideas around the value and potential of an online, connected, networked education to those who trust those more traditional forms, even in a world which pulls me to just share and give it all away. (Oh, the irony!) But there is no doubt that I learn less from that process than the one I’m engaged in here and elsewhere. From the op-ed:
Nor is there any sense in holding on to the concept of “author,” for as Fitzpatrick observes, “all of the texts published in a network environment will become multi-author by virtue of their interpenetration with the writings of others.” Fitzpatrick insists that there will still be a place for individual authors, but with a difference: the collective, she says, should not be understood as “the elimination of individual, but rather as … a fertile community composed of multiple intelligences, each of which is always working in relationship with others.”
Notably, Fish plans to tear most of this apart in an upcoming post. But I think there is quite a bit worth defending in this vision. Publication is no longer an end point as much as it is a mid point, and to me, that’s a feature, not a bug. The interactions of other passionate readers on either side of the thesis happening in transparent, remixable ways adds another layer of learning to the reading and writing process that up until a short decade ago was really tough to make happen.
Given that shifted definition of “authorship,” I think I’ll take that over the Apple version. Not to say that iAuthoring won’t have some positive impact on the learning interaction as more new ideas are shared, but that doesn’t feel much different from the way we’ve been doing things in school for the past 125 years.
Let the remixing begin… ;0)
Latest posts by Powerful Learning Practice (see all)
- Hurry, you do not want to miss out on this… - November 3, 2020
- Resist the Urge to Quit Prematurely - October 26, 2020
- Let’s Move Past Feeling Disconnected from Your Students. Words Matter - October 24, 2020
In my view the Apple announcements last week are as much of a game changer as i have seen in 15 years in independent schools. I am not a long-time Apple advocate, but these tools are going to utterly change and accelerate how we develop and share content with students and amongst our adult educators. As I hold our board chair yesterday, any educator who watches that video and is not both very excited about the possibilities and at the same timed darn scared by what it means for our schools’ sustainability, does not have a pulse.
The Internet and all of its wonders has afforded us these opportunities for years. Education just hasn’t really paid attention.
Thanks for the comment. I’m wondering why it took Apple to give us a pulse about “utterly changing and accelerating how we develop and share content with students and amongst our adult educators.” That’s not new. The package is new. And sure, they are adding some facility to the process. But let’s be clear; we’ve been able to do what Apple has introduced for a very long time without them.
Great post, Will. To me, it seems Apple has done both educators & students – and Apple stockholders – the favor of adding some momentum into an industry that really should have been moving faster. As you mention Will, the tools to do this have existed, but innovation has been on a crawl. I’m upset about how closed the publishing system is, but hey – it’s Apple, they’re equally interested in stockholders as they are academia. Thus I’m hesitantly giddy… I have to admit I can’t wait to try the tool, and see about it’s purpose with our students.
The real ‘game changers’, to me, continues to be the Khans and other educators helping teachers & students collect and evaluate learning networks.
I live in Monterey CA – missed your presentation at CLMS but was able to come in and give a session about role-playing and classroom connections etc. via Ning. Thanks you for your continued, inspiring research and writing.
Thanks for the comment. Just one push…Sal Kahn is not an educator. As Gary Stager pointed out after meeting and interviewing him yesterday, he has little or no background in educational theory, pedagogy, etc. And as far as Apple, I think we have to push back when it comes to them providing access to only the small percentage of students who can actually afford their products (or go to schools that can.) I’ll give this to Kahn, at least, he’s more interested in giving away what he creates that making money off of it.
Just a little push back on the push back. I’ve heard you talk about, in a generalized way, the boundaries between disciplines breaking down as learning becomes more mobile and knowledge becomes easily accessible. One of the examples you use in a PLP kickoff is that of the young gentlemen learning to be a filmmaker. You ask the group who his teachers are, and while you mean to be provocative, you raise a valid point. His teachers are not the educators who have necessarily been taught the dogma of the education discipline (whose knowledge-base is intimately tied to the structures of educational institutions themselves). Sal Kahn does not fit our mold of educator because he’s not trained and engaged in the discourse of educational methods, yet, he’s created a wholly new educational method.
