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May 3, 2015

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New iPad app for digital textbooks excites Clark County schools


Christopher DeVargas

Students at Southwest Career and Technical Academy High School utilize iPads, in addition to iMac computers, during 3D Graphics class, Thurs. Jan. 19, 2012. The school has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School due to students utilizing digital technology to enhance their learning experience.

iPad Education at Vegas High School

Students at Southwest Career and Technical Academy High School utilize iPads during a Biology class, Thurs. Jan. 19, 2012. The school has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School due to students utilizing digital technology to enhance their learning experience. Launch slideshow »

As Apple Inc. poises to reinvent the textbook market — as it did with the personal computer, music and telecommunications industries — the Clark County School District is looking within its own ranks of digitally pioneering schools to navigate the new classrooms of the 21st century.

The California-based technology company unveiled on Thursday its latest iPad application, iBooks 2, which promises to be a one-stop shop for all future electronic textbook sales. This is an update to Apple’s iBooks, which has sold thousands of digital novels, or e-books, since it launched along with the iPad tablet two years ago.

Schools across the country have seemingly embraced the iPad as a supplement and eventually replacement to the traditional paper textbook as publishing companies began developing e-textbooks and classroom applications.

Currently, 1.5 million iPads are being used in schools, and textbook and software companies have developed some 20,000 educational apps for the iPad so far, Apple said.

The new e-textbooks on the iPad will be priced at $15 or less — cheaper than paper textbooks that may cost upwards of 10 times as much. Unlike traditional textbooks, e-textbooks will be interactive with questionnaires and quizzes, photo slide shows, videos, 3-D diagrams and models. Students reading textbooks on the iPad will be able to easily highlight text, add notes, search definitions and terms and create digital flashcards to study. Furthermore, teachers will be able to create their own digital textbooks easily using Apple’s new iBooks Author feature.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Jhone Ebert, the School District’s chief technology officer, on Apple’s announcement. “Schooling in the 21st century isn’t what it was when we were growing up. For students to be competitive in the digital world, they need to be able to research and use technology to learn.”


The Clark County School District is gradually adopting Apple iPads, rolling out a number of pilot programs at several schools over the past two years. It’s a bold move by the cash-strapped district, which was criticized two years ago for purchasing $1 million worth of iPads for administrators. (The School District is currently seeking $39 million in concessions from its teachers union to balance its budget, a contentious proposal that has brought hundreds of protesting teachers to recent School Board meetings.)

CCSD iPad Pilot Program

The Clark County School District launched a pilot program using an iPad application to teach algebra to students at four schools during the 2011-12 school year. There will be 1,150 students using the algebra application on the iPad, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The iPads with software cost the School District $790,050.

At the beginning of this school year, the School District distributed more than 1,100 iPads loaded with an interactive algebra textbook and application to students at four schools: Silverado High School, Silvestri and Leavitt middle schools and the Academy of Individualized Study. The one-year trial program is costing the School District $790,050.

Explore Knowledge Academy, a charter school opening a new campus next month in the eastern valley, became the first “iSchool” in Nevada this past fall when it provided iPads and Apple technology to each of its more than 600 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The technology upgrade was part of a $4 million campus development project — which included a campus and infrastructure renovation, paid for by the charter school’s foundation. (Public charter schools such as EKA are overseen by the School District or the state, but are given more academic and budgetary freedoms in exchange for greater accountability and scrutiny.)

School officials argue the tablets — which cost $500 to $800 — provide a relief from the mounting costs associated with replacing aging or outdated paper textbooks and computers. Administrators and some teachers say these devices also improve student engagement and achievement, although preliminary studies show mixed results.

Researchers and district officials say it’s too early to tell if the influx of new technology will prove cost-effective in the long run or deliver higher test scores. Technology is just one of many factors that determine student outcomes in the classroom and on tests. However, an ongoing New York Times series calls into question the billions of dollars school districts are spending nationwide on technology without conclusive proof it improves test scores or student achievement.

