How Not to Change

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.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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