Friday, March 03, 2006

More about E-books -- future of teaching generally

The print journal Campus Technology, vol. 19, no. 7, March 2006, at page 20 has an article "The Rise of Student Performance Content- Move over textbooks: Spontaneous, course-generated content may be edging you out," by Judith V. Boettcher. Besides making it easy to pull together a selective bibliography of recent articles on the topic, Ms. Boettcher has some interesting points, though of course, she is speaking more generally than law case books. Here are her main points, redigested:

She believes that education theory and students coming up in the educational pipeline both are pressuring educators toward a more interactive teaching style. Students want to do something to learn, not just to read. This means that more and more teachers are creating their own content for courses. The two interesting citations she provided were: "Are Textbooks Dispensible?" by John Moore,Journal of Chemical Education, 2003 (his answer seems to be Yes!); and "Making Textbooks Worthwhile," by Leon Fink Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005. She also links the reader to "The Economic Case for Creative Commons Textbooks," by Fred M. Beshears CT's eLearning Dialogue eLetter, Oct. 5, 2005, a proposal to develop open-source educational software. Here are her main points about the development of electronic textbooks as she sees it:

1 - Textbooks are slowly morphing from a physical book to a CD and book, a website and a digital book. She has seen recent product announcements, one at which has an audiobook and portable player. When I went to this site, I could find no mention of any audio book or player -- they seem to be focusing entirely on music videos now. But, the idea seems reminiscent of the new Ipod and podcasting phenomenon, so perhaps it would be feasible, but it seems to me that an audiobook suffers from the problem of being serial in nature -- it would be difficult to use the audiofile in anyway except in a linear order, even if you can search and find the correct place to begin listening.

The other new announcement that she has seen is from , with a larger text-display screen, but the carry-case is about the size of a paper-back book. I had trouble locating the report she refers to at the general website and think this must be what she is reporting on. It looks like a pretty cool little electronic book, and very close to what I imagined with electronic paper. It looks as though it is pretty flexible in terms of what you can display on it -- any PDF file, and you can download e-books from the SONY library on the internet. It weighs less than many paperback books, and can enlarge the text to 200%. It is readable in daylight, and at angles, according to the specs. If it is as good as they say -- it's pretty cool -- though limited in what they can play for law. This is basically the end of e-books in this piece. Everything else is talking about teaching generally, and how textbooks are becoming less central to class:

2. Guided learning materials created by the professor, including syllabus, handouts, review questions, etc. are taking the place of much of what textbooks used to do. I think that these are moving to web and podcast platforms very successfully. Through Blackboard, TWEN, faculty webpages, or just e-mail and podcasts, this has been happening spontaneously over the years.

3. Interactive and spontaneous "performance" content are also doing much of what textbooks used to do. "Performance" content, Ms. Boettcher explains as created by students in the process of learning. Examples in law schools might be oral arguments (whether taped or not), client counseling (real or simulated), clinic encounters with real clients, and much of the advocacy classes taught in most law schools. Many of these are recorded and then the participants view them with teachers or peer-reviewers afterwards to learn by observing. This again, is quite a law school tradition. Another way that "performance" content is being used: legal writing teachers will either take an anonymous example of writing and work on it with the class, or compose together with the class, using overhead projector or document camera in the classroom. This can also be done with distance learning. I am not sure that either of these last two impact on e-books, but the article was interesting and thought-provoking. It's interesting to me, to see how thinkers outside the law school environment are looking at our issues.

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