Here at Via Meadia we have long argued that the internet and other new technologies offer opportunities to make education both cheaper and more rewarding for students. A recent article in the New York Times highlighted new advancements in online textbooks, noting that because the book was designed for the digital market,
Students will pay not for a printed edition at a bookstore, but for permanent access on the Internet ($49). […]Still, this isn’t your usual technical tome. The pages have some pizazz: they are replete with punchy, interactive electronic features — from dynamic illustrations to short quizzes meant to involve students rather than letting them plod, glassy-eyed, from one section to the next. Audio and video clips are woven into the text.“We want to take advantage of the things only digital media can do, and that are superior to print, to broaden the ways students learn science,” said Vikram Savkar, senior vice president and publishing director at Nature Publishing. “We want students to measure a chapter not by how much they read, but by how much they learn.” […]Midway through a chapter, some interactive elements will quiz students on what they have just read — and provide hints and pointers when their answers are incorrect.
While I can’t speak to the value of this individual textbook, this is clearly a step in the right direction. Textbooks are often one of the largest expenses facing students after the not inconsiderable tuition and room and board fees; online textbooks promise to be both cheaper and more useful than their printed counterparts. Additionally, e-textbooks with interactive features have the potential to keep students engaged with the material during private study — a considerable benefit for students stuck in large classes with busy and disinterested professors.Online textbooks alone are not the solution to the plethora of problems facing higher education in America, but they show that the opportunity for innovation is there for those willing to look. In some ways education today has changed little from the ancient world when teachers read the text out loud to their students who made their own copies of the manuscript as the teacher read.That immunity to change isn’t going to last. Education is on the brink of the biggest revolution since the invention of writing.