More People Jump On the Electronic Textbook Bandwagon

Two new players just made some splash in the race to the market shares of online textbooks. Amazon.com just announced a textbook rental program that lets students decide the length of the rental and adjusts the price, and even offer a rent-to-buy option. All student annotations remain available, even after the rental is over.

McGraw-Hill also came up with a new option for electronic textbooks called McGraw-Hill Campus. This initiative allows institutions to integrate McGraw-Hill content in a learning management system without requiring users to login to their site.

MH Campus® is a service that allows faculty (whether using McGraw-Hill books or not in their course) to instantly browse, search and access McGraw-Hill educational materials and services (e.g. eBooks, test banks, PowerPoint slides, animations and learning objects, etc.) within the school’s Learning Management System (LMS) at no additional cost to the institution.

McGraw-Hill basically uses its bank of non-textbook external resources to promote the use of their textbooks. That’s pretty smart and useful to educators, in my opinion.

These commercial offerings are great for students who don’t want to buy an expensive textbook, even in a digital format.

The Textbook of The Future

As I’m digging deeper into textbooks, I’m noticing that the more I dig, the murkier it gets. A lot of people are attempting to redefine what textbooks will become, but in order to aim for their future form, a look into what a traditional textbook is seems appropriate.

David Warlick collected ideas from his personal learning network on what traditional textbooks are, and how the next generation of textbooks will be different. To that impressive list of characteristics, I would also add that traditional textbooks are linear, sequencing learning in a prescribed way.

The Fluid Textbook

Jed Macosko, an associated professor of physics, and A. Daniel Johnson, a senior biology lecturer at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, have developed a new format for a Biology textbook called BioBook. The whole idea was to create a book where learners can go at their own pace and explore the content in a non-linear way.

It has been shown that humans learn best when they can put facts into the order that makes the best sense to them. That seems pretty logical, but nobody ever uses this concept when they develop textbooks.

They are using the open-source Moodle learning management system (LMS) as an underlying technology. About the linearity of the traditional textbook, Macosco says:

The hard part is making sure people don’t get lost. The nice aspect of linear textbooks is that you know where you are and where you have been. The tricky part will be taking people who are accustomed to that style of text and letting them choose their own adventures.

The Container/Content Paradox

Although textbooks have always contained exercises and case studies, their realm has mostly been content. But as we’re seeing with the BioBook, the textbook is now creeping on the space once reserved for the learning management system, accepting more and more assessment activities inside the textbook itself. It does make a lot of sense to include a quiz right after a chapter and gather the results electronically right there… if the textbook is all you cover for a class.

So my questions to you are the following:

1) In which scenarios does using the LMS as the outer container make sense?

2) Do you envision a day where the textbook will make the LMS completely obsolete, and what would be the conditions that would allow this to happen?

Stickiness in Social Media and Centrally-Supported Systems

Nate AngellMy good friend Nate Angell from rSmart moderated a session called “Sakai vs the World Wide Web 2.0: To Facebook or Not to Facebook?” at the 2011 Sakai conference in Los Angeles. He does not know that, but I’m the one who “planted” that topic as a potential session for the conference, and he’s the one who bit on it 😉

He argues that Ivy league institutions (like Harvard) and price leaders (like the University of Phoenix) have already established their presence, and that other higher education institutions will have a hard time competing on these turfs.

I believe that the bulk of institutions that will truly succeed going forward will not be those that win online, but on the contrary, those that do a good job establishing, maintaining, and conveying unique local experiences.

He makes a convincing argument that your learning management system, just like your institutional marketing efforts, should focus of providing a sticky space, a place where students will want to come back for more. The toolset you use should reflect that desire, should it be considered social media or not.

I strongly encourage readers of this blog to read his post and comment.