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Let’s speculate that before this year’s cohort of first-year teachers retires from math education more than 50% of American classrooms will feature 1:1 technology. That’s a conservative prediction – both in the timeline and the percentage – and it’s more than enough to make me wonder what makes for good curricula in a 1:1 classroom. What are useful questions to ask?

Here’s the question I ask myself whenever I see new curricula crop up for digital networked devices like computer, laptops, tablets, and phones.

Is it any different?

That isn’t a rhetorical or abstract question. I mean it in two separate and specific ways.

Digital

If you print out each page of the digital networked curriculum, is it any different?

130921_2

The answer here is “sort of.”

When I look at iBooks in the iBookstore from Pearson and McGraw-Hill or when I see HMH publish their Algebra Fuse curriculum in the App Store, I see lots of features and, yes, they require a digital medium. They have a) interactive slider-type demonstrations, b) slideshows that walk students through worked examples, c) stock video in the margins instead of stock photography, d) graded multiple-choice quizzes, e) videos of Edward Burger explaining math concepts and f) probably other items I’m forgetting. None of those features would survive the downgrade to paper.

So the question becomes, “Is it different enough?”

Are these offerings different enough to justify the enormous expense in hardware, software, and bandwidth? Do they take full advantage of their digital birthright?

I don’t think so.

Networked

“Is it any different?” here means “if you were hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth, in a concrete bunker without any kind of Internet access, is the curriculum any different?”

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Here, in September 2013, the answer is “no,” which is a shocking waste of very expensive, very powerful device.

Look at the apps you have on the home screen of your smartphone and ask yourself “how many of these are better because they have a large network of people using them?” Me, I have 12 apps on my homescreen and eight of them – Tweetbot, Messages, Instapaper, Instagram, Phone, Mail, Safari, Spotify – are so much better because of the crowd of people that use them with me. When I switch off my phone’s network connection, they get so much worse. Those are the apps I care most about also, the ones that enrich my life, the ones that justify the expense of a smartphone.

When you switch off the network connection, most curriculum stays exactly the same. It doesn’t suffer at all, which means it isn’t taking advantage of the network connection when it’s on.

More Different

Digital devices should allow you to:

  • Pose more interesting problems using more diverse media types and fewer words. (eg. three-act-style tasks).
  • Replace your textbooks’ corny illustrations of mathematical contexts with illustrations from their own lives. Students: find a trapezoid from your own life. Take a photo. Tap upload. Now it’s in your textbook.
  • Progressively disclose tasks over multiple screens so students don’t have to look at pages full of questions and information like this [pdf] and can instead start with a brief video and single sentence.

Networked devices should allow you to:

  • See all your friends’ illustrations from their own lives. The teacher should be able to see that gallery of trapezoids, promote certain illustrations, and offer comments on others that are visible to everybody.
  • Start lessons with integrated, formative polling. I’m talking about Riley Lark’s ActivePrompt software built right into the textbook.
  • Create student conversations. Use student data to find students who disagree with each other, pair them up, and have them work out their differences. All of that should happen without the teacher having to facilitate it because the device is smart.
  • Combine student data for better, more accurate modeling. (eg. Pennies, where each student collects a few data points which are then instantly collected into a much larger class data set.)

There are other possibilities, of course, some of which we’ll only start to realize as these tools are developed. But don’t just sit around and wait for an industry as reactive as textbook publishing to start making those tools for you. Publishers and their shareholders react to their market and that’s you. As long as they can still profit by repurposing existing print curriculum they will. It’s on you to tell your publishing reps that the curriculum they’re selling doesn’t do enough justice to the powerful, digital networked devices they’re putting them on. It isn’t different enough.

2013 Sep 27. And here’s LA Unified buying a billion dollars worth of iPads and then wasting the network that might make that investment worthwhile:

By Tuesday afternoon, L.A. Unified officials were weighing potential solutions. One would limit the tablets, when taken home, to curricular materials from the Pearson corporation, which are already installed. All other applications and Internet access would be turned off, according to a district “action plan.”

Featured Comment

Elizabeth Statmore:

This is always a problem in the early stages of a new technology. The “Technology Adoption Life Cycle” has proven itself over and over for the last 20 years to be the gold standard in analyzing tech markets.

The “innovators” adopt a technology because they need to be the first kids on their block to have whatever it is. The “early adopters” see strategic advantages and uses for it — and they are willing to put up with what they perceive as minor inconveniences like limited optimized uses in order to gain the advantages they seek.

