An interactive etext

For last week’s New Media discussion, we all read Personal Dynamic Media by Kay and Goldberg. That paper was written in 1977, back when I was in the primary grades… It’s remarkable to read, because so many of the envisioned technologies from this time and earlier are only now beginning to really come to fruition. They were thinking of ways for computers to be used in education — to give immediate feedback and help students to think more creatively about subjects at hand.

But today’s ebooks and etexts largely ignore this path. For the most part, many are simply an electronic rendering of the same printed material in the traditional textbook. it’s frustrating, really, since there is so much promise in digital text: hyperlinks, pictures, control over colors, sizes, zoom… There are fun kids’ ebooks, especially for such devices as the iPad or iPhone. (With a seven year old and two three years olds, I have quite a few…) But I’ve seen less for adults, and even less for academic use.

Picture of ebook on iPad next to print textbook (same title)

The iPad is a bit smaller than the text...

However, I have been using an interactive etext in my upper-level ecology course for over two years now. SimBiotic Software produces something they call SimUText Ecology. They have now eleven chapters that cover the range of a typical ecology text, as well as a selection of simulated labs that could be used as well. There is text, but there are also embedded questions (with immediate feedback), pictures, graphs, and most useful: simulations.

Screen shot of SimUText Ecology

A sample page with a simulation on the right side of the screen.

Pedagogically, this is what an etext should be. The student reads a bit, plays with the model or a scenario for a bit, then answers a question to see if they learned what they were supposed to. Get it wrong? Find out right away, and go back to fix it in your mind. Get it right? Good — keep going!

At this point, it runs as software (so not on mobile devices without Flash), and is sold either directly to students or through the bookstore. The price is comparable to print, even a bit lower. And the student gets to keep the software. (It gets outdated, like print, but does not “expire” like most etexts.) Want more info? Check out their website.

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2 Responses to “An interactive etext”

  1. besart Says:

    how can i put it on my ipad?

  2. butterflydoc Says:

    No iPad compatibility yet. The last I heard, they were working on it, but they are a small company.

    But, I have put PDFs of the chapters on my iPad. Not the same, but it gives you a way to make the text part portable.

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