Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

iPad, OER, and Custom Course Web Applications / iApps

I shared the following as a comment today on Kevin Gaugler’s post, “In which the second edition of the textbook might be an app.” Kevin wrote:

Before Apple’s big announcement today, I made a prediction that Apple’s device would disrupt the textbook industry and consequently education, particularly language education, as we know it. Apple has built its iPad on the same popular platform that runs both the iPod Touch and the iPhone and has added a bookstore to its iTunes application called iBooks. Perhaps the next edition of our textbooks, however, won’t necessarily be found in the iBooks section , but rather in the Apps section. The advent of the iPad could quite possibly cause us to re-envision our educational materials as ecosystems that seamlessly direct text, audio, video, social networking and gaming toward a singular set of learning outcomes rather than just an e-book. Remember that when the iPhone was first launched, it did not include an Apps store, so the amazing functionality of the device was not entirely realized until developers rethought previous assumptions about the phone. So, too, I predict, will we see new kinds of learning affordances over time via the iPad.

I responded by writing:

I hope you’re right about the iPad and Apple’s emerging role as disruptors of the textbook industry, and I’ve shared similar hopes/predictions on my blog too. I think Apple’s view of DRM is key to this question, however. Timothy Lee’s post yesterday, “The case against the iPad,” is a good read on this topic since he takes issue with Apple’s vision of sharing in our web 2.0 world. At this point, I don’t think we see Apple truly embracing the disruptive power of Open Educational Resources. I do acknowledge that Apple is a corporation naturally focused on quarterly profits, just like every other corporation, but as a company it has historically stood for values far bigger than “just” profits. I’d love to see Apple officially embrace technologies which support OER. I’m concerned that most the Apple advocacy I’ve seen in the past year for iTunesU is done because as a company Apple wants everyone to get an iTunes account with a credit card. That was something Steve Jobs mentioned in his presentation this week. That comment was significant, as well as the opening comments about how many billions a year Apple makes. I think Apple stands at an important crossroads when the textbook industry COULD be constructively disrupted, and OER could play a HUGE role in that process. Hopefully this will happen, but I think Apple will need to place emphasis on OER formally and not just promote the iBooks store.

I love your concept of instructional materials not “just” as an eBook but as an interactive app. I’ve been utilizing different tools this semester in my own course to create “learning portals,” and I would love it if every one of my students had a mobile device which could access our “course app.” It’s safe to say many of my students are overwhelmed with all the new tools and “places” to find content that we’re using this semester. I think an app could really focus and simplify this for them. This fall I learned about mobilAP, and would be intrigued to use it or something else like it to build an interactive mobile web app I could use with my classes. I particularly would like/need functionality where RSS feeds could be added to the app. Are you aware of other free tools/platforms like mobilAP, or other reasonably priced software tools which would support his kind of “classroom app building?”

MobilAP: The Mobile Academic Platform

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10 responses to “iPad, OER, and Custom Course Web Applications / iApps”

  1. Jeff Yearout Avatar

    While I think the iPad holds some interesting possibilities, perhaps the greatest impact of the iPad will be what ripples it causes beyond Apple. By bringing this device to market at a starting price point lower than expected, yet retaining an OS that many are familiar with, I believe it is possible that other hardware makers might well be scrambling to get in the game if they aren’t working towards that already. And those greater choices will benefit us, the consumer. While there were smartphones prior to the iPhone, it sure seems the wave really got going after the iPhone launch. Could a Google Slate be coming?

  2. Kris Hagel Avatar


    It would be interesting to know exactly what you would like to see in a modified version of the MobilAP? I re-wrote part of MobilAP for a conference last year. You can see those changes if you are interested at

    I haven’t had a chance to take a look at the code for version 2.0 that is out now, but did my work last year on 0.9, so I would hope things would be much better from that point of view.

    I am sure I will be back working on that code to update it for this year’s conference some time in March, so if there are things that would help others outside the conference and they would be simple to add, it would be something I am sure I could do, and then share that back out to anyone else who may be looking for something like that.