That moment of “crossing the chasm” into the mainstream is that moment when a technology catches fire because vendors have figured out a way to reach beyond the techno-enthusiastic “early adopters” who have sustained their businesses to the techno-unimpressed “early majority” customers who are the major “show-me” skeptics. These skeptics form the first mass market for a technology, followed only later — and reluctantly — by a “late majority.”

Seems to me that we are still very much in an “early adopter” market in the race for digital textbooks. No one knows the “killer app” for digital curriculum is going to look like, but we do know it might bear some slight resemblance to the analog textbook. But this will not

As Steve Jobs always used to say, the “killer app” for the iPhone was making a phone call. But it was all the supporting infrastructure tht was built in (seamlessly integrated contacts, e-mail, texting, reminders, calendar, notes, & management of the technology) that transformed the act of making a phone call.

46 Responses to “The Digital Networked Textbook: Is It Any Different?”

  1. on 09 Oct 2013 at 7:00 amwwndtd

    That’s it! I feel like such an old fart when I say that I don’t think digital textbooks are all-that-and-a-slice-of-cake. I hadn’t been able to articulate why they’re not that different from print.

    Could you argue that it’s the method of teaching that’s at fault? I mean, if you only use the textbook (print or digital) for lessons and problems, it’s going to be a long year for the kids. But doing 3 Act Tasks and whatnot should automatically get more engagement.

  2. on 09 Oct 2013 at 8:54 amRafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis)

    I will admit that I was afraid of where you were going with this post. (no idea why)

    When we met for Beyond the Textbook math, I will say that the needs that you addressed in the “more different” section are 100% aligned with what I believe that we envisioned of what a digital math textbook should be.

    The customizable social collaborative aspect is a must along with digital interactives which already exist in the form of desmos, geogebra and others.

    It will be interesting to see if they listened.

  3. on 09 Oct 2013 at 9:03 amColin Matheson

    I agree that content developers haven’t got it together to really make use of online interactivity in learning materials. What we have done is promote the use of our LMS (Moodle) as an online and interactive “textbook”. Students go to the Moodle page to get links to info, read pdfs, etc. but also to engage in forums, polls, formative quizzes, and the like.
    It isn’t all seamless like turning a page to go from the content to a forum to a quiz, but tabs and the back button on the browser work well enough.
    I doubt we will ever get a single system that can have all the content and the interactivity in one place, so teachers and students should get used to an online hub model (using an LMS) for digital learning.

  4. on 09 Oct 2013 at 10:09 amColin

    I don’t know about digital math textbooks, but I can tell you that digital medical textbooks are hideous and atrocious. The only single benefit is being able to search a 1200 page book much more quickly. Admittedly a very valuable function, but otherwise they are worse than paper books.

  5. on 09 Oct 2013 at 10:30 amblaw0013

    Yes. “Digital” = Math Textbook v1.1. “Networked” = Math Textbook v1.5. “More Different” = “Math Textbook” v1.9.
    Awaiting anything near what should already be available = “Different” = Math Textbook v2.0.
    Meanwhile, who is working on Math Textbook v3.0?
    [I am thinking with this parallel in mind http://bit.ly/16LRuW8

  6. on 09 Oct 2013 at 3:50 pmNora

    How fabulous would all of this be? I wrote a blog post in reply and used google spread sheets to create my own student interactivity. In short students would enter numbers that fit a one variable inequality and see all the points from them and their classmates plotted on the same number line. It’s ugly but it works.

    http://simplifyingradicals2.blogspot.com/2013/10/future-textbooks.html

  7. on 09 Oct 2013 at 5:29 pmKevin Hall

    Doubt telling publishers to improve their stuff will make a difference. But if someone could make digital curricula as good (or almost) and free, commercial publishers would have to step their game up. You see where I’m going. KA doesn’t have to be better. As long as they’re free and equally good, they force others to get better, and the pressure they apply us probably more effective than that of the entire MTBoS haranguing its districts.

  8. on 09 Oct 2013 at 5:37 pmJoe Bires

    Is it any different b/c the people who make it have no new ideas? Probably not, if you ask people to design a car, you will probably get a vehicle with four wheels, doors, steering wheel. If rather you ask people to design a new system of transportation, you will get some radical new designs.

    As long as we continue to build tools to fit into our most educators’ definition of teaching and instruction rather than how students could actually learn than we will be disappointed with the results. Rather we have to have the courage to adopt the tools that will radically change the form and function of schools.