The Times looked at the Kyrene School District in Arizona, which invested about $33 million in laptops, interactive “smart-boards” and education software since 2005. Test scores in reading and math have remained stagnant during that time, according to the article.

However, a study being released Friday by textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt found improvements among Riverside, Calif., students using its HMH Fuse Algebra application.

Students using the iPad application scored on average 19 percentage points higher than students who didn’t use the software, and were “more motivated, more attentive in class, and more engaged with Algebra content relative to students using textbooks,” according to the report. Clark County’s preliminary results with the application are not in yet, because the first semester is just ending, Ebert said.

Although technology’s impact on student achievement is largely inconclusive, the School District has ramped up its preparations for its full adoption in high hopes it would help raise Clark County students’ test scores and graduation rates.

Apple introduces iBooks 2 for iPad

Philip Schiller, Apple=s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, introduces iBooks 2 for iPad, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 in New York. IBooks 2 will be able to display books with videos and other interactive features. Launch slideshow »

The district recently completed installing Wi-Fi in all 357 schools, which would allow mobile devices such as laptops and iPads to be used in classrooms. The wireless Internet initiative was paid for using leftover funds from the 1998 construction bond program.

The goal eventually is to allow students to bring their own electronic devices to school to take notes, complete assignments and tests, and even take high-stakes state exams such as the Criterion Referenced Test and High School Proficiency Exam.

This year, fifth- and eighth-grade students were required by the state to complete their written portion of the CRT on the computer — a first for the state, Ebert said.


Apple’s announcement on Thursday only fueled the excitement for digital education at Southwest Career and Technical Academy, one of the first schools in Clark County to adopt the iPad and Apple’s iPod Touch — a popular Internet and software enabled music player — in the classroom.

The magnet school was recently named an Apple Distinguished School for providing students at school and at home with a “21st century learning environment.” The southwest valley high school was the only high school in Nevada, and one of just 56 schools across the nation, to receive the designation from Apple Inc.

“It’s well-deserved. The school is just amazing,” Ebert said. “They really opened up with the mindset that they were going to change education through technology.”

Southwest CTA has become the School District’s main testing ground for Apple technology — from iMac computers, iPads and iPod touches — and perhaps a model of how other Clark County schools could adopt digital tools, applications and textbooks into their curriculum in light of Apple officially entering into the educational realm.

Opened three years ago, the high-performing high school offers 11 career technical programs in culinary, hospitality, nursing, respiratory therapy, dental assisting, auto, fashion, interior design engineering, web and video game technology. Even in specialized nonscience courses like fashion or in traditional core subject areas like biology, iMac computers, iPad tablets and iPod players are being used by students to do research, create projects and collaborate with peers and teachers.

Even before stepping onto the 1,400-student campus, located at 7050 W. Shelbourne Ave., visitors are greeted by signs with QR codes — special bar codes that allow mobile devices to access websites with information about the school. These QR codes are displayed on classrooms doors, linking to the corresponding teacher’s syllabi, calendar and website.

Southwest CTA opened with hundreds of shiny iMac and MacBook Pro computers. Two years ago, the school bought 446 iPod Touch players. This year, the magnet distributed 200 iPads to seniors who opted into the program, and plans to roll out 220 more for the junior class next semester, said Stacy LeFevre, the school’s education computer specialist.

“We’re always trying to push the technology forward,” she said. “If it’s used correctly in the classroom, we’re going to see leaps and bounds in how well students do on tests and how they approach learning. They just love it — juniors are chomping at the bit for the new iPads.”

The iPads don’t have any textbooks loaded on them — yet. Instead, teachers have downloaded free or cheap educational applications such as graphing calculators, interactive science models and sketching tools to help students learn.

Click to enlarge photo

iPod Touches sit inside a charging and syncing cart at Southwest Career and Technical Academy High School, Thurs. Jan. 19, 2012. The school has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School due to students utilizing digital technology to enhance their learning experience.

