The digital textbook as connected content

In the first of a two-part post, Talis’ Justin Leavesley talks about the transformative possibilities of connected content and Project Lighthouse.


Digital content is important, but connected content could be transformative for teaching and learning

The transition from physical to digital textbooks is important for many reasons. But alone is it transformative for teaching and learning?

If digital textbooks remain little more than an electronic facsimile of their physical counterparts then maybe, as important as this is, we should not expect an outsized impact on teaching and learning. In addition, there are aspects of studying with digital books that are just not as natural as with physical books. The user interface of a physical textbook is particularly easy to navigate and make personal study notes on for example.

Digital technologies have transformed so many parts of our lives that it seems hard to believe that in some way, at some point, the digital shift of core teaching materials won’t have a transformative effect.

It can be useful to consider how other recent technology transitions, such as mobile technology, have unfolded.

In the first phase of mobile communications, a mobile phone was not much different from a fixed line phone, except it was mobile. They were, in essence, a mobile facsimile of a fixed line phone. It was mostly a passive device, unaware of our personal context or our connections beyond a simple contacts list.

This was the first phase of telephony “going mobile”. This phase ended with the introduction of the smartphone. With the advent of smartphones, the mobile phone became not just mobile telephony, but mobile connectivity. Devices capable of really understanding our personal physical context (like our actual location for maps and navigation) and maintaining our virtual connections, like email or Facebook, wherever we went. Today, making a telephone call is only one of the things that we use mobile phones for. Having a phone that was mobile was definitely an important step forward, and a prerequisite for more, but smartphones are transformative.

We might expect to see a similar pattern for textbooks, and other teaching resources such as the lecture video. A first phase as digital facsimile, followed by a more profound evolution as the unique possibilities of digital are exploited.

If so, then the question becomes: what is beyond the facsimile phase of digital textbooks? What does the textbook as connected content look like or mean? What kinds of connections should they support?

At Talis we have been running a research project, Project Lighthouse, to build a new kind of digital content player designed to turn any kind of existing digital content into connected content.  We have been piloting this “connected content player” with academics and students to explore how connected content might enhance teaching and learning.

Justin Leavesley, Talis

We’ll be hearing more from Justin, on the context of connected content, in the near future.


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