Hopes and fears for eReaders and eTextBooks

About 15 years ago, when I was first starting to promote the use of resources for “computer aided learning” the message was fairly clear: reading text off a screen is problematic so don’t use computers for this, use them for what they are good at. For me, in physical sciences at that time, they were good at multimedia presentation and the calculations necessary for creating interactive models that allow active engagement with the physics being taught. More generally, computers were good at things that allowed more pedagogically appropriate approaches to teaching and learning.

I’ve been disappointed since then: the most widely adopted applications of technology in teaching and learning are to use them to project presentations instead of transparencies on an OHP, and as VLEs to distribute course info and handouts. In both example the net impact of the computer is to do the same thing in a slightly more convenient way. Now a platform has reached maturity that allows a slightly more convenient way to read books, reproducing the text-on-paper experience. It’s bound to be the next big thing.

So, what to do about this? Admit that in practice technology will enhance learning by making small incremental improvements to established practice? Press for enhanced capability where it will facilitate good pedagogy? Work in anticipation of some revolutionary change driven by factors outwith the HE system?

In the meantime, some relevant stuff elsewhere:

An open e-Textbook usecase, our contribution to the ISO/IEC JTC1 SC36 Study Period on e-Textbooks.

Digital Textbooks, a blog devoted to documenting significant initiatives that relate to any and all aspects of digital textbooks, most notably their use in higher education.

Wolfram assistants the sort of good stuff that could find its way into a digital text book.

Amazon Kindle customer review on the bad stuff: problems with footnotes in academic eTexts.