“Technology levels the playing field because there’s virtually an app for everything,” said Principal Felicia Nemcek. “(Students) can accomplish more outside of class so it’s reviewing concepts when they’re in class. They can learn it at a much deeper level and gives students access to more information.”


Thursday morning found a handful of students in Jennifer Conder’s advanced-placement biology and anatomy classes dissecting a cat. Before delving into the carcass with gloves and scalpel, students studied organs on a $15 Virtual Body application, which allows students to learn about the human body through 3D models. As they explored the cat’s anatomy, they were told to snap photos of certain body parts and identify them.

About 100 of Conder’s 150 students across several classes use iPads, she said. The rest use iPod Touches, or bring their own laptops or devices to class. Students must pay a $45 insurance fee to receive an iPad on loan; scholarships are available to students who want an iPad but cannot afford the cost.

While Conder admits she has caught a few students who have played games in class or found ways around the firewall, she said she sees more good in using the technology. Students will always find loopholes from installing Pac-Man games on graphing calculators to using smartphones to look up information, she said.

“These kids are going to have to be able to use all the resources out there, and learn to use them appropriately,” she said, adding that students learn about copyright and how to attribute sources properly. “I feel like I’m making a difference since my kids will be more prepared to use technology to their advantage.”

Nemcek has spent about $170,000 on the iPads over the past two years. It’s an investment that she says will prove cost-efficient over the long haul. Ebert said the School Board believes this as well, and has been asking her technology department when they could implement e-textbooks. Perhaps the time is now, she said.

As a result of free applications and tutorials, the iPads have eliminated the need for Southwest CTA to purchase paper novels for English classes and $100 graphing calculators for math classes, Nemcek said. The school saves on reams of paper because students submit assignments electronically. Because tablet computers are generally cheaper than laptops, computers may need to be replaced less often, she said.

And with Apple entering into the textbook market, Nemcek is expecting to save even more. The Campbell’s Body textbook in Conder’s biology and anatomy classes costs $175. A similar textbook on the iPad may cost less than a 10th of that amount.

Further, once an application is purchased, updates are free. However, some e-textbooks may work differently with each update costing schools, said Joe Blumenfeld, the senior vice president for textbook publisher HMH. Ebert said she plans to study the matter, adding that additional costs may incur from having to instruct teachers on how to use the new technology effectively in their classrooms.

Regardless of the cost, Nemcek is adamant the influx of technology at Southwest CTA is helping to engage more students, resulting in higher test scores. The high-performing school has been designated as an exemplary school for meeting its progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“We’ve fostered an environment where students want to learn,” she said. “We just show them how and they just run with it. We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve.”

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  1. Chunky says:

    Students should be taught with the tools they'll use in day to day life and their work.

    The iPad / tablet form factor is a perfect tool for students to work with. Instead of a bag full of outdated books, they can have instant access to the most relevant material and information.

    Few subjects or topics require the printed page anymore.

    Like newspapers and telephone books, the day of the text book has come and gone.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  2. This is disgusting. Apple did the marketing crap with the Apple II. This is all about sales, nothing else.

    I need to go puke.

  3. Joe, I have no doubt that 500 years from now researchers will learn more about our time from printed material than from digital media.

    It is already difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve data that has been stored on 1/4" tape from the 80s. But it is trivial to gather data from printed documents.

    This is nothing more than a marketing stunt (again) by Apple. Apple didn't give a damn about the welfare of the student in the 80s, and they don't give a damn today. If you doubt what I say is true, then answer this: Why is virtually all of Apple's manufacturing overseas (mainly in China) instead of here in the US where we are in desperate need of those jobs?

    (expletive verb) Apple!

  4. Joe, I'm going to expand on this a bit more.

    Apple would not even exist except for the "hacker culture" that existed in the 70s. Yet Apple is one of the leaders in trying to eliminate it. Apple (Steve Jobs) did more to destroy the free flow of information and progress than any other factor I can think of at the time.

