Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The New Student Textbooks

I have been spending  a lot of time lately thinking about the  future of "the textbook". During the holiday season that  just passed there was a lot of press about E-book readers. The most familiar are the  Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook. I am facinated with the possibilities of such a technology. For those of you that are not aware, these devices are e-book readers. E-books are digital copies of textbooks. They can be read on a reader that  is about the size of a paperback book. E-book readers can hold a large number of books. They have batteries that last for days and the screen is such that they can be read in any type of light.

I am immediately focussed on education. Can such a device replace our current textbooks? There are some immediate advantages. These devices are compact and portable. The cost of the texts are significantly cheaper. In the  consumer market a new release  best selling hard cover that typically sells for $25.00 is $9.99 in e-book format. Information in e-book format can be updated quite simply. All that is required is a simple update to be downloaded. When Pluto is not a planet anymore the textbook is updated the  next day!

Currently these readers sell for $200 to $400.  The average student textbook is $60-$80 a piece. That means that each student is carrying around $400-$500 worth of textbooks at a minimum. The real kicker is these books are not dynamic. The content is essentially old by the time it reaches  the student. It is not living!

E-books are not only limited to e-book readers. They can be read on laptops, netbooks,and smartphones. In considering the classroom environment i am not sure that a device like a Kindle is the answer for students. Is there more value in providing a student with a full blown laptop or netbook? There is obviously price differences to consider.

I am starting to think that none of these options is the answer. The technology we seek may not  be available yet. We need a device with all of the features of a kindle as well as the web and keyboarding accessibility of a laptop. It needs to be mobile, powerful and compact. However, it must not inhibit the productivity of a student because of its size constraints. Of course we can not forget it must be cheap.

I am excited to see the next generation of tablets that are coming to market. I am most interested in the Apple Tablet. This may be a device that can do what we need it to do within the constraints we need for a school implementation. The problem I see is the price point will still be above the reach of many schools..... for now anyway.

I envision  each student with a mobile device loaded with each core text. This text is 3-dimensional. Students can sift through pages while following links to multi-media clips, resources on the web, instructor added annotations and content, audio recordings, and collaborative tools. They can highlight, copy/paste, bookmark, share links with other students, and communicate with others directly in the device. This device will be inexpensive, wifi enabled, ultra-portable and just the right size (somewhere between a netbook and Kindle????? It will operate by touch and voice. This device will transform the classroom and how we view textbooks.

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