  9. on 09 Oct 2013 at 5:42 pmbstockus

    How much money do you think it would cost to create the full-featured digital textbook/curriculum you are describing?

    I don’t know a precise figure myself, but I’ve been designing digital math curriculum for over four years now, and I can tell you that the digital teaching platform created by my company (“my” as in the company I work for, not that it’s my company) was extremely expensive. Even more expensive was rebuilding it from scratch to adapt to the world of Flash-free tablets that didn’t exist when the company first started.

    The existence of our company, and subsequently our digital teaching platform and curriculum materials, was made possible by the substantial wealth of one individual who wanted to make a difference in education. We were lucky to be able to exist at all and put out the materials that we did.

    The US publishing companies, on the other hand, are existing companies that have had an identity as providers of print textbooks for many, many years now. They’re large and slow to change, like any bureaucracy. They’ve made moves into digital, but only so much as it has been worth the investment. There’s no reason to spend millions of dollars developing a product that not enough people are going to buy. (I say “There’s no reason” to refer to the business’ interests. Obviously educators can think of lots of good reasons, but do they make up enough of a customer base?) Going back to our company, even though we believed in our curriculum and software, we realized that we entered the market too early.

    However, despite all that, I fully agree that teachers, parents, principals, and even students should be telling these companies what kinds of products they want. Otherwise you’re leaving it up to the companies to guess, and while they have market research teams, it doesn’t hurt to get explicit suggestions.

    And yes, I am purposefully not saying any company or product names. I’m not here representing my company, nor am I trying to “get the word out” on any particular product. I just want to be the voice of someone in the industry who is trying to work towards what you are describing. My team is working on something different, possibly different enough, and yet we recognize there is still room for improvement.

  10. on 09 Oct 2013 at 6:06 pmbstockus

    I’d like to add that the term “digital” brings to mind different things for different people, which causes additional frustrations and concerns for companies planning to invest in creating digital products. Case in point, our company created a digital curriculum that was meant to embed technology into the workings of the classroom. The teacher still taught, but with the aid of the digital lessons. The students still explored math concepts and talked together, but it was facilitated through the technology. I loved it so much when I started working for the company that I was jealous that I wasn’t one of the teachers using it in a classroom! That’s what we meant by digital. Well, we meant a whole lot more, but I don’t want to go through the whole feature set.

    Anyway, the term “digital” to other teachers did not necessarily mean the same thing and that caused problems. The most common misunderstanding is a digital product is automatically an adaptive practice program because that’s just what computers do. Practice has a place, and adaptivity has its benefits, but that’s not the product we were creating. We wanted technology to become part of the teacher’s interactions with the class and the students’ interactions with each other. We weren’t trying to get kids to work at their own pace by themselves. But some teachers were unhappy with our product because we didn’t do that. Being “digital” to them meant that the computer made all the instructional decisions for them and I guess gave them some free time to grade papers while the students were like little drones on the computer.

    Other teachers couldn’t comprehend having to still teach. I kid you not, a teacher was baffled because she thought that having a digital curriculum meant that she could push play and go sit in the back of the room while the computer taught her kids. First of all, if she thought she’d still have a job if a computer could do it for her, she should have been scared, not excited at the prospect. Secondly, that was not our goal at all. That’s sort of the exact opposite of what we were going for. But again, preconceived notions got in the way of our design goals.

    I say all this because I believe in what you’re proposing. I just wonder what percentage of our teacher population understands and believes it, too, because that’s the market. That’s who these companies need to buy this product if they invest the money in making it.

    When faced with a product that did things along the lines of what you’re recommending, some teachers were just absolutely resistant because it did not fit their worldview of the role of technology in the classroom. Perhaps enough of a cultural shift has happened that this problem wouldn’t be as bad today than it was a couple of years ago, but I can see why some companies might be hesitant to develop a product like this that can backfire by not living up to expectations of what “digital” means to some unknown percentage of teachers.

    And to end on a positive note, there are teachers who absolutely got it and love what we were trying to do. It’s extremely satisfying to hear a teacher who’s been in the classroom for 20 years tell you that she can’t imagine going back to the way she taught before. That felt good.

  11. […] The Digital Networked Textbook: Is It Any Different? […]

  12. on 10 Oct 2013 at 5:30 amjkern

    It’s the SAMR model: the range from a simple substitution of one shiny technology for a slightly less shiny technology, to the creation of a learning activity/environment that was inconceivable before the shiny one came along, and that requires a vastly different approach to teaching in order to harness the technology’s full capabilities. https://sites.google.com/a/msad60.org/technology-is-learning/samr-model

  13. on 10 Oct 2013 at 6:11 amJason Dyer

    I know there might be NDAs involved so I understand if you can’t answer, but given you have consulted with textbook companies are you aware of any hope on the horizon?