  5. Hey, Joe! (Quick, for two points name the first artist to release a song by that name.) The only good thing about being old farts is that we understand each other. :)

    By the way, you still have a standing invite to come over and enjoy some wood-fired BBQ the next time you land in Vegas. :)

  6. Not even close, you gotta go back to the mid-60s with either The Leaves or The Standells. The Byrds also have an early version of it. Hendrix was a late-comer with a slow version. I recall the fast version of it being out first.

  7. Apple haters, this isn't about Apple, it is about information access. I'd suspect that in a time frame of 5-10 years, paper books will be relegated to the same place vinyl is today: collectible items for cultural fetishists or nostalgists.

    As someone who has a physical library of both books and music, and who hasn't purchased either in physical form in years, I can see the writing on the wall (or the tablet). It is just as "intuitive" for a 3 year old to manipulate an iPad as it is for them to manipulate a book, and perhaps a tad easier. As education is the single largest purchaser of printed books in the world, and as it is cheaper (and easier) to send ten tablets loaded with 500 different e-books to a 3rd world reading program (5000 different books) than it is to send ten copies of 50 books, I think the discussion is moot. Whether it is on an Apple device or another branded device, electronic media is the future.

    It's humorous that this discussion is taking place in an electronic forum. If we were writing letters back and forth, what takes moments would take days.

  8. Question: "Why is virtually all of Apple's manufacturing overseas?"

    Answer: Because 90% of Americans would not be able to afford to buy the product if it was made in America.

    Manufacturing cost alone is 20% more in the U.S. BEFORE you account for the much higher wages.

    Would you pay $1500 for an IPad?

  9. The business section of today's New York times has a lengthy article titled "Apple introduces Tools to (Someday) Supplant Print Textbooks". It's worth a read to get a good background on the challenges in this endeavor.Given the sheer size of the market and Apple's business model of building better, sleeker, "gotta have it" mousetraps I can foresee Apple dominating this market.

    As a teacher (retired) I would have loved to have this tool in the classroom. Emphasis is on the word "tool". iPads or similar tools are not miracle products. Teachers and students have to learn to use them. Software has to be available. Training is critical. I taught Automotive Technology. Out textbook, Modern Automotive Technology by Duffy, is great but it is close to 1500 pages detailing a technology which is rapidly developing. Last year I had a couple of dozen access codes to their beta online textbook which I gave out to selected students. Those students were significantly more engaged in the process of learning.

    Consider...students do a unit on automotive emissions on an iPad learning about the relationships between fuel, air and ignition and the production of energy with waste gas as a byproduct. They can walk out into the shop using the iPad to communicate with a test vehicle computer watching realtime data from an oxygen sensor as driving conditions change. Math students can access Khan's free math tutorials anytime. My wife teaches Honors and AP English....try getting kids to suffer through Hamlet or Macbeth without lots of interactivity.

    I have two fears. First that a lot of folks will see this a some panacea. iPads are simply tools. Use it wisely and it makes your life a lot easier. Use it poorly and you go to the hospital with busted fingers. Second I'm very concerned that CCSD will blow this opportunity by being too bureaucratic (sp.?) and stifling the use of technology rather than embracing it.

  10. Very good and interesting discussion here this morning! Thoughtful conversation. Pat, would you please post the link to this New York Times story? Or maybe email the link to me? [email protected].

    Though the Las Vegas Sun can run NY Times stories in our print edition via our syndication agreement, we didn't understand until recently that we also had the rights to post a small number of Times stories on our website, as well. I will try to get that story posted to our site and attached to this story, if you all would like.

    Everything about this iBooks textbook story has been enjoyable, at least for me, this morning. This discussion is great, and I thought Paul Takahashi's story was wonderfully done and super informative.

    Big thanks to all of you!

  11. It's interesting to read all the above comments about why Apple's manufacturing is done overseas and not in america. It is amusing to see all the regular commenters definitely state a reason that backs up their political beliefs or agenda.

