In a recent blog post for the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, Ben Alpers argues that iBooks Author is not very well suited for humanities learning. I have written before about problems with iBooks Author’s Terms of Service, but Alpers critiques the program’s authoring tools, arguing that its bias towards the presentation of “concepts and facts,” along with whiz-bang features like live manipulation of 3D models and short video clips, are designed to support the learning that occurs in scientific and technical fields, rather than the humanities (In fairness, I would argue that the focus on facts is not a feature of all STEM learning, but rather introductory STEM courses). In the humanities, Alpers says, we “deal in long, involved texts,” and the bias of iBooks Author—as well as the emerging MOOC—are not towards engagement with such texts.
Alpers is not the first to have noticed that the design of digital tools favors STEM applications. In The Googlization of Everything, Vaidhyanathan points out that tools like Google Scholar are designed to access scholarship in science and technical fields, where much new research is published in article form, but does little for the humanities, where the most important research is often published in books (p. 193).