I recently came across a parody video on YouTube (What Teens Think on Tech: Video) that a handful of high schools students made in which they cleverly tell teachers and publishers what they think about print and digital textbooks. The video starts off with a frustrated student sitting in the school library reading his U.S. History textbook. Another student senses the reader’s frustration and asks him what is wrong, only to learn that the student does not seem to understand or know how to use the printed book and refers to it as a “foreign tool”. The student tries many familiar functions and options normally available in digital content, like double-clicking an image to have it enlarged, or clicking on a blue highlighted word to see its definition, but none of these options seem to work. A clever slam on print books or the demands for what a digital reading experience should be in the 21st Century?
What I like most about the video is that it not only shows the obvious limitations of printed books over digital content, but it also showcases some of the shortfalls many digital content providers currently posses, and where digital content may be headed. Right now most digital textbooks are merely just PDF documents made available to students online. In some cases the PDF is not even online but rather delivered to students via a CD-Rom. This is not going to revolutionize anything.
With modern technology content providers have an amazing opportunity to make the reading experience easier, more enjoyable, and more interactive than ever before. Think about it. How cool would it be if when clicked on, a science diagram in a digital textbook automatically played an animated video explanation or example of that topic? Visual learners would not only be able to read about new information but also see the content come to life. And why not make it so students can click on words and see definitions or add key word search options for a faster and easier way to find information?
As educators we often talk about the importance of making learning interactive in the classroom. We go out of our way to reach all those kinesthetic learners with hands-on experiential simulations. We allow students to work collaboratively with their peers on projects that will not just teach them content but also prepares them for 21st Century job skills. But with printed content it often does not go much further than words on a page.
This is all about to change, however and the students who made the YouTube video I referred to recognize where we are headed and where we need to be. Even though TCI’s LearnTCI digital content option currently has all of the features those YouTube students were looking for in their printed book, I am excited about the future and look forward to seeing reading become so interactive and part of the learning process that we don’t even think of ourselves as ‘reading text” anymore because we will have the ability to interact with the content, our peers, our teachers, and our community simultaneously.
Imagine a digital book that allows students to read content but also annotate notes within the text, add and answer discussion questions about the reading for their peers and or teacher, or complete assessments within a chapter and get immediate feedback. Imagine students’ reactions to embedded video or the ability to leave voice threads on key images from the book. How great would it be for teachers to be able to video themselves teaching a lesson and then upload the video to an assigned chapter for absent students to watch remotely?
Keyword search options, embedded video, highlighting tools, student annotated notes, formative assessments, blogging options, online chat and discussion forums are just a few ways digital content can and is becoming more interactive for readers. How would you design a digital book? What are some other ways we can make digital learning more interactive for our students?