  3. Kevin Gaugler Avatar

    As I write this response to your thoughtful comments about the iPad, the Grammy’s are being shown on CBS. I’m struck by the iPhoneOSque design of the special effects. It’s remarkable that in less than a decade the iPod and it’s OS has become synonymous with mainstream music.

    One certainly does wonder if the iPad will do the same for the publishing industry and I certainly share fears about one company such as Apple filtering all media from music to games to movies to books and magazines. Perhaps Google’s open Android platform and devices such as the newly announced MSI tablet that run on it will prove to be competitive alternatives to Apple’s product-line.

    However, I cannot help but think about how essential my iPod has become to my own learning since I listen to podcasts every day during my commute or through my AppleTV. The iPod has led to the birth of podcasting and world of free audio and video content that has flattened mass-media as we know it giving rise to Web 2.0 superstars such as Kevin Rose and Leo Leporte.

    Similarly, the iPhone was released without an AppStore and it appeared that it might remain a completely closed system. However, indpendent developers can now make a living selling their work on this new platform. Many simply give their creations away.

    One can perhaps expect that the iPad, similarly, will constitute a new publishing platform for unknown authors and their work including open texbooks. It is conceivable that within a few years a student, with one $500 purchase, could have the remainder of their academic content “padcasted” to them at no cost. Remember, it was Apple’s gated system that changed the music forever only because the music INDUSTRY saw the platform as a profitable endeavor. So too must publishers see profit in the iPad in order to for the disruption to take place. Only then will they embrace and make such a delivery system commonplace. Since Apple now sells DRM-free music, I suspect so too will the long arch of reason bend toward a more open publishing paradigm and the gated-learning system of which we all currently belong will some day truly democratized via really simple syndication.

    Lastly, I’m excited by the possibility of rethinking learning materials beyond the book to more interactive, more multi-faceted learning products that are simple enough to use that no teacher will be too intimidated to use them. This is what Apple does best: it simplifies and beautifies complex technology so that anyone can use it and so that everyone wants it. Only then can the disruption happen.

  4. Karen Fasimpaur Avatar

    Wes, you are right on with this post. The key issue is DRM. The music industry (and even Apple) has backed off from DRM, but it stands to be an even bigger issue with books. Publishers who commit to closed proprietary platforms and formats instead of open ones are being short-sighted even in terms of their own profits. Open can be good business.

    Fortunately, I think that a few bigger-thinking publishers and a whole lot of savvy customers will move this all toward open. (Until then, there are always hacks to get open content on closed platforms.:)

    While Apple does have a very closed approach to things, at least they have proved to be somewhat “open” in changing their mind. (“We will never do a phone.” “We will never do an ebook reader…people don’t read anymore.” etc.)

    In the meantime, we all need to be vocal and keep fighting the good fight.

  5. Doug Taylor Avatar

    Wes, I was so excited by the imminent release of an Apple Tablet that I budgeted 24 of them at $824.00 with Title I funds before Jan. 27. ( I got away with it!) You are absolutely right in regards to an “open” vs. “closed” platforms. I love my Kindle, I am an avid reader, and since Kindle ebooks generally cost a third of hardbound books, I have saved a great deal of money. I don’t know how many others took note of the recent brinksmanship between Macmillan and Amazon. In brief, Amazon was forced to raise their prices on Macmillan ebooks. I have contacted textbook companies about their prices on electronic textbooks. I was shocked to find their prices were actually higher than traditional textbooks. Updates were unavailable as well. This is yet another example of the existing oligarchy that textbook companies ( and testing companies ) enjoy at the expense of students at any level. ( Note: Worldbook online provides updates and their electronic version costs less than than a set of traditional Worldbooks). I see Ipods, ITouches, Ipads, Kindles, Nooks, Couriers, et al. as a vehicle to provide all students with a much more cost effective, ( and much more dynamic) means of access to an infinite amount of instructional tools and information sources. I believe that the only way to break the stranglehold placed upon us is through a joint effort by all parties to embrace open platforms. I believe that the efforts of to RIAA- DRM will pale in comparison to the lengths publishers will go to. I envision an attempt to implement a byzantine system of regulatory hurdles that will leave most exasperated. I knew an Apple Tablet release was imminent when I read an interview with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos where he stated that the Kindle ( electronic) format will ultimately be more important than the device itself. I can now buy Kindle books on my Touch and read them with the Kindle app. ( In sync as well) Ultimately it will be up to Apple along with their competitors/collaborators whether they decide to embrace “open” Doing so would simultaneously revolutionize education while greatly reducing costs. It is my prayer that Apple will show some humility and open up the IPad. In the meantime I will purchase a minimal amount of cheaper ones so that my district can assess their effectiveness at a local level.

