At Tools of Change Frankfurt last October I was lucky enough to chair a panel on the directions digital textbooks are taking. Amir Winer of the Open University of Israel, Michael Cairns of AcademicPub and William Chesser of Ingram provided a diverse overview of the shift to digital taking place in higher education (summarized here by the endlessly energetic Suzanne Kavanagh of ALPSP).
In one sense it’s hard to believe that barely three months have elapsed since then, and in another it seems like a whole generation back. January 2013 saw an avalanche of information broadcast about developments in the world of education and publishing. Take for example this Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age, created by a group of educators in Paolo Alto, and published on Hybrid Learning “a digital journal of teaching and technology”, or The Object Formerly Known as the Textbook by Jeffrey R. Young at The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Since that presentation last October I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with educational publishers and developers: a combination that has been illuminating. I’ve discovered, to my surprise, that the language of teaching, and the language of technology are not so far distanced from each other as I might have guessed. Learning is often an iterative process. So is tech development. Tech development thinks about user interfaces, user interactions and user journeys. Educators think about learning journeys, student interactions and learning experiences.
Educational publishers talk about pedagogy and pedagogical outcomes. Pedagogy, defined literally, is the science and art of education (note: science & art, not delivery). Etymology is important here. Taken back to its Greek roots pedagogy means, literally, “to lead the child”. This is why education publishers, more than many others, think in enormous detail about how users interact with the contents of the book they are publishing. They construct resources designed to maximise the possibility of leading a meaningful, valuable pedagogical journey where the child or student is lead on a successful learning experience. At the back end of 2012 Anthony Salcito of Microsoft was on point in his strong keynote delivered at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Prague, saying “schools should be piloting pedagogy and transformation, not devices” and “it’s not about devices, but learning”.
For centuries books, with their static formats, have been one of the best-available tools for the provision of information and the experience of learning. However the way that educators think about the contents of books and how learners interact with those contents is far from static. Learning is a dynamic process that literally develops and rewires the neurons of the plastic human brain. No wonder educators and the publishers who work with educators are becoming increasingly excited about and proactive in exploring the possibilities for interactive learning experiences offered by HTML5. And no wonder that educational publishers are pushing beyond the boundaries of what we’ve traditionally thought of as books and publishing. In an era of flipped classrooms and massive pressure on resources, what educational publishers do is going to get more important not less important. Other publishers would do well to learn from them.