I wrote an earlier post looking rather superficially at the differences between old fashioned textbooks and modern digital media in education. This post builds on a bit further from that original post.
If we accept that textbooks had certain advantages over modern digital media, could those advantages be harnessed further by turning textbooks into digital media in the form of, I guess, e-textbooks? Up to fairly recently, I’d say there hasn’t really been a suitable format for ebooks; – reading a book, or ebook, on a laptop or desktop computer really hasn’t proved a worthwhile experience for many of us. Perhaps now, though, we are seeing the emergence of new devices, such as ebook readers and the iPad, which make reading ebooks much more enjoyable and versatile. Perhaps now is a time to look again at the potential of etextbooks.
The biggest advantage of a textbook is that it usually contains much more information or detail about a topic than could be found on the world wide web or an interactive DVD. So if that information could be made available in digital format, then it could be easily referenced, searched, tagged and utilised by learners.
Imagine also if all the quotations, references and citations that exist in textbooks were automatically hyperlinked to their source, then there would be a lot more information that could be easily found by learners.
Let us also think of the possibilities of web 3.0, the semantic web, for etextbooks. Each time a learner reads an etextbook or links to part of a book in an essay, they are presented with possible further text books to extend their study or maybe they can be given other authors with a complementary or alternative viewpoint.
Imagine if every text book that ever gets written has to not only go into the library of congress or the British Library but also has to have a digital version made available, pretty soon the amount of information available to learners would dwarf the amount currently available on the web. Not only would the amount of information be increased but the quality of it should be improved. Sure, learners would still need to be taught how to access it and how to use it properly but the benefits to learning could be enormous.
It could well be the case that such a ginormous (is that a word?) amount of information would be too much for a school or for younger learners. Yet, what is to stop a school setting up a subset of that information, a subset that it feels will be of value to its learners? Couldn’t a school setup a ‘virtual’ library of ebooks that pupils can use in their learning and also for their entertainment. Such a ‘library’ could be setup on the school servers and the ebooks made available to download onto computers (either school based ones or the pupils’ own) for use in school and also for use at home.
Now the possibilities of such a venture fills me with excitement at the benefits it could bring, which is such a great change after the depression I felt when I first watched the Twitter discussion on textbooks. The biggest ‘buzz’ is that most of this is already possible and is forward looking rather than backward looking, that so seems to dog edtech currently.