Speculative Words: Textbooks as New Media

“It’s not a textbook, it is an entire course,” says Jean Wisuri, director of distance education at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, describing a product called Course360, from Cengage Learning. “It has activities built right into the textbook itself.”

A professor could essentially rely on a Course360 title as the full curriculum in an online course, letting students loose in the system and having them teach themselves. The Course360 titles connect to the university’s learning-management system, linking them directly into an institution’s existing virtual classroom.

The above is form a Chronicle of Higher Ed artcile (not sure how long it will stay on the free side of the firewall) about e-texts, “The Object Formerly Known as the Textbook.” Quotes a Pearson exec with Marshall McLuhan‘s observation that the first thing that happens in a new medium is the loading of content from an earlier medium. (To wit: Vaudeville stars like George Burns and Gracie Allen become radio stars, then their hit radio show becomes a TV show. As late as the 50s, plays were still being shown on TV. During the Web’s youthful days, I made a living helping video producers put “TV on the web.” (It was a hit or miss affair.)

I hadn’t seen this old media on new platform trope for books (but, seems obvious once pointed out. Books are a media technology, after all.) And now as an ironic aside, I’ve got a work project to help put educational TV on an e-textbook. Old media? I’m your guy!)

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 9.36.36 AM
$20 on eBay.

The Chronicle piece makes some interesting points. Author Jeffrey Young got an oddly sanguine quote from a publisher about the risks MOOCs (and perhaps also Sal Kahn) pose to his biz model.

Whole thing makes me a little nostalgic for those monster tomes: George B. Thomas’ Calc text, with its quiet jokes, the Norton Anthologies and their younger siblings “Adventures in Literature.” They weren’t just content delivery platforms, they were emblems of the role of student. Just as you can recognize saints in paintings by their attributes, you could spot a law student at 50 yards. The ebooks should come with patches you can sew to your Hollister to prove you really are a student.

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