My digital textbook wish list

"Principles of Physics" from Kinetic Books

One study suggests that tablets, e-readers, online learning, and pricing are leading a shift that will make one out of five textbooks digital by 2014.

My physics students gave up the old paper books in 2008 when we switch to our new “text” from Kinetic Books. I’ve been quite happy with the product. The new system still provides students with traditional text but it also includes narrated animations, interactive problems, virtual labs and online assessments. Our digital text provides content in a variety of ways by helping each student learn new physics concepts in a style that works best for the individual student.

Even with their multimedia capabilities, digital textbooks have a lot of room to grow. Here are a few things I’d like to see:

  1. A system that starts with an interview of each student. It finds out what the student’s interests are and generates the book’s content around this profile. If the student plays the saxophone, then his unit on waves will feature music. Another student who likes to fish might see ocean waves as the focus of her waves unit.
  2. Open the books up for socializing. The digital books should allow students to see what other students are saying about the material as they move through a unit. Students vote up what they liked and found interesting. A student could highlight parts of her text and leave comments about that section for her teacher, just her friends or study group, her entire class or all the students in the world using the same digital book. No earthquakes in Wisconsin, that’s okay. Your friends in California can give you some perspective.
  3. Allow students to add content. Now your text comes with the stock photo of a hailstone along with the other five that were submitted by students.
  4. Collaboration is a must. Imagine laboratory investigations and projects that allow your students to have partners in another part of the world.
  5. Access the digital book anywhere. The worst thing is five digital books that run on five different platforms. I want a digital textbook that wants to be everywhere- much like magazines that have successfully gone digital. You can get content from Wired magazine via your computer, phone, iPad and TV. Textbooks should offer students the same flexibility.

One thought on “My digital textbook wish list

  1. Hi Dale,

    I agree with every item on your wishlist. #3 is the one I long for the most. I’d love for students to be able to catalog examples of the physics they observe in their lives in the appropriate sections of the book. Students have the tools to create pictures, text and video literally at their fingertips. How great would it be for them to incorporate that into their own reference guide while learning? I wouldn’t mind an edit feature for myself either, as I could include my own supplemental notes, examples, analogies, etc. Additionally, it might be nice to reorganize the sequence of topics in a book to better match the course outline.

    We adopted the Kinetic Books physics texts at our school last year, and while not everyone likes the digital format, the response was positive overall. Kinetic Books has a great product and I’ve been happy with it. I do wish the different levels of the text were a bit more differentiated from one another though.

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