iBooks on the iPad – engaging textbooks at last?

As an Economics Teacher and Technology Coach, I am very interested in the way that students access and learn content. Our traditional textbooks obviously have an important role to play in the way that students learn and develop conceptual understanding, but in many ways this area of education is ripe for change and disruption. In my opinion, engaging, interactive, portable and quickly updated textbooks are where education should be heading.

Most teachers agree that textbooks are not the ideal modern teaching tool. Some would say that there needs to be a shift from static books and passive reading to interactive versions which feature different forms of media and that boost student engagement. Books also should be updated without the need to purchase another class set of the newest edition.

With technology, there is every possibility that this can occur and slowly there is evidence that this shift is occurring. Developments such as Apple’s recent education announcement about iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U, or start ups such as Inkling, show what is possible. To me iBooks and Inkling’s products are the sexy versions of the old static textbook and show how the shift may occur in future years. This has lead me to experiment with the iBooks format for IB Economics, with the idea of eventually publishing my material. The images and video below are of my initial drafts.

A New Textbook Experience – iBooks 2:

iBooks 2 was a product launch by Apple several weeks ago, which explained and publicised Apple’s education strategy. The development was to make the “iBook” application on an iPad capable of handling more complex books with a friendly interface. I think part of this is due of the increased processing power in the latest iPad 2. Opening a textbook such as Life on Earth – Biology on the newly updated iBook app is a revelation. It shows a level of interaction and engagement that is missing from a traditional textbook.

The main feature of an iBook is the way that the iPad’s interactive gestures guide your reading experience. You can swipe between chapters, open pages with a pinch and then tap to zoom into pictures. In some iBooks, interactive elements present diagrams that are fluid and change, 3D models and drop and drag learning objects. All of these gadgets support learning and boost engagement. The layout of the book automatically shifts as you rotate the orientation of an iPad, while pinching and swiping gestures always takes you back to the table of contents.

Features to enhance learning 

Some of the nicest examples of how iBooks supports student learning are tucked away.

  • By tapping on a word students will find a glossary definition of the term. You can access indexed links of the glossary, back to sections of the book, or use Google to search for the phrase.
  • iBooks can be searched in the top menu bar by typing in keywords, and this will highlight the context in which these words are mentioned. You can also jump to different page numbers, by using a top menu bar.
  • Some images within the iBook are presented as galleries, which can be brought up to full screen and then swiped though as a collection of pictures.
  • Review sections are presented at the end of each chapter. These are provided to support immediate feedback, and are self marking.
  • By tapping on a word students can highlight portions of text and add a note in the margin. These notes can be accessed as a summary in the menu bar, and also viewed through the study cards function by tapping through. Glossary terms can also be reviewed as flash cards and randomized.

The positive elements of iBooks are the level of interaction and engagement that they will facilitate. At the moment this will engage more students, but one can assume that this will only be temporally, until they become accustomed and slightly bored over time.

Availability of iBooks in International Schools?

In any case, at the moment iBook Textbooks, such as the examples created by Pearson’s are only available in countries with iTunes Book Stores, where the author’s company has allocated copyright to that country. At the moment this excludes me from accessing more books beyond the limited range of free books which are available on the New Zealand and Singapore iTunes Stores.

The future of eBooks and iBooks is yet to be determined but iBooks and the iTunes Textbook Store are only available on an iPad and not on Apple’s other products such as a MacBook. For my current 1:1 laptop school this is a little frustrating as our students are at the moment unlikely to purchase an iPad as a second piece of technology to take to lessons. Many students do have iPads and will likely be keen to use iBooks on these devices, but as a school it will be unlikely that the iBook announcement will be the disruptive technology that it could be in the textbook arena. Perhaps in a few years, but not just yet. The iBooks are also only available on iPads and not transferrable to other devices. There doesn’t seem to be a standard form of eBook at the moment, which allows use across other tablet, touch screen devices. In schools that follow an American Curriculum, iBooks will become available very shortly from Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. How long it will take for books relating to International Baccalaureate or British A Levels and GCSE curriculums to arrive is anyones guess.

The Apple announcement also highlights how innovative Inkling and their eBook developments have been. As you can see in the video below, the books available from the Inkling iPad app have for the last six-months, had all of the functionality of the iBooks. I wrote something about Inkling last year and it is interesting to know that Inkling was founded by a previous Apple Education executive, Matt MacInnis who left Apple a few years ago to reinvent the text book. An article by Jason Gilbert, features an interesting conversation with Matt. Read the article here.

Creating your own iBook?

I will post shortly, about the ability of teachers to create their own iBooks for the iPad using iBooks Author. Some international teachers will try to fill the gap before the above mentioned companies enter the fray of iBooks on the iPad. I have started an iBook for Economics which I will share soon.

More resources:

10 thoughts on “iBooks on the iPad – engaging textbooks at last?

  1. Andy says:

    Looks great, and a lot of work! Is this completely self-published or are you working with a publisher? Are you having to get permission for all your images?

    • Andrew McCarthy says:


      Thanks for the comments. Yes this is just a self-published piece of work. A bit of a hobby project. It will be a bit of work, but I have loads to teaching resources which can easily be reformatted into iBooks Author.

      The images in the book are from my personal photography at the moment. I think the great aspect of iBooks is the visual impact of photos, which is a huge difference from most traditional economics textbooks.

      Eventually I will need to go one some trips to get some specific pictures but it is far easier than trying to source copyrights for other peoples pictures. If I eventually sell chapters and the entire book I don’t want issues with infringements and borrowed pictures.

      Anyway thanks for the positive feedback?

  2. neil elrick says:

    Really interesting post.

    I am not sure I agree with the idea that this will become a huge commercial success. My guess is that people will produce resources for their classes, just as we always have, only now we can make them look professional and really engaging.
    No text book I have ever used has ever been precisely what I want. Therefore I need bits and pieces from several sources. But now, with relative ease, I can make one that looks really cool and is precisely what I want. Why would I buy one?
    What really excites me though is the idea of students writing their own individualised text books as a part of their everyday learning.

  3. Timothy Nancarrow says:

    Hi Andrew, after searching economics and iPad and seeing this post I got instantly excited as I am looking for help with economic resources and this book seems that it would help me a lot as I struggle grasping economics… And ideas when you’ll release this or any recommendations?

    Looking forward to your reply!

    Regards, Tim

    • Andrew McCarthy says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for the nice comments. I have sent a demo chapter of to the iBooks Store but am still waiting publication. Apparently the wait is quite long at the moment. I have finished about 2/3rd of my iBook on Macroeconomics and aim to have this in the book store in the next few months.


  4. John Goff says:

    I see that Virginia has released two textbooks for economics recently. I have check out both of them through their samples and they are quite nice. I was wondering if there was any new information regarding your book.

    • Andrew McCarthy says:

      Hi John,

      Yes I saw the preview of those two books as well, both seems rather epic at around 1200 pages. I am finishing off a few tutorial videos for my book and trying to add more review questions. Will be nice to get it published by Christmas, but it will only be Macroeconomics at the moment.


  5. Terran says:

    I don’t have an iPad, but this looks great!

    Wondering whether you have one on Microeconomics, or whether that is being planned.

  6. Dusty says:

    Have you had any more luck finding a way to get iBooks that aren’t licensed in your region. I teach in Morocco and I am having trouble finding a math book that students can use on iPad. It seems like there would be a solution for international schools.

    • Andrew McCarthy says:

      Very little way to get around this. You need to wait for things to become available in your local iBook store. Very frustrating i know. Our local store in Singapore still has no iBook textbook which is a real shame.

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