Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A post about textbooks on the eve of Apple's education event

Oh you text books, so heavy and dry,
With the rise of the tablet, you'll probably die. 
I shall not miss your traditional form,
For the state of my back is all weary and worn. 
The digital age has improved your design,
For students who remain in school for some time. 
New gadgets and tools to make learning more fun,
Alas my four years of college are done. 
Still though I'm happy and so full of glee,
That you're much less expensive and weightless yipee. 

*Takes a bow*

I'm a big proponent of e-textbooks. Teachers can be obnoxious and make you carry them to class every day, so being able to store them all on an iPad, Kindle, or laptop is a great thing. Digital versions also tend to be less expensive, and who can complain about that?

There seemed to be a lot of e-book news today, likely leading up to Apple's event at the Guggenheim that is supposed to deal with iPad books and publishing. I was excited to see companies like Chegg and Kno coming up with more creative ways to use the functionality of the iPad to increase the educational value of the books. Chegg is debuting a flashcard program that can be used as a study tool in conjunction with e-textbooks. The program takes key concepts, definitions, and facts straight from the book and compiles them into a graphic and engaging study tool so you lazy students don't have to. Yaaay technology! The video below, narrated by a man who sounds tired from writing too many flash cards, gives a brief glimpse. Kno also features a dashboard that displays metrics like how much time you've spend reading and your past performance on tests.

Kno Flashcards from Kno on Vimeo.

Chegg on the other hand, is taking some features that aren't so new, like highlighting and note taking, and making them prettier. For example instead of just highlights, you can mark sections with a question mark, so that you know to brush up or look for more information later. As more and more technology is integrated into the classroom, functionality like this can really improve study habits and keep kids organized.

To close, there is one big problem with e-books. Backlit screens. Technology has solved two problems, portability and weight. Hooray! But now we can read endless pages of super dry material on a screen that makes our eyes bleed. Womp. E-textbooks are begging for the development of the color e-ink screen. Some are in development, but the color lacks and richness or vibrancy. I suppose since I'm graduating, it really doesn't matter to me, but I think there are some really big opportunities for educational e-readers.
For now, let's see what Apple has to say tomorrow at their big event tomorrow at 10am.

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