    I think the more accurate reasons as to why Apple doesn't manufacture in the US are the reasons Steve Jobs stated very bluntly to President Obama at a dinner Jobs hosted in Palo Alto that included a dozen silicon valley execs. Here is a quote from his biography.

    "Jobs went on to urge that a way be found to train more American engineers. Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, he said, and that was because it needed 30,000 engineers on-site to support those workers. 'You can't find that many in America to hire,' he said. These factory engineers did not have to be Ph.Ds or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing. Tech schools, community colleges, or trade schools could train them. 'If you could educate these engineers,' he said, 'we could move our manufacturing plants here.'"

    I think it's useful to point out that Apple used to manufacture in the bay area of California when they were smaller. As did NeXT. However, even if Apple products were assembled in the US, almost all the parts will come from Asia because Apple isn't in the chip manufacturing business. Even if Apple were to move manufacturing to the US, most of the components would still come from Asia. Apple isn't in the business of chip fabrication, and none of the american companies that are actually do fabrication in the US. Even the A4/5 processors Apple designs that allows their gadgets to be so small, powerful and battery efficient is actually manufactured by samsung.

    Anyway. For people to say Apple doesn't care about education is ridiculous and ignores 30 years of history. But, you know... Haters gonna hate...

  12. I admit that it would be hard for me to deny the label "hater" with regard to how I feel about Apple. My feelings go back to the very beginning of that company and the impact they had on the computer culture of the time. The actions taken by Apple back then contributed to, and in my opinion greatly hastened, the demise of the culture that was expressed in the various computer clubs around the country. The very clubs where Apple gathered information for free to build their first machines.

    Apple has led the charge to highly restrict the free (and "free") flow of information with their policies and platforms that are incompatible with others.

    I will not say they are evil for wanting to make money. I say they are evil because they have consistently tried to keep knowledge out of the public arena without a price tag.

    I concur that education must keep pace with changes in technology. But as others have said, I think the schools are losing their focus on the basics. It is not enough that our children can use new technology, they must be able to comprehend fully what they read.

  13. StellarCore,

    Look into the relationship between the early founders of Apple and the Homebrew Computer Club, and how the Apple I came to be. Also, people at Xerox were not too happy when the operating system used in the Lisa. What basically happened was that the Apple founders learned a lot from their fellow members at Homebrew and then made it private, with implied legal action if others used that information to compete.

    The result was people no longer came together to share information and help the technology grow in that kind of arena. This "tightening up" spread to most of the other clubs of the time, including the Orange County Computer Club that I was a member of. Before Apple, we could call each other up if we had a problem or needed some hardware. After Apple, most companies started to forbid employees from do such.

    Apple has a history of taking information from the public domain and making it proprietary, then preventing others from making compatible products, especially hardware. Even today (and I may be mistaken) you can only legally obtain apps for the iPhone from the official Apple store.

    You can be sure that Apple has spent a lot of money pushing SOPA/PIPA.

    The Apple II was basically a failure until it was placed in some schools at no cost as a marketing strategy to hook the children for the future as well as get parents to buy Apple IIs for the home to match what the school had.

  14. At this point I think we need to agree to disagree as the discussion is going seriously off topic.

    But I will add this. I have no problem with protecting legitimate trade secrets. I do it myself. I object to trying to apply that to what is common knowledge. The XORing of pixels to produce a moving cursor is one the best examples of that. (And no, that wasn't Apple but it still illustrates the principle.) Rearranging the the pinouts on an RS232 or Centronics interface to make equipment non-compatible is another.

  15. Of course we need to be teaching our children through the use of modern tech; the problem is convincing taxpayers and muckety-muck bureaucrats that it's in EVERYONE'S best interests to do so...

    With the release of the new Ed App, Apple also had this rosy news today;
    "Apple's total value climbed to more than $400 billion on Thursday--worth more than the gross domestic product of countries such as Greece, Argentina, and South Africa."

    Best verson of "Hey Joe"...
    Roy Buchanan (IMO).