Digital Media as Interactive Textbook

Recently, I was a guest on the Meanwhile in the Future podcast on an episode titled “Flash Forward,” speaking about digital media and education. While speaking with Rose Eveleth, the host, I said something that’s sort of stuck with me in terms of thinking about what the roles of media and communications are in digital media. I do not believe that it can ever replace the classroom space and I worry about all the edtech efforts that are so heavily invested in the attempt to do just that. Loss of other senses and effect on critical thinking and reasoning by digital media make me wary of it being an imagined space of a full learning experience.

I think I am ready to completely own the idea of positioning digital media in the classroom as a supplemental interactive textbook, something publishers have attempted to capitalize on by shifting from being learning companies that provide not just the book, but also a platform with information to supplement and enhance the book. These platforms generally require a key that the student can obtain only by purchasing a new copy which, for many students, is financially unfeasible once they reach higher education and are required to buy their own books. Even before then, many K-12 schools are just not able to replace every book every year for every student to ensure they are getting “the most” as dictated by the publisher.

Outside of traditional publishing, the spaces where digital media as bonus knowledge in learning spaces can be seen in MOOCs and Virtual Reality, done in two different ways. MOOCs provide set content. Users can assess the value of MOOCs in advance and, then, choose to immerse themselves in the whole experience or they can drop in when needed.  VR on the other hand allows students to go on guided tours created by whomever designed the tour, and, in some cases, driven then by a single person as is the case with the now available Google Expeditions. With this program, a teacher controls the tour from her or his tablet and the students journey within that selection from their own tablets or VR headsets.

I am still excited about the potential of Virtual Reality even as I am cautious. A few months ago, I took my children to the Museum of Modern Art. They were very excited to see “Starry Night.” However, they are not very tall so they tried to get in front of people to get a closer look. They ended up too close to the rope for the security guard’s comfort and we were told to step back. How amazing would it have been to have a headset next to the art that allowed the viewer to get closer to the art or even within the brush strokes? We often hear too of paintings, when being restored, revealing multiple other paintings or sketches underneath. This too can be explored. This enhancement isn’t limited to art. Learning geography, social science and history about spaces and places that are too far away or no longer reachable can become an enhanced experience through reading, film, and virtual interactive experiences. This is an augmented interactive learning text.

The examples mentioned above are dependent for most learners on other people determining what content would be the most useful. I think the biggest thing connected learning can do is break away from the proscriptive nature of platforms and information curated by those outside of the learning space. Instead of just relying on what is given, think through the things that are missing or that the learning community seems to be pulled toward and find ways to design unique experiences and assignments that are dependent on digital media to bring that knowledge into learning.

Digital media plants the seed of knowledge but it takes connected learning activities that can be structured and are collaborative and social in nature to take the information gained with these new digital media tools into knowledge. We can learn more with digital media than with a standard textbook given the scale and flexibility of the media, but it requires us to put forward creative approaches to making things make sense together and making them make sense for the context of the learners. Digital media in and of itself will not lead everyone to a better ability to think critically and reason, but it can enhance the practices we already have as we move forward to the future of learning.

Banner image credit: Barry Joseph