Sunday, December 4, 2011

Redefining e-books

We keep using new technology to repackage old concepts. A lot of e-learning has simply put classroom practice into a digital framework. You're still in a classroom and what goes on there is mostly or wholly hidden from external view and the material is mostly text-based. Recorded lectures are extremely popular today but again we're simply digitizing the tradtional format and even if many lectures are stimulating and sometimes inspirational we're not exactly breaking new ground. We simply create an alternative version of traditional practice without considering how new technology could actually chage the way we teach and learn.

The same is true in e-publishing. I've written many posts about e-books in the last year or so but I wonder if we should always define the new in terms of the old. Maybe the concept of book is firmly rooted in the printed version and when we make it digital it ceases to be a book? Why just digitize a winning concept - why not change the concept and make the electronic version something distinctly different? That's the theme of yet another good article I've found on Mind/Shift, Blowing Out the Digital Book as We Know It. E-books in black and white divided into pages and loaded on to specially adapted devices doesn't sound too innovative. Does material designed for today's laptops and tablets need to be in book form? Is page division still relevant?

A company called Inkling is trying to design a new form of interactive "textbook" (it is hard to escape the old terminology) that is interactive with fully integrated video, search and social notetaking. Instead of basing the digital version on a published print book they are creating the digital version from scratch. The video below gives you an idea of the concept.

Inking - A textbook case of innovation. from Inkling on Vimeo.

Another contender in this attractive market is Chegg who offer similarly interactive textbooks adapted for use on a tablet. Here's their demo video:

The article on Mind/Shift asks the ever popular question of whether these new forms of digital publishing add morevalue to the learning process than print books and the answer is, as always, that it depends on how you use them. No book adds to the learning process by itself - you need to do something meaningful with the content with the help of a teacher, colleagues or both. Computers, books, mobiles, blackboards, notebooks and so on do not lead to better learning; it's what you do with them all that counts.

Maybe books will not die as many predict. Print books are extremely effective for packaging say fiction and have the clear attraction of not being subject to battery power. Print books will certainly decrease in number but maybe we need to see the digital market as a new concept that will complement some areas of publishing, replace others and create new ways of sharing and constructing knowledge and learning.

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