I’ve said before that I think the electronic textbook is both inevitable and desirable. In the long run, I think collaboratively run Wiki’s make the most sense for college learning, because they are flexible, collaborative, and cheap. They create dramatically collaborative models– symbols, really– of knowledge production. These new textbooks would signal a profound shift away from old models of intellectual property that continue to hinder both the production and the democratization of knowledge. It’s a tool with enormous potential.
Access can be tailored to need or to pedagogical or even national style. Some teachers might make editing the textbook a part of their curriculum; some not. Wikis can be modified and maintained, creating local or regional iterations of the textbook; or, if necessary, abandoned and relaunched at the start of each session. The textbook ceases to be an object and become a network of evolving knowledge. All that is well and good. What worries, me, however, is that, as in other industries, new technologies will promote disenfranchisement rather than power.
That’s what I thought as I was reading, “Early Finding of Cal State U. E-Textbook Study: Terms Matter.” It’s an instructive example. We should survey students about their preferences, but if 2/3’s of them are either neutral or unhappy about the technology, then I think it makes sense to develop some sort of hybrid strategy, combing print and digital technologies, at least for the near term. E-books, and my “dream Wiki” need to be easily printable in an attractive format. We just don’t know yet if digital is the future or a cognitive style or, perhaps more likely, both.