Quick thoughts on iBook Maker and iTunes U

Religion / Web/Tech

So earlier today Apple released two new tools for educators; a tool that makes creating a multimedia text book very very easy, and a publishing service that allows you to create a curriculum and distribute it and materials remotely.

Both can have a major impact on the way we do Christian Formation.

We have a consistent challenge here in Arizona – there are many postulants for priesthood and diaconate for whom a three year residential seminary experience won’t work. Most of the people we’re trying to *recruit* for the ordained ministry are bulking at the idea of giving up their lives for three years and moving to another state (there’s no Episcopal seminary in Arizona) with no promise of paid work once they complete their studies. This is especially true for bi-vocational clergy which is pretty much every single deacon we’re ordaining and many of the priests who we hope will transform smaller congregations.

In response to this challenge the Bishop, the Commission on Ministry and the Board of Examining Chaplains (I serve on the latter two) have created a Deacon’s Formation program and are in the process of creating a “local” seminary experience based at the Cathedral in Phoenix. The Deacon’s program is working very well, but suffers on occasion from not giving our students access to the broadest possible viewpoints with the Episcopal Church. The priest formation process, of which I’m sort of tasked with primary responsibility, suffers from a lack of good texts and few lecturers.

But, what if we could get seminary professors around the country to create curriculum using their existing powerpoint/keynote slides as text books to be read in companion with the classic texts? And what if we could film their lectures (like what happens at Yale or Duke already) and use those as the formal lectures and the local meetings become “recitation” or seminar sections? Like what is happening in Community Colleges using the MIT open-course material…

Suddenly the idea of Cathedral’s becoming “local seminary branches” starts to make a great deal of sense, and the use of materials from the traditional seminaries keeps us all working in the mainstream of modern pedagogy. Yet by studying in groups of five or six (or larger) the best part of seminary, the student to student discussions is preserved.

At a national level, it would be very exciting to see the National Cathedral revisiting the College of Preachers and the College of the Laity and re-visioning them as virtual colleges. Imagine some of the short courses that the College of Preachers used to offer now available through iTunes U, with easily accessed workbooks and texts (many of which might be in the public domain) for use by many students at a nominal cost…

What else can you think of that the Episcopal Church might be doing with these new classes of tools? Here’s one idea, I could create an annotated Prayer Book with the Cathedral Customary for use by clergy and servers here at the Cathedral. (Or for a class I teach for clergy being ordained from other traditions.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Paul Martin says

    Like you, I will be following this with considerable interest as details come out about limitations, license agreements, etc. I don’t think we will know the whole story for some time. I think you have hit on some excellent ideas which should be followed up on a number of fronts.

    One of the applications which came to my mind immediately was EFM. The EFM office at Swanee already has their own textbook, which they publish in an ungainly paper format. I threw my books out some time ago after several moves in an attempt to lighten the load. If I had kept them, I would be complaining now about the bookshelf space. It seems to me that an electronic version of the text could be produced rather quickly, and multimedia additions could be added over time as the rights are acquired. (I am sure the Apple video didn’t include that process.)

    My fear is that the Apple software will somehow tie the output to the iPad platform. That’s not an issue for the “local” seminary project (when you price the alternative) but it is an issue for smaller projects where students cannot afford the platform. As we explore these options, we should be thinking as well about less expensive equipment such as Kindles and Nooks. Not every course really requires the multimedia treatment.

  2. EFM occurred to me as well as an excellent candidate for the iTunes U sort of treatment. And I think that Paul’s concern about the iPad only nature of the tools is well taken. There’s already some issue with the EULA for iBook Author. It seems to require that any book created for sale must be only available through the Apple book store.

    That may not be a problem if you’re willing to use the tool to create free books and then offload the distribution to Apple’s servers, but not all are going to see this as an attractive option. Especially if you’re hoping to make a little money.

    But I think that if Apple shows this is going to be a viable model, there will soon be other tools to create ebooks that will have to compete feature for feature with what Apple has done. And those tools will likely export in bog-standard ePub 3 format.

    (Keep an eye on what JK Rowling does with her ebooks when they are eventually offered. That will give everyone a hint of where the big name authors going to go with their digital editions.)

  3. Paul Martin says

    bog-standard dPub 3? Wow. I didn’t realize that ePub 3 had captured the bog market. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

  4. As EfM goes into revision of its texts – this offers an exciting possibility. Originally the texts came from professors’ notes. And many of the students use the Yale courses with their studies.

  5. Saw a quote on Twitter this morning that said something to the effect of “iBook Author and the iBook Store are head fakes. The real deal/gamechanger is iTunes University.” Which makes sense to me – what I find most exciting in the whole announcement is the possibility of using the technology to create an entire distance learning curriculum in a way that’s easily within the reach of most religious organizations.

    I wonder what large parishes with fantastic adult education programs might do with this…?

  6. I do my own e-book coding from scratch. That way I can compile it either as a .prc for Kindle or as an EPUB and distribute them however I like. What I’m excited about is the way the technology is coming together on tablets for the integration of text, sound, and motion files. That coupled with a robust enough browser to seamlessly transition from “book” content to “web” content and back again creates the opportunity for less a textbook and more a “learning app” which has all kinds of promise (especially in the liturgy area).

    Drop me a line if you want to chat more around this…

  7. Thanks Derek – I think I will drop you that note. Grin.

    But to the point of your post, what I find so exciting is that Apple’s offering is a simple way for people to convert documents they probably already have into an easily distributable book. It lowers the barrier to publishing repurposed material so much that I’m hoping we see a flood of free practical guides for clergy and lay leadership training. Sure people like you (and even me on a good day) have not really experienced a barrier to getting out stuff out there. Witness this blog for instance, or yours, or Episcopal Cafe. But for the average seminary professor, perhaps even the average retired seminary professor, notes and material that might be lost after their career ends is now a couple of days of grad student labor away from being widely distributed.

    I wonder if the Society of Catholic Priests would be willing to publish some of the papers presented at their yearly meetings? It would be so easy to drop in slides too.

    Boy, could I use something like that when I’m teaching informal liturgy classes to deacons and non-traditional students.

Comments are closed.