That burning E-book question: Will it change teaching?

If you are a fan of the Kindle or the Nook, and wonder what it bodes for education, you should read Jeffrey R. Young’s analysis of the impact of eBooks on teaching in the Chronicle. (The Object Formerly Known as The ‘Textbook)

He makes an important point toward the end,  that textbook companies are morphing into tech companies. I don’t think this is cause for alarm. It’s not just a necessary part of their survival, it’s about moving where the puck is headed.

I’ve got mixed feelings about books vs digital. It’s not an either-or for me. (I’m a teacher, and I also write about the digital space.) I believe that ‘born digital’ content will not only originate from the publisher’s side. Teachers will one day find it so easy to blend their lesson plans and their accumulated wisdom into one space –presentations, hand-outs, hand-made videos etc– that they will use to create the upcoming year’s ‘textbook.’ Or is it Tech-book?

For this two things need to happen:

  • Schools will need to empower us teachers to take that leap. Teachers are terrific content creators, even though they don’t think of themselves that way;
  • Publishers will begin to partner with those teachers, and (since they have the tech tools/programmers on hand) help them become part of the process. Books embedded with simple jumping off points such as QR Codes and Augmented Reality, with mobile-friendly formats etc could be customized not just to the student but to the incoming class. Jimmy’s showing interest in trigonometry? He’ll have more challenging hand-outs just for him. Kim’s excelling in robotics? She will have her math word-problems oriented around missions and electronics.

It seems like a big leap, but it’s just two removes from what we are doing now, and a quantum leap from the canned literature squeezed into the same old books and piped through the online readers.

It will be a win-win-win for publishers, school budgets and, most importantly, the students who will demand these hybrid knowledge formats… er, books.

So, will digital textbooks change teaching? Yes, in ways we don’t yet know.


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