I’m going to admit that I am as intrigued as anyone about the new iBook Author app announced by Apple today. It sounds as though it is an enormously powerful tool with which to build exciting and dynamic textbook content. Apple being Apple, I expect that it will be beautifully designed, intuitive, and fun to use. I look forward to playing with it — in one of my university’s computer labs.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s remarks in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Reflections on the Apple Education Event,” seem to me reasonable, carefully considered, and thoughtful. I particularly liked her point about the lack of interconnectivity between users (i.e., students) built into the iTextbook format.
I’d like now to explain why I won’t be rushing to use this tool myself to create new textbooks, despite the fact that it will assuredly do a fine job of just that, and will likely produce a much “better” product in some regards than I am capable of creating on my own.
1. Because, while I do have an iPad, I don’t own a Mac desktop, and have no intention of buying one just to run this app on it.
2. Because I have no desire to become an unpaid marketer for Apple Inc. Nor will I effectively require that my students shell out hundreds of dollars, not merely for a tablet computer, but for a particular make of tablet.
3. Because Apple has been known to censor, rather unapologetically, apps containing content that it deems “inappropriate.” I teach, at both grad and undergrad levels, a course in 17th-century libertine literature that contains much material that is jaw-droppingly obscene. I don’t want Apple telling me, in effect, that I shouldn’t be teaching such things. And, in general, I just plain don’t like censorship.
4. Because I agreed with Stephen Ramsay when he tweeted that “We are so deeply and sincerely screwed if we allow an American mega-corporation to ‘help us reinvent the curriculum.'”
5. Because the new format for these iTextbooks does not support the ePub 3 open standard, and so is not only restricted to a proprietary platform, but is actively working to undermine open standards for digital texts.
6. Because I am already paid (by my university) to research and publish, and don’t want to commercialize what I produce more than is absolutely necessary.
7. Because I don’t want to become a chesspiece in Apple’s game of imperial domination. While I have no particular sentimental attachment to the current publishers of textbooks (and in some case, quite the opposite), I have no interest whatsoever in serving as a weapon in the late Steve Job’s proposed campaign to “digitally destroy” the textbook industry.
8. Because I want what I produce to be freely available to anyone, and usable on as wide a variety of platforms as possible, and not just on an iPad.
9. Because I dislike closed-source tools, and want to know what’s under the hood of such tools as I do use, and also what may be getting quietly embedded within such content as I produce by means of said tools.
10. Because, while I am quite happy to use tools to make the process of creation easier, I also enjoy coding and designing resources myself, and don’t necessarily want to have it all done for me.