Tag Archives: iBooks

Why Khan Academy Is The Wrong Answer

21 Nov

“The problem with television lies not in the quality of resolution but the quality of programming”

Nicholas Negroponte “Being Digital”

Nicholas Negroponte is a genius and one of my heroes. He played a major role in creating the MIT Media Lab, Wired Magazine and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program. His book “Being Digital” was transformative . Every time I turned a page I read something that blew my mind.

One revelation was Negroponte’s thoughts on the future of TV. In 1995 HDTV was on the horizon and millions of dollars were poured into increasing screen resolution. Negroponte pointed out that what stopped people from watching more TV wasn’t screen resolution, but lousy programming. They were innovating on the wrong problem.

Before we solve a problem it’s important to make sure we’re working on the right problem. We need to do the same when improving education.

Popular efforts to improve education are focusing on the wrong problem. Millions of dollars and hours of innovation are being spent on improving how we deliver content in an era when content matters less and how we interact with it matters more.


What do all these all have in common? They are one-way content delivery systems and large corporations stand to make a lot of money from them.

However, the weak link in our current learning paradigm isn’t content delivery. Traditional textbooks deliver content efficiently and effectively, and access to content is cheaper and easier than at any other time in history thanks to the internet. It’s only with the guidance of a skilled teacher and interaction with other learners that content becomes relevant and engaging. That’s what makes  good teaching important. Future education is better served by  investing in and developing tools that support discussion and interaction, not improving content delivery.

New uses of the internet (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are social. Web 2.0 is about users interacting and collaborating. The power of YouTube is that users create, share and discuss their own videos. That’s what makes it unique. Using it to show lectures so students can watch their homework while playing World of Warcraft turns it into a TV channel, nothing more.

Promoting interaction and discussion is the most effective way to use technology to support learning. Social media promotes and extends discussion, which is far more effective and transformative than putting lectures on YouTube or textbooks on tablets will ever be.

Some Examples:

  • Google Hangouts facilitates face-to-face discussions when students can’t be in the same space. Use it for after school study groups or to connect remote learners working on the same topic.
  • Twitter allow students to discuss learning and share insights over mobile devices or asynchronously.
  • Skype can effectively and easily connect learners to experts in the field they are studying so they can ask questions and delve deeply into topics.

We need to focus on using and developing technological tools that make learning more interactive and collaborative. It’s is a more effective and innovative way of improving learning than simply finding new ways to deliver content.

The Future of Digital Textbooks

10 Nov

Initially, new media replicates the media it’s replacing. Early film and TV recorded theatrical performances for broadcast and early printed books mimicked handwritten manuscripts. This persists, but over time the producers of new media begin to understand it and see new possibilities. They see it as a unique medium that can be used in innovative ways.

We’re following this same progression with the transition to digital textbooks. Early digital texts are transcriptions of traditional textbooks moved to a new medium. It’s as if someone took a textbook, scanned it and put it on a tablet. The pages flip, they have leather bound graphics and other types of Skeumorphism (my favorite new word).

However, we’re now starting to see new possibilities for the digital textbook and new ways that textbooks can used.

