Sunday, May 6, 2012

Are Digital Textbooks the New “Horseless Carriage”?

By Chris Dede

The history of technology is filled with people examining a genuinely new innovation and seeing it simply as an extension of something familiar.  For example, the automobile was originally termed a “horseless carriage.”  When a camera was invented capable of providing the illusion of motion, the product was termed “motion pictures”; many people used the device to film plays on stage.  The desktop computer was originally seen as a kind of digital typewriter, and new staff roles were created in organizations for “word processing” specialists who were expert typists.  [snip].

And now we have “digital textbooks” as our official label for what modern interactive media can accomplish in education, touted by federal and industry advocates.  My concern with this label is more than academic quibbling about how to name a suite of profound innovations.  [snip]. Framing the new in terms of the old blinds us to both the opportunities and the challenges that an innovation poses.

The term “textbook” comes with a lot of industrial era baggage.  Textbooks are officially vetted sources of knowledge to be assimilated.  They are used in classroom settings where learning is bounded by place and time.  The very name connotes the primacy of text, with interactive media as a type of frosting on the cake of the written word.  [snip].

The 2010 National Educational Technology Plan, released by the federal government and widely seen as a guide for what the vendors should develop beyond modernized textbooks, articulates a forward-looking vision of a 21st century educational system.  Based on the new capabilities of learning technologies, students can actively construct their knowledge, with expert guidance, across all the parts of their lives.  [snip].  Social media, immersive interfaces, and mobile devices have transformed how we accomplish our goals, so why frame education as “digital textbooks?!”


Much more could be said, but I promised my family a night out. Time to use my digital typewriter to buy tickets, then drive the horseless carriage to the motion picture show ... .

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1 comment:

  1. Transitions are assisted through metaphor. The metaphor is a scaffold, perhaps leading us through much of the transition. As we get past the halfway mark, many begin to recognize the metaphor is limiting and move on. Early adopters understand how confining the metaphor is from the beginning, but they often also understand how useful the familiar phrase can be to support those who do not yet share the vision of something more than a digital textbook. (Emphasis on yet.) I still dial on my digital communication device.


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