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I’m very excited about the iBooks 2 roll out with textbooks. I’ve been hoping for something like this since the Kindle came out. I see infinite implications for education, particularly. Wealthier districts are already providing each student with a laptop or netbook; it’s get on the ball so each student in the country can have one, or watch students in lower income districts get left behind. I don’t think it needs to be the sleek Apple product we think of as the iPad. I imagine something partway between a Kindle and an iPad: an electronic book reader, with wifi capability, and the ability to make notes and view multimedia. Microphone and speaker are necessary. It will need a text/email function, too. Oh, and a graphing calculator, so we don’t have to buy those anymore. Optional keyboard. GPS locator and auto-lock for if it’s lost or stolen. First-generation Kindles cost $80 (and the Kindle Fire, close to what I’m describing, is brand new and $200). I bet in five years, you can buy an educational iPad-type product for $100 per student plus licenses and data plans (the school buys a bulk license for the textbook in public school; the student buys their own in higher education). If you’re outfitting each student with a new stack of textbooks in each class at $60 a pop, you’re saving money.

Here’s what I imagine will be possible:

Textbooks, like all non-fiction books, would have in-text popup citations (with a link to the cited work for sale, should you want to add it to your library). New information, corrections, and editions can simply be downloaded as an update.

Don’t recognize a word? A popup glossary defines the word for you. Tapping an icon saves the word and its definition to a list for you to study as a list or in a flashcard application.

Think of something as you’re reading? Tap the side of the screen to pull up your notes on the chapter and add your thoughts. Save all your notes on the chapter as a study guide, or email them to yourself/your friend/ your teacher. Tap to print. Tap to send a note (or all in the chapter) to your teacher via email as a question (or as a homework assignment). Tap to send a note as a post to the class discussion board. Tap another part of the screen to read the class discussion board.

Enter your notes via keyboard or using a stylus to write in your own handwriting. Or, use the voice recorder to make and transcribe notes. And use text-to-speech to read the text of the book or your notes to you (imagine the implications for special education students, and for commuting students in secondary ed and beyond).

During class, make notes in a notebook feature, rather than carting those around too. Save, email, and print your notes as pdfs. Use your stylus to doodle in the margins. I can’t take notes otherwise.

At certain places, an icon might invite you to view a video clip or hear an audio file. This might be anything from a scene in a movie adaptation (say, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” How does the courtroom scene differ in the book and film interpretations? Why?), to a video demonstration of a chemistry experiment illustrating its formula, to a tutorial of how to solve a math problem, to a map or model, to a recording your teacher made.

What was that? Yes, the educator could add custom notes, recordings, or video clips, viewable to only the students in her class, or on his team. Teachers could also use the book’s review questions as homework assignments (and the students could fill in their answers directly where they appear and then email or print the worksheet), or write their own questions in place of the provided ones. Educators all using the same textbooks might be invited to share their questions in a forum, and pick an choose their favorite questions to build custom assignments. Educators on teams can link chapters, review questions, and study guides between one another to facilitate interdisciplinary units.

In class, the teacher might be able to “take control” of the digital readers in the room, so that they all “open” to page 24 at once, or everyone views the same multimedia clip on the smartboard at the front of the room. Using questions or notes emailed to her, the educator can lead the discussion, or prompt students to raise the questions they thought of (and made note of) while reading.

And if every student already had an iPad type device, non-school groups could make use of them too. Imagine a youth group book study or bible study. Imagine an adult one, for that matter. Just imagining the Bible as a full multi-media book gives me little chills. That’s a whole other post. The maps! The iconography! The links to other passages or other sacred writings! The clips from bible-themed movies! The option to text a question to your pastor 😉

A word about fiction:

As excited as I get about the potential applications for education, I drag my feet a little around fiction books. This is just a personal preference, I think, although overall I’ve been slow to embrace technology in entertainment compared to the speed with which I’ve embraced it for productivity. Only very recently (with the purchase of my iPhone 3GS), have I gotten fully on board with mp3s (and they’re not really mp3s anymore!). I *like* my shiny CDs. And don’t tell me you’re going to take my DVDs in their pretty packaging away and give me a mega-terabyte hard drive with digital copies of all my movies searchable by title, actor, genre, and keyword! Oh the horrors.

I like to read books. Paper books. I like the way they smell. I like the way they feel. I like that I can go to the library and get them for free for a little bit and then give them back (although, what if the *library* bought a digital copy of the book and then I checked it out and it was pushed wirelessly to my e-reader for two weeks and then I had to pay to renew it if I wasn’t done…). Even given the massive amount of moving I do and the huge pain it is to pack and unpack books, I wouldn’t trade them. If you offered to replace all of my books with ebooks and a kindle, I would take you up on it *for my professional library* (minus a few gems), but not for my personal library. I have a connection to books in print that I don’t have with their e-counterparts.