We need to begin discussing what a digital textbook should be. What features would be useful? How can we better leverage the capabilities of devices and connectivity to make a more useful resource?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Reliable Interconnected Devices: Digital textbooks have to be accessed on reliable, dependable, easy to use devices. Traditional textbooks are limited but they are 100% reliable, and if the majority of educators are going to smoothly switch to digital they have to be able to count on them. The devices need fast wireless connections to resources and should be charged wirelessly to avoid battery problems. They’re going to be handled by students so they need to be light and sturdy and should be replaced every 3 years .
  2. Customizable Content: The content of digital textbooks should be open so that instructors can update and rewrite portions according to the changing needs of students. If students are studying the earth’s crust and an earthquake happens, instructors can add to existing content to give it increased relevance. In some situations students add content. Rather than being a definitive resource the digital textbook is a skeleton, a framework, with starting points that learning communities fill in as they learn. There’s a master control panel that allows teachers to adjust the reading level or content.
  3. Personalized Interface: Our digital media experiences are personalized. No one’s Facebook page or Twitter feed is the same. So it will be for digital textbooks. When students login to their textbook the content is seamlessly adjusted to individual learning profiles.  Content is presented in ways that maximize a student’s learning strengths. Students with visual learning strengths get more pictures. Vocabulary is adjusted, content is “chunked” appropriately and assistive technology (e.g. text to speech) is automatically incorporated.
  4. Interactive: Students comment on content and share opinions and insights on what they’ve learned. They add to and build on other’s comments, bringing in resources from other sources and posting them for others to use. Comments take multiple forms (text, podcasts, images, videos and other multimedia) and can be added remotely through mobile devices whenever or wherever students are inspired. Students “like” comments, so the best thoughts and opinions rise to the top. The most useful comments are shared with other learning communities to help their learning. Students see the best ideas from other locations and reflect and respond to them.
  5. Facilitate Personal Connections: Digital textbooks facilitate connections to resources outside the device. In addition to basic internet resources textbook “publishers” provide experts that students can schedule a conference with. Students ask questions to advance their understanding or “dig deeper” into a topic quickly and easily over voice or video. A recording of the conference is instantly available to review, edit and share with others. Students easily share what they’ve learned and get feedback from other learners.
  6. Integrated Assessment: Assessment is integrated into content and content adjusts based on feedback from assessment. Assessment takes many forms and is differentiated. If needed, remediation and review is automatically provided. Teachers check student progress in real-time, add observations and feedback to the student’s portfolio, and intervene and guide when needed.

That should be enough to get started with. Okay developers, let’s see some prototypes 🙂

In Praise of the Public Library

14 May

My class and I walked to the public library today to hear two Canadian authors talk about the importance of reading and writing and promote their latest books. As we walked back I thought a bit about the whole concept of public libraries and it made me a little sad at how much our civic values have shifted.

I imagined trying to create something like a public library today.  I think you’d get laughed at, saying you wanted to create a building where people could go and borrow books at no cost. Even better is the idea that the public purse buys the books in the first place. They’re not provided by a corporate donor who has their name plastered on the outside. The library belongs to all of us. Amazing!

Of course, the public library is a long standing institution, so we don’t question it, but it harkens back to a time when we believed in taking care of each other much more than we seem to today. And it’s hard to think of something, other than schools, that’s done more to promote literacy than the public library, to say nothing for it’s role in promoting a myriad of other good works.

As we phase away from paper books and towards e-books I’m not sure what the role of the public library will be, but I’m very glad that they exist and have existed. Our societies would be much worse without them.

Is iBooks really the future of textbooks?

3 Feb

Just finished listening to the latest edupunks podcast about etextbooks and the impact of  this slick move of Apple’s into the textbook market.

Once the initial hype has faded it seems likely that this won’t be quite the revolution Apple is predicting. Some reasons:

  • iPads are closed systems and Apple wants to closely control what goes on an iPad. That’s where the real revenue is generated, through content.
  • Compatibility may be a problem. The education system is mostly populated with Windows machines and infrastructure, because that’s been the most cost effective way to go for the last 15 years.  My school board wifi doesn’t support Apple devices newer than 3G. Spec. Ed. classes are getting iPads on a trail basis, but they won’t be able to connect to the wifi.
  • The economics of K-12 textbooks may not support it. University texts are more expensive and go out of date very quickly. An elementary math text should cost about $10/year, and maybe less if it gets used for longer. Throw in the cost of iPads for all students and the savings aren’t huge.
The basic idea is promising but the execution may be questionable. This seems like an opening for a cheaper tablet to come in with an open content system just as Google Android did to the iPhone.
Kindle Fire maybe? Stay tuned.