    PS: Why in the world would Apple omit a camera?

  6. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Doug: I agree with others who point out iPhone 1.0 was missing a LOT it has now. I hope Apple adds a camera. I’m thinking they omitted it at this point because the iPad is mainly an eBook reader with a great web browser at this point… As I have heard others say, it likely does QUITE well exactly what Steve wanted it to do. Since it DOES have a web browser (and a very good one at that, I do love Safari) I think the “openness” question about textbooks can be addressed directly by web-accessible content. As publishers of all types (regular folks like you and me, as well as corporations, other businesses, schools, and other nonprofits) publish content online we can choose to do it VIA THE WEB and not via a proprietary software application. The future is in the cloud. I don’t know that Apple embraces this philosophy as a company, but the fact they provide such a great web browsing experience on the iPad (at least it LOOKS that way in Steve’s demo video!) means DRM limits and other restrictions (like iTunes app approval queues) can be circumvented via web applications.

    I was amazed to learn recently that Google Voice can now be used on a non-jailbroken iPhone by using the Google Voice web app ( which the smart developers at Google created after Apple removed the GV iPhone app from the iTunes store.

    I am going to send you an email too… want to talk to you about a PD idea for your teachers and students. 🙂

  7. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Doug: To your point about the textbook industry fighting tooth and nail to keep DRM and things locked up, that is quite interesting… I’m not sure, however. I wrote about this in my Jan 5th post, “Access your notes even after your textbook subscription expires.” Right now textbook publishers just get 1 payment when a book is sold- when it’s sold new. Used bookstores take in the cash for used sales. If students RENT their textbooks, then theoretically I could see textbook publishers either maintaining or even exceeding their current profit levels because they would “dis-intermediate” the textbook lifecycle, and essentially put used bookstores out of business. When you can rent your book OR buy it when you take a class, and it’s all electronic, students don’t have to shop at used bookstores anymore.

    Not sure if my theory is valid either, but both possibilities are interesting to consider. Time will tell!

  8. Rosella Gildore Avatar
    Rosella Gildore

    As an IT professional who is called upon by family members to solve home computer problems on an almost weekly basis, I have long argued that PCs (and I include Apple Macs in there) are hugely more complex than 90% of their owners need. I firmly believe that we need a home computer that works like a television, where no technical knowledge is needed to operate it,when you turn it on it just works and it doesn??t keep crashing. On a side note it is interesting to note that the reverse is in fact happening, televisions and the like are becoming more like badly behaved PCs, I regularly have to reboot my freeview box when it crashes. But that is another story. As I was saying we need a simple PC for the masses, one that surfs the web, sends emails, handles media, and does some of the othere things we use PCs for. When I got hold of an iPod touch, my immediate reaction was, this is it. This is all the computer most people need. It works. It is intuitive to operate and it doesn??t (seem to) crash. If only they made it a bit bigger, maybe had a optional keyboard and mouse. I should really mention these thoughts to Apple, I am sure it would take off???? I am going to spend my remaining days telling anyone who wants to buy a PC and doesn??t work in IT to get an iPad instead. Maybe Steve Jobs will give me one in lieu of commission.