What does the future of books look like? What if books allowed us to initiate a conversation with fellow readers, classmates or even the author, while jotting notes in a digital margin?
The Mobile Learning Executive Team and the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning is part of a three-year partnership with Bell Labs of Alcatel-Lucent, a voice, data and video communication service provider, and Cambridge University Press, known for its 425 years of continuous publishing, to answer these questions.
The partnership will explore the potential of textbooks through mobile learning and full iPhone saturation in the fall, said Dr. Bill Rankin, director of educational innovation.
According to a story from TelecomTiger, Bell Labs will conduct technical research to develop the prototypes; Cambridge University Press will provide content; and ACU will test the capabilities of such a program on a college campus.
“We really are the best university to explore this,” Rankin said. “We want to make sure we’re ready for the next generation of learning.”
George Saltsman, director of the Adams Center, said the project was designed to re-imagine academic and scholarly publishing in the 21st century. The printing press employs the same principle it did 125 years ago, but publishing is moving in a different direction now, he said.
“You make a negative, you put ink on it, you put paper on it, that ink gets attached to the paper, and the paper gets bound,” he said. “The printed page is no longer the medium of the future.”
Rankin said this next generation of learning involves a flexible kind of book that will fuel the type of learning the university is encouraging through the mobile learning initiative: interactive, connected and truly digital. The project will involve focus group testing, although Rankin said it is difficult to tell exactly what this will look like. More of the project will be solidified during the summer before the team selects focus groups to test the idea. Groups will include a few classes on campus taught by professors who are comfortable with the new technology.
“Lots of teacher’s aren’t moving fast enough for students, and lots of teachers are wanting to explore, too,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of participation from faculty and students.”
Students in the selected courses will likely be directed to a site to download a textbook rather than purchasing one in the Campus Store, although the exact source of the digital material is uncertain and dependent on the specific type of technology used, Rankin said.
Once the digital book is downloaded to a mobile device – including those not tied to ACU’s iPhone and iPad technologies – the student should be able to maximize his or her learning potential by engaging in a constant conversation with other students who are reading the same material digitally.
Rankin described reading as a social experience: A student reads a textbook and discusses the content with his or her peers the next time the class meets.
“What if a book could incorporate some of the social connections we’re getting used to in the world of technology?” Rankin said. The student could put a question mark in a digital margin, which would trigger someone else reading online to respond and clarify the material.
Books could even have multiple digital margins, categorized by friends in a book club, peers in a certain class, peers in the same major or even one that connects the reader to the author.
“It’s a digital book; I can have as many margins as I want,” Rankin said.
Rankin said the team has witnessed excitement from people willing to explore possibilities beyond a traditional textbook or even a textbook in an electronic format.
“We are hoping for a truly digital textbook; not just a book that’s been digitized,” he said.
Students and professors will rate their approval of digital textbooks as the semester progresses, and the results will be compared to classes using traditional textbooks. The team will measure through surveys and discussions what the focus groups want, need, like and dislike. Research and development will continue based on these results and ultimately become a final product that changes the way we think about print, Saltsman said.
“How can you develop content and books when you don’t think about paper?” Saltsman said. “You design directly for the digital device and all the things it can do.”