All that said, as I was flipping for the millionth time from the text of A Dance With Dragons (George R.R. Martin) to the back to figure out who a character was in the house lineup, and then to a map to see where they were from, I thought how easy it would be to have character names linked to their lineage, house names linked to their banner or motto, place names pop up with their location on the map, and words in foreign language offer their translation (or a recording with their pronunciation). Could I have the option of locking the book so I can’t skim ahead (or unlocking it so I can if I want to– or searching a name and only reading the parts about Tyrion…)? Oh, even my fiction has footnotes!

And then when it comes to producing and publishing books we are in a new world. This is where the publishers will revolt– just as the music industry did back when we all remembered what Napster was. Because what if an author could write a book, and imbed whatever media s/he wished, and then have that material reviewed and formatted by an editor and e-publisher, and then directly distributed to e-bookstores? No mass paper production. No shipping. Production costs so low we could sell books for fractions of the cost and yet authors could keep five times the income they do. I, as consumer, could pay you, as author, for the artwork you have made, the goods you have produced. Not the paper, not the cover, not the shipping– just the story or the research or the philosophy. I could pay you whatever that seems to be worth, and you could keep it (minus editing and formatting/production). I value your work, and you value my reading experience. Kind of like Louis CK’s pay-to-view comedy special, only (typically) without so much swearing.

As I said on facebook, I want in on the brainstorming about this. Oh, the possibilities!

5 thoughts on “iLearning”

  1. Becca,
    As you pointed out, there are quite a few possibilities to this. And the discussion about this has been taking place every since someone got the bright idea of putting the Internet into the classroom.

    I do not wish to sound like a 21st Luddite but there some other things that have to take place before this becomes the educational revolutio that you envision (and believe, it would be a good revolution if it were to occur).

    The first, as you pointed out, is cost and distribution. The “rich” schools will give their students the equipment but how can the “poor” schools even begin to think about doing so? There is, without a doubt, a gap between the rich and the poor when it comes to technology. And the more advanced the technology, the greater the gap will become.

    I know that practically every student has some sort of smart phone but does that meant they can use it to its fullest potential. I remember when calculators first came out and they cost a bundle. Many math teachers opposed their use, not because of cost, but because if you didn’t understand the problem, the calculator wasn’t going to help.

    Remember that all calculators (and this can be expanded to included smart phones and other interactive technology) is no smarter than the person using it. And if you don’t understand the problem, all a calculator does is get the wrong answer quicker.

    Schools will gladl incorporate any technology that they can if it means that they can reduce the teaching staff. The present technology simply puts the back of the book problems onto the computer screen but doesn’t help in thinking the process through.

    And, as I believe right now, we aren’t teaching thinking skills right now, using new technologies isn’t going to change things. I have one problem that I present in my chemistry classes that illustrates that – it is a gas law problem where the temperature changes from above 0 (on the Celsius scale) to below 0. If you don’t think the problem through, you get a negative answer. It is a correct mathematical answer but it is an incorrect answer since negative values for volume and pressure are impossible.

    Every thing you envision about the technology has been discussed in the past and with each new technology will be discussed again. The only way that we can implement them is to change the way we do things right now.

    Check out my thoughts on this –

    “A Question Related to Academic Publishing” –

    “What does it meant to be ahead of the curve?” –

    “The Future of Education” –

    “How did you get on the information superhighway?” –

  2. Great post! I am fascinated by this stuff too. Currently I am a student at the University of Central Florida working on a professional development certificate in “elearning”. One of MY passions about this new technology includes the implications for mission. In many developing nations there is a severe teacher shortage. (The student teacher ratio in Kenyan elementary schools is 90:1). Already virtual schools are developing curricula for mobile phones which are widely available even in rural areas. Imagine—a teacher in the US or England could have students in Kenya or India–at ANY grade level. This is totally exciting stuff. As the UMC becomes more and more of a global church, using this technology needs to be an important part of our mission. We don’t need to be building 19th century schools anymore–even in Africa or India. Certainly there will be challenges, but these are exciting things to think about.

  3. I really love what you’ve said (and although I read a lot of books on Kindle, my love of print books has not diminished); however, here’s my only concern, and it’s regarding note-taking (or, what we stuffy professors like to call annotation). Something takes place cognitively when you physically interact with a text by taking pencil or pen to the page and making a note in the margin — you retain the knowledge, become actively involved in the conversation in ways that I don’t believe electronic annotation can’t provide (in fact, I just did this exercise with my college freshmen last night).

    Also, interestingly, when I asked my freshmen if they’d prefer e-textbooks, at least 90% of them said no. (Ironically, many of them don’t print out the supplemental readings I post electronically, but I suspect that’s more the result of either wanting to avoid printing costs or doing the assignment at the last minute.)

    1. That’s why I’d really like to have the option of entering text using a stylus. I definitely remember much better if I hand-write notes in class and as I read.

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