Conversely, Apple is tying themselves to the institution, and is planting their flag in The Great Transition, that jungle-meet-desert-meet-tundra we’re all in the process of crossing. To me it seems that Apple clearly understands, as an innovative and effective educator might: that we have to raise the baseline for everyone first and set achievable goals for the education community (they see the customer of education as the entire consumer base, not just those in traditional education). Interestingly, they’re not presenting a bold vision like they did with iPhone and iPad (although you could argue that the creators of Star Trek really formed the vision of tablet computing that Apple turned into a reality) because they don’t know where it’s leading, they know that educational institutions are slower than molasses to change, and they whatever new mold of educator emerges, those individuals will inevitably have to drive the change. Apple will respond.
(sidenote: read Summers’ NYT Article from today: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/education/edlife/the-21st-century-education.html )
Lucky for us, Companies like Apple and Google have real life pilot testing grounds for their products and ideas. We’re guinea pigs and innovators in an R&D feedback loop, but we can’t have it all ways: we can’t demand the innovative open future, ignore the market process and deny our institutional (and compartmentalized) roots.
Thanks for the push back on the push back to which I’ll push back. ;0)
Khan hasn’t created a “wholly new educational method” has he? He’s simply taken advantage of the affordance of the Web to time shift the lecture. What’s really new about the content? Can he make videos about abstract ideas that don’t fit the “this is the way you do it” lecture style? I think that would require an interaction that Khan can’t provide, at least not yet. The type of interaction that Mark the cinematographer is getting from his community of “teachers.” I get the point that they aren’t “educators” either, and so I’m wondering more about the informality of learning and how we learn with and from others. Thanks for that. But to me, Khan is just delivering an education the old fashioned way in a shiny “new” package.
In terms of Apple, I would argue that allowing only people who can afford their technologies to test a new creation and delivery method all the while making money off of those participating (I know not all) is not “real life pilot testing.” And I do think we can demand the innovative open future to be, um, more open, especially from the company that has a higher evaluation than most entire countries. If they really want to serve education, why silo it by both license and device? You and I are lucky that we can play. We’re in the 1%. The rest? Not so much. And I think the baseline gets raised when the people doing the raising are a rich and diverse lot.
Thanks for the link to the Summers article. I agree with much of what he says, and the comments are fascinating and thoughtful.
I agree with you that it’s only the package that’s new. But give Apple time. I remember all the flack the iPad took as a consumption-based tool when it first came out (including from me). The App Store changed that, and students now use their iPads to do some pretty cool content creation. The sociability will come as more and more users demand it. That’s my prediction, anyway, though Lord knows I’ve been wrong before!
Nice to hear from you! I don’t doubt that Apple will continue to evolve. My problem is this: Apple products are only accessible from a cost basis for a small percentage of kids in this world. What do we do about the rest of them? As I said, I don’t begrudge Apple making money on their stuff. But when it comes to their education stuff, to basically shut out a huge number of kids is problematic.
I think Jeri is right, users will demand more sharing, and Apple will eventually oblige or somebody else will move into the space. I love the new authoring tool, but am extremely disappointed in their closed community attitude toward distribution of the finished product. It’s very short sighted. I am an Apple user, love their products, but am frustrated by the closed ecosystem. No matter how you twist it, if you’re learning in a walled garden, your cutting yourself off from a world of opportunities.
Will, thanks for the piece.
ISn’t it funny how it takes a tech company to push the conversation like this?
Up until last Thursday, not one person was talking about how electronic textbooks could change the dynamics of the classroom. One demo. One app. And now the conversation is exploding.
Makes me wonder why it isn’t the professors in the Colleges of Education or the leaders of the groups like ISTE that are causing the conversation change? Why is it Apple?
Anyway, here are my two cents about the whole EUA and ibooks Author. Perhaps it is time to start thinking of books created by these programs as “apps” and not texts.
I would say it is because of reach and visibility. When Apple announces something the reach is huge.
That said– let’s change it. Let’s work hard to develop our change agent network so that educators can drive change.
I’m not sure what has been happen in your parts, but this isn’t a new conversation. It didn’t take Apple to start the conversation. Their brand pushed it into a larger conversation but don’t dismiss those that have been working hard here without the brand behind their name.
Maybe your criticism should be pointed at consumer mentality that makes things part of a larger conversation when a brand does – that blind mentality is more troubling than anything. After all, many have fought for years to make textbooks a small if non existent part of the classroom and now many are falling back in love with it.
