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Hands-on with iBooks 2 and iTunes U: The Future of Education?

This morning, at Apple's education event in New York City, the company released two new apps: iBooks 2 and iTunes U.

iBooks 2, an overhaul of the old Apple iBooks app, aims to reinvent the interactive textbook on the iPad. We downloaded the update to test out its many features, which include giving students the ability to answer multiple-choice questions, making notes and highlights, and using notecards throughout the text. Within the book, you can explore full movies, embedded graphics, and 3D animations.

When viewing a sample biology textbook, we particularly enjoyed the interactive dinosaur animations. When we tapped on an illustration of a dinosaur's mouth and watched as it enlarged to take over the screen. We were then able to tap on particular hotspots on the dinosaur's teeth to see animations of how the animal would use those teeth.

We also liked the quiz at the end of the chapter, which could be very helpful in preparing students for tests. We wish teachers would be able to see and grade these quizzes, but since students can keep answering each multiple choice question until they get it right, that's not possible.

iTunes U, a portal for posting course information, lets college and universities deliver course descriptions, assignments, and materials right onto your iPad. It provides easy links to everything you'd ever need to get through the course, including video, web links, and books (which of course integrates with iBooks 2--you'll have to download the paid book to get access to the pages it references). It's worth noting that you need an Internet connection to view all the elements of the app in their entirety.

In our brief hands-on time, we loaded up a sample course from Duke University on American History. Different tabs in the UI allowed us to see a syllabus, a set of reference materials that link to web resources and iBooks 2 textbooks, a bio of the teacher, and a bulletin board with posts about the lessons. We have to wonder whether these classes will be used in concert with in-person learning or as standalone online courses.