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The ePerfect eTextbook #2…

Course content determines (nearly) all

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Yesterday I finally got The ePerfect eTextbook… doesn’t exist up, and got some terrific feedback via the #etextbookEVO Google+ community and twitter hashtag.  That said, I was no closer to actually designing my students’ learning tool than I was before I started, but at least I’d clarified some of my key issues, which seem to be shared by others.

I’ve spent much of today drinking great tea by the potful and catching up on what the other 531 members of the Crafting the ePerfect Textbook EVO have been up to, and that’s led to a great many interesting sites and ideas and whatnot, which has really helped my crystallize things to the point that I think, by way of answering two key questions on the course discussion thread, I can start to lay out what today for me are two key alternative eLearningTools designed for two of my upcoming courses.

Question 1: What are your thoughts about the future of textbooks?

They’ll be around for a long time, but will steadily decline in popularity and functionality ultimately surviving in technologically underdeveloped societies as ‘content containers’. Where there is access to technology, the Internet is a far superior content provider than any textbook or teacher, and developing ‘reading’ strategies that enable judicious selection of content is already a core component of 21st century literacy.  Textbooks as they have been known cannot be ‘transformed’ into a digital tool any more than an LP can become an MP3 playlist, and I think (I don’t have data for this suspicion) the use of textbooks without a strong presence of real world, authentic digital technology  sustains the separation between the ‘classroom’ and ‘the world’ and constrains the social and intellectual development of learners.

Question 2: How do you believe digital textbooks should be designed to best match learners’ needs?

And here we get to the big question that I partially discussed yesterday but can go further with today. But first we need to get rid of that term ‘textbook’, because the connotations already restrict our abilities to conceive of appropriate possibilities.  I’m not much of a fan of ‘LMS’ either, as so many of them just try to recreate classroom conditions in a digital environment, which to me is about as damaging as an Empire-builder imposing one’s culture on a newly colonized community.  How about ‘Course Resource’ for now?

There are probably many ways to come at this question, but one of the big ones, certainly, is determining who is responsible for determining the content, the Institution or the Learner?

Institution-chosen content

On a course that delivers proprietary, often certifiable content, such as a CELTA or an in-house training course, or at novice language levels, then the course resource will consist of content and tasks designed with the aim of learners’ acquiring/mastering that and pretty much only that content.  Some of those tasks should blend behaviorist (repetitive stimulus – response) and constructivist (social/interactive/real world/meaningful) action, but every digital learning resource must also include tasks for learners to develop their social and informational/resource networks, relative to age/learner profile. Again, this is a core 21st century literacy, the absence of which will hinder learners’ ability to ‘succeed’. For a comparison of the three approaches to learning approaches above, see this at online learning insights.

Learner-chosen content

Where learners have a greater say in the content to be learned (topic areas, content medium), the course resource will be a platform to contain the content as it comes in. This means there needs to be a visible structure that learners can negotiate with an instructor, and learners must have full rights to the resource so that they can add, edit, and delete at will.  The resource should be as freely-structured (non-linear) as possible, and powerfully searchable. Learners should be able to find content and bring it back to the resource, properly credited, for others to work with.  Probably the instructor models the ‘how-tos’ of the course and the resource (especially for students for whom this is the first time with the resource) in the opening modules of the course, and the students then (with consultation with course instructors/moderators) provide most of the rest of the content. While the instructor may need to require amounts and types of different media to ensure appropriate skill practice, learners can largely be left to develop their content-discerning skills. Task design (what students produce) is another question, but should then emerge somewhat naturally/authentically from the content in interaction with teachers/students.  The resource does not need to be accessible offline, but learners have to understand how to send content to apps like Evernote, Dropbox, or Pocket, or other offline readers (again, essential skills today).  For example, to watch a video I added to my dropbox on a connected PC on my tablet, I have to open dropbox on the tablet while I’m online, tap the video and wait until it has downloaded. THEN I can disconnect, go whereever, and watch it whenever.

I think I’m going to leave the question of assessment with the resource to another post.

The ePerfect eTextbook #2…

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I'm in this for the dialogue :-)

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