We met at my school with a small group of folks on Friday to talk about what this big announcement by Apple means for us. As the conversation continued, and despite the fact that we have outfitted every student and teacher with an iPad this year, the focus for us will be continuing to build capacity with our staff (and students) on curation and organization of material that they are most interested in. The fact of the matter for us, and for most schools I would guess, is that our staff is not close to being able to use this iAuthor tool or any other tool that would allow them to publish their own textbooks.
Our renewed focus will be on this “text in process” idea that we need to have our teachers grasp and embrace. Until we are able to do this, the whole idea of self-publishing textbooks should be put on the back burner. My biggest worry is that schools will continue to be dependent on the textbook companies and our massive expenditures in this area will just take another form.
I know that teachers can do this work, but we still have a ways to go to support them in doing this.
Just a few thoughts… A good teacher could make a textbook written on toilet paper interactive. A bad teacher could make it interactive too. That being said, It’s not the info, it’s not the delivery of that info, and it’s not the logo on the device delivering the info. It is what happens in the cantaloupe shaped, spongy organ between our ears. That goes for everyone, students, teachers, etc.
We have always had the ability to communicate, share, and make choices. Our inventions make our abilities broader, and information easier to access, but it does not change the fact that what matters most is the process that goes on in each of our own heads.
Will, for a little less crowding, I pulled out of the thread.
I was expecting that general argument in response to my Khan commentary, and actually: writing it and reading your response got me thinking about the question of repackaging vs. transforming. Even though at the core of his product, it’s essentially a lecture, embedding it within the web, with all the collaborative tools that are available along side it at the click of a button (which Khan doesn’t necessarily prescribe, but which learners creatively make use of) make me wonder whether it’s really just a re-packaging or a semi-transformation of the instructional method.
Those lectures suddenly become texts in themselves, which are not necessarily definitive or authoritative, but are newly subject to analysis and criticism and reconstruction in ways that the live lecture isn’t. We can replay, read comments, ask questions which others or even the instructor might respond to. It makes us reconsider what we do inside the classroom as well. We might consider these “texts” kind of like the presearch students do when they access wikipedia. It’s a new place to start your learning, but it doesn’t give us the whole story of what can be learned.
Khan is no Eric Mazur ( http://www.npr.org/2012/01/01/144550920/physicists-seek-to-lose-the-lecture-as-teaching-tool ) and he’s surely not reinventing the lecture, but he is rethinking the context for the lecture, which might actually be changing the method thus adding some extra value and effectiveness.
Anyway, I’m not trying to defend Khan == just trying to see the links I might be missing.
This Roger Schank quote seems relevant:
I agree. At the end of the day, if the emphasis remains on the lecture in whatever form, I doubt as much learning is taking place.
I’m still thinking that the networking is transforming that knowledge. The presentation becomes less relevant. Here’s David Weinberg from his new book “Too Big To Know”:
“As knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing at the front lecturing us, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it. It’s not that the network is becoming a conscious super-brain. Rather, knowledge is becoming inextricable fromâ€”literally unthinkable withoutâ€”the network that enables it. Our task is to learn how to build smart roomsâ€”that is, how to build networks that make us smarter…”
I can’t say with any evidence that being tutored 1-1 through a lecture on the web (which seems a lot like a modern age apprenticeship lesson) and then having the ability to build new knowledge through my other connections in the network has made us less smart.
“Rather, the Internet enables groups to develop ideas further than any individual could. This moves knowledge from individual heads to the networking of the group. We still need to get maximum shared benefit from smart, knowledgeable individuals, but we do so by networking them…Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smart. We need to understand what of the old is worth holding on to, and what limitations of the new technology are going to trap and tempt us. A new strategy for knowing our world is emerging, but we are not passive in its arrival.”
In a way the Khan model is providing the link between old knowledge creation and new knowledge creation. By placing the old knowledge as a central node on a network, new discourse webs will grow out of and around it, thus creating new knowledge.
And we have to remember that our old ways of measuring what it means “to learn a thing” are changing simply because the network is changing what it means “to know”. So when you doubt that learning is taking place are you talking about learning as we’ve been measuring it in the old paper-based paradigm of knowledge or this new “we’re-active-nodes-in-a-massive-data-discourse” brand of knowledge?
