Technological advances in education

In less than 12 hours, I’ve come across a couple of very interesting pieces discussing two trends in academia these days: eTextbooks and online learning.

Wired posted an article about the first all-digital science textbook, and not just a digital copy of a print textbook at that.  For early iPad adopters, the transition from print to digital distribution of materials like newspapers and magazines have been a topic of discussion for a few months now.  The digital format offers so many more ways to present, display, and interact with information that digital publications can go far beyond just the text and still photographs of a print layout.  The textbook has a LOT of promise (and the visualization on the book using an iPad in the last video in the article ain’t bad).  At the same time, at what cost?  Textbooks are already unbelievably expensive and many campuses are turning to textbook rental services to help students and themselves not fall to the multi-billion dollar industry.  This example has a non-profit, a nobel laureate, and paying or making the bells and whistles, but what would be the cost for a more standard digital textbook along these lines?

The second article addresses the role of online education for students attending the traditional bricks and mortar university.  As one of those online instructors for a traditional bricks and mortar institutions, I am part of this on-going experiment.  My students, so far, range from those who are self-propelled and motivated to succeed.  Those students, most likely, would do the same whether I was in front of them or not.  The others struggle, partially due to technological difficulties, but more with general preparation problems.  Organization, freedom/initiative to ask questions, and curiosity are not always items permissible in our high school education system so I have the hoverers who want constant reassurance they are completing the task correctly and others who disappear into the digital ether.  A more traditional class would hold them….other than the whole ditching thing.  Having been a student, I also understand the disconnect that can occur when you don’t have to face your educational maker every week.  But, isn’t this more similar to our current work environments?  Projects are worked on in teams across the US or the world; you may not even meet your collaborators on developing a program, software, policy, etc. While the article ends on a somewhat snide note regarding distraction, doesn’t online education make you face and learn the technological and critical thinking skills necessary for modern worklife?

Enough with my ranting; read for yourselves and let me know what you think.

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