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Exploring future of ‘postdigital’ textbook

Assistant professor Erin Walker.

Assistant professor Erin Walker.

Computer scientist Erin Walker will lead research on the future of the textbook, focusing on a new type of educational technology called the “postdigital textbook.”

With a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies program, Walker and her team will explore how the postdigital textbook combines personalized learning with community-driven features that encourage collaboration and resource sharing, and emphasize learning as a social process.

Walker is an assistant professor in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Her collaborators on the project, titled “Towards Knowledge Curation and Community Building within a Postdigital Textbook,” are Ruth Wylie and Ed Finn with the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University.

Wylie is assistant director of the center and an assistant research professor in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Finn is director of the center and an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English.

The project is part of an ongoing collaboration among Walker, Wylie and Finn that will eventually lead to the development of working prototypes of postdigital textbooks that can be tested in classroom environments.

The project is funded as an Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) grant, which supports exploratory work in its early stages on previously untested but potentially transformative high-impact research ideas.

The initial phase involves surveying existing research and working with teachers and students to determine what particular behaviors, relationships and goals the postdigital textbook should facilitate to optimize learning.

“The traditional paper textbook is a technology that has been honed and refined over decades,” Walker said. “It offers numerous helpful affordances, or student and teacher behaviors that the technology enables and encourages, like taking notes in the margins, highlighting words and phrases, using the index and table of contents to look up key concepts, and so forth.

“The challenge here is to develop a digital textbook that provides new, intuitive affordances without taking away any of the useful and time-tested features that we all take for granted when we use a physical book,” she said.

“Digital textbooks are here, but they’re boring,” Wylie said. “This project is an opportunity to experiment with new models for what a textbook can be that will motivate and even inspire students and teachers.”

“The postdigital textbook goes beyond just digitizing print books or replacing still images with videos,” Wylie explained. “Instead, it is a tool that helps students curate knowledge and build community with their classmates.”

Digital technology enables learning materials in digital textbooks to be precisely tailored to students’ needs, interests and learning styles. The postdigital textbook embraces personalization but recognizes that textbooks are effective precisely because they are stable, shared resources that all students can refer to and discuss equally.

“This project is about determining how we need to design textbooks of the future so that they adjust to the strengths and limitations of individuals while also helping students build 21st-century skills like working collaboratively in groups and curating and presenting multimedia resources,” said Finn.

Written by Joey Eschrich, [email protected]
Center for Science and the Imagination

Media Contact
Joe Kullman, [email protected]
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

About The Author

Joe Kullman

Joe Kullman is a science writer for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Before joining Arizona State University in 2006, Joe worked as a reporter, writer and editor for newspapers and magazines dating back to the dawn of the age of the personal computer. He began his career while earning degrees in journalism and philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio. Media Contact: [email protected] | 480-965-8122 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Communications

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