Major textbook publishers have struck deals with software company ScrollMotion Inc. to adapt their textbooks for the electronic page, as the industry embraces a hope that digital devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPad will transform the classroom.
The publishers are tapping the know-how of ScrollMotion Inc. to develop textbook applications and test-prep and study guides for the iPad.
“People have been talking about the impact of technology on education for 25 years. It feels like it is really going to happen in 2010,” said Rik Kranenburg, group president of higher education for the education unit of McGraw-Hill Cos. and one of the publishers involved in the project.
Other publishers include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-12, which is a unit of Education Media & Publishing Group Ltd.; Pearson PLC’s Pearson Education, and Washington Post Co.’s Kaplan Inc., known for its test-prep and study guides.
Many developers and publishers are working on applications that will work on the iPad and other digital devices. Publishers have been investing heavily in digital education in recent years.
Compass Intelligence, a market research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz., estimates that technology spending in the U.S. educational market could grow to $61.9 billion in 2013, from $47.6 billion in 2008.
So far, digital education has largely been confined to desktops and laptops, but many college students have been slow to embrace e-textbooks on their computers. Portability could make the difference, however.
Maureen McMahon, president of Kaplan Publishing, said a recent Kaplan study showed that students remain big fans of printed books but that they would be more receptive to e-textbooks on portable digital devices.
Whether the iPad will be the digital device to transform the classroom remains to be seen. “Nobody knows what device will take off, or which ‘killer app’ will drive student adaptations. Today they aren’t reading e-textbooks on their laptops. But ahead we see all kinds of new instruction materials,” said Mr. Kranenburg.
Though Apple didn’t outline its strategy to target the educational sector with its iPad last week, people familiar with Apple’s thinking have said that the iPad’s use in schools was one of the focal points of discussions in developing the product. In its exploration of electronic book technology, it thought particularly about how it could re-invent textbooks, these people said. Apple declined to comment on the role of textbooks on the iPad. Apple has an edge in the educational sector becauseits Macintosh computers have always enjoyed a strong following in the academic sphere, and it already offers educational audio and video content through its iTunes U service.
The iPad also will be helped by the interest that schools have always had in tablet-form computers. Science teachers, for example, could use them for taking lab notes, which often use a combination of sentences, charts and mathematical equations, while others could use them on field trips. “This is the beginning of handheld education,” said John Lema, chief executive of ScrollMotion.
But the iPad faces competition from other devices, notably the cheap portable laptop computers known as “netbooks” that can be purchased for a couple hundred dollars, and that have already started making in-roads in schools. Amazon Inc., which initially failed in its attempt to pitch its bigger-sized Kindle DX to schools, says it has plans to offer “active content” that works more like programs and less like plain books.
Jeanne Hayes, an educational consultant in Littleton, Colo., said the iPad’s lower-than-expected entry-level price of $499 will interest schools, but some of them may not be able to purchase the device right away if they’ve already purchased netbooks.
“It will be a matter of how Apple represents this to schools and how they fold it into their offerings,” said Ms. Hayes.
It’s also unclear whether ScrollMotion will emerge as the leading applications provider, with many others in the works. A closely held New York-based firm, ScrollMotion has already developed applications for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch. ScrollMotion takes digital files provided by publishers for the iPad, adapts them to fit on the device, and then adds enhancements such as a search function, dictionaries, glossaries, interactive quizzes and page numbers.
The features of its iPad deal with publishers include applications to let students play video, highlight text, record lectures, take printed notes, search the text, and participate in interactive quizzes to test how much they’ve learned and where they may need more work.