  14. on 10 Oct 2013 at 8:08 amElaine Watson

    My big aha moment in reading this post was when you made the case that all of the apps that you really care about are the ones that interact with other people. We live in an increasingly interconnected world, made possible by technology that flattens the world and connects us in a way that could not have been imagined even 10 or 15 years ago. Students are native to this interconnectedness. I totally agree that if an enormous amount of money is going to be spent to transfer our paper textbooks anyway, we might as well do it right. Thank you and Desmos for being at the cutting edge of what it could look like…marrying social networking and learning.

  15. on 10 Oct 2013 at 9:06 amLia Santilli

    I think the main reason that digital textbooks aren’t yet different enough is that their main function is still to be a vehicle for content, not necessarily a work space (or, ideally, a collaborative work space).

    An often touted benefit of digital textbooks is that they can be accessed from mobile devices, but because they are just vehicles for content delivery, I think this actually limits the power of the mobile device because students have to use it all the time to look at something, not to do something.

    I am teaching one course with the HMH Fuse curriculum in a 1:1 environment this year, and although I like FUSE better than what I had before, a lot of what I like is the way the content is presented, not the iPad interface. Because my students iPads are so frequently tied up by using their textbooks, I have them do a lot of their work on paper (because, let’s face it, the multi tasking options aren’t that awesome). The potential for different kinds of work that comes with having a mobile device is gone, because they’re still using paper!

  16. on 10 Oct 2013 at 9:27 amDan

    TRADITIONAL TEXTBOOK VS. IPAD IBOOKS

    Great points, Dan. I’m a middle school teacher and doctoral candidate and my dissertation study focused on this very issue–are there learning differences between the traditional textbook and the iPad iBook?

    You cited the best example of putting the cart before the horse–LAUSD spending $1,000,000,000 on iPads. Go ahead and look at the literature base–there is NO quality empirical studies that are peer-reviewed that clearly demonstrate significant findings suggesting the iPad is a better textbook. Sure, you’ll find some white papers (in fact, Houghton Mifflin published a totally biased white paper, then pulled it off their website) and blog posts, but as a teacher and a researcher, the lack of research favoring the iPad while school districts spend millions is alarming.

    I’m submitting my dissertation later this month. I primarily work with students with specific learning disabilities–the exact population who need the accessibility features you described above. I took a traditional middle school science book, created an iPad iBook using the same exact content as the traditional book, and had 22 students with high-functioning disabilities read six chapters, three using each treatment. I measured reading comprehension, electrodermal activity (a physiological response to emotions like happiness, excitement, stress, anxiety, boredom), satisfaction, and cognitive workload. I used a mixed-methods counterbalanced design, and I supplemented the quantitative component with semi-structured student interviews.

    Thus far I have found no statistically significant differences in reading comprehension between the two book types, and no electrodermal activity differences, either. Scores for the traditional textbook were higher, albeit I cannot chalk this up to anything more than random error. Other measures including transcribed & coded interviews suggested three things:

    (1) Students overwhelmingly preferred the iPad.

    They were able to identify specific classes where each treatment would be useful, and most thought science and language arts would favor iPad usage, but a mathematics traditional textbook was favored.

    (2) Students were more comfortable and demonstrated less cognitive workload with the iPad.

    Interpretation of this is a bit tricky, however, as cognitive workload is not a zero-sum game. We want engaged students, but not overwhelmed students. Triangulation of my data sources found this to be the most likely interpretation.

    (3) Students thought they would do better on the traditional textbook.

    This may be due to the daily practice students receive using the book type, as compared to the newness of an iPad iBook.

    In short, there needs to be more quality research in this growing field. I’ve seen publishers continue to just CUT+PASTE content from one book type to another, and that’s haphazard and really does a disservice to the student.

    Dan

  17. on 10 Oct 2013 at 12:41 pmAlex Tolley

    I don’t expect publishers to leading the vanguard for change. They are interested in maximizing profits, which translates to creating new editions with marginal changes and increasing prices. The leakage as students use much cheaper earlier editions makes this unsustainable in the long run.

    The high cost of creating the content could be mitigated by crowd sourcing, suggesting that content might best be a public resource, not private.

    Engagement by students is great, but please don’t forget that only 75% of students are extroverts, the introverts prefer not getting forced into group learning situations.