Thank you for this, I was vaguely aware that Apple was going to make a big pronouncement. I know some of my colleagues who were hoping it would be that Apple was going to substantially lower the price of the Ipad 2 (to compete with the Kindle Fire on price point)will be disappointed. As my family has decided to go the Android tablet route I was not too concerned either way. And I am too busy shifting my practice to have time to follow Apple or other corporate announcements. Apple isn’t in my PLN and I know I’m not in theirs! Having abandoned text books over a year ago, why would I want to go back, even at $14.99 an etext with embedded videos and 3D graphics! Even the best textbooks written by wonderful committees of scholars, still have one point of view. And in my field — history — the publishers are too often worried about being adopted in Texas and California to tackle difficult topics or show the power of committed individuals in challenging and shifting discourse, events, history.
I would much rather provide my students with a variety of disparate sources to read through for themselves. By the end of the school year, I expect them to be able to find, sift, sort and make sense of sometimes a cacophony of voices on what ever topic we are discussing. Furthermore, they had better be adding to the discussion even if only within the confines of their peers. My next step will be to have these self-same students create the sort of non-linear topic exploration/creation/authorship Kathleen Fitzpatrick describes. Now her title is one notice I am glad to hear about and will take time to explore.
What a great discussion thread! Thanks to Apple’s brand power and clever marketing some people think that iBooks Author is original and revolutionary! It’s not, but like many Apple products, it does more easily and with more polish the kind of things other tools have done before. iBooks and iBooks Author are simple ideas done well – very well. I share your concerns Will about affordability, and I worry too that Apple and its partners’ powerful reach into education may negatively impact educational practice. Education is mostly about exploration, discovery and creation. There’s a small place for interactive textbooks, but Apple might succeed in making that place bigger than it should be. Nonethless, I believe Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s observations about texts in a networked world are sound. The genie is out of the bottle and, whilst progress is too slow, it is inexorable. The question is whether the genie will be slowed further – at least for those who succumb to Apple’s sugar coated temptation.
I disagree with the idea that an excellently written, interactive, always up-to-date textbook pales in comparison to the wide open, collaborative, chaotic web. The information from the web and crowd sourced information is often unreliable and highly opinionated. It’s a great resource, but I would prefer to be learning from material that has been written by experts by virtue of experience or education or both than relying on something written possibly by a 13 year old with no real experience of the topic.
A certain amount of vetting is good and should make up the core material in a class. With the recognition that this material will not be all inclusive of all knowledge on the subject, and may in fact have some wrong conclusions. But a good textbook is a great starting point especially if it engages an encourages further exploration, research and experimentation on the topic.
Any takers for an art class taught by Van Gogh, Cezan, or Picasso? How about a finance class run by Warren Buffet. I bet so. And Why? Because they are a source of outstanding knowledge and while they do not know everything about these things, they have proven they know far more than most and are worth an ear and the time to learn what they could teach, which would then become the basis and foundation for future learning in rhat area. So it should be with all education. The starting point should always be a foundation of core knowledge that can be expanse on. Since we can’t always have the world’s foremost artists or financial experts teaching every class in every school, we have to find a way to convey the information they have to the widest audience in the most interactive an engaging way possible.
Apple’s solution looks like a pretty darn good start. Is it the best way or will it have any success at all? Only time will tell, but I can tell you who doesn’t have the answers are the people who shoot down every solution before it even gets out of the starting blocks.
“Knowledge was conveyed by Monks when they were the only ones who could read, so the they lectured about what they had read. The fact that faculty still do this in the modern era is ridiculous”
Now that is very faulty logic. Firstly, Monks did not convey knowledge they merely ensured the accurate copy and recording of accumulated knowledge and wisdom i.e. the Biblical texts. Secondly, a house must begin with a foundation or it will crumble as it has no structure to support the weight of what will be built upon it. This notion of education via chaos fails to recognize that knowledge and learning must also be built upon a foundation provided by those who are already knowledgeable and experienced. The failure of modern education is not the use of instruction (and some lecture) to provide that foundational knowledge, but in relying ONLY on this and failing to then provide the time, resources, and opportunities for students to put that basic knowledge to the test and challenge them to expand and build upon it.
The system needs to change, but I see too often the desire by some to throw out the good and necessary along with the bad and ineffective and replace it with worse – utter chaos.