    Finally, the future is likely to be much more asynchronous, with learning done at the student’s pace, not a factory like school schedule. Content needs to be tailored to that future, rather than the traditional classroom setting.

  18. on 11 Oct 2013 at 7:37 ama Different Dave

    Dan’s OP points out that we can’t sit and wait for traditional textbook publishers to move in the direction we want.

    bstockus points out that teachers have very wide ranging understandings (and misconceptions) of what the future will be like in this area.

    I think one of the most important things we can do, individually, right now, is to spread the word about what’s possible. We need to be sharing examples, like what Dan and Dave Major put together:
    http://testing.davemajor.net/

    and “Do you know Blue?”
    http://www.doyouknowblue.com/

    and Des-man:
    http://blog.desmos.com/post/62158789621/des-man-a-desmos-labs-project

    We need to share these with teachers at our school, in our school district, at conferences, in Facebook groups, on Twitter, in subreddits. We need to show math teachers, but we need to also show teachers of other subjects and tell them they might be the one to crack the code of bringing truly different digital to their topic area.

    That’s how we start to get teachers’ and administrators’ expectations to be realistic, constructive, and unified. And that will lead to pressure on publishers.

    At this point, I really think we need to be pushing for awareness. The people who read this blog know where we have set the bar, and now we need to take the time to let other people know where the bar has been set.

    If you haven’t already sent a “hey, you really need to see this” email to someone with one of the links above, today is the day!

  19. on 11 Oct 2013 at 10:10 amJulie

    The beauty of a digital text is the self creation and personalization. Forget the textbook companies. Create and share your own using iBooks Author. The interactive widgets created by third party developers are increasing the pedagogical quality of the these texts.

  20. on 11 Oct 2013 at 11:30 amAndrew

    Digital textbooks are not necessarily static resources as traditional textbooks are. Therefore the idea of comparing one to the other by printing the digital copies and concluding they are the same is not really fair. Open sources textbooks allow for editing. A printout could look a different from one year to the next.

    Some digital textbooks will be more interactive than others, and hopefully teacher education programs will in the future require intermediate/senior division teachers to learn some basic programming necessary to create their own embedded apps (Some of the fluff in a BEd. could easily be shed, or extend the time it takes to get a BEd……..too many education graduates anyway).

    The textbook industry is a joke. BC, California, and Utah all have open source textbook initiatives (will only increase as time goes by).

  21. on 11 Oct 2013 at 12:01 pmIan Rae

    Given the widespread wariness about ed-tech, if it were found digital textbooks were as good as paper textbooks, then even that would be a huge win. Given that costs are lower, updates are simpler, etc.

    But there is an “automating the cow path” feel to a lot of digital textbooks. As Lia says: “a vehicle for content, not necessarily a work space (or, ideally, a collaborative work space)”

  22. […] The Digital Networked Textbook: Is It Any Good? (Dan Meyer) — “if you were hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth, in a concrete bunker without any kind of Internet access, is the curriculum any different?” […]

  23. on 12 Oct 2013 at 6:20 amChristian

    Please keep in mind access to digital tools, social inclusion etc. when citing something like iBooks (or any other ‘solution’ from one distinct company).

  24. on 12 Oct 2013 at 10:34 pmJoey van der Bie

    As I read your ideas, I still don’t see the real advantage in a traditional teaching setting. The math courses I know had student interactivity like you propose, only initiated and directed by a teacher. So same activities. Only non-digital.
    What I do see is that you propose to replace the teacher’s tasks with a digital textbook. Which is fine but could mean a different kind of revolution than you propose. Since the teacher has less tasks, classes can be bigger, or students can perform tasks unsupervised, leaving more time for other parts of the education, for which there is no time in the current situation.

  25. on 13 Oct 2013 at 8:48 amCathy Yenca

    I agree that digital textbooks could afford to be “more different” than their paper counterparts. I am in year two of using the HMH Fuse Algebra 1 Common Core app with my students. The app is “a tool among many” and I certainly don’t use it every day. However, there are some definite advantages to the paper copy:

    1) Assessment tools – There are “Check It Out” problems and pre-assessments built right in that provide students (and me) with instant feedback.

    2) “Scratchpad” feature – students can work out problems on a virtual piece of “scratch paper” and these work samples are available for my perusal when logged in as the “teacher” online.

    3) Professor Burger videos are embedded directly in the app with the examples/concepts they address (as opposed to the “old way” of logging in to the online text resources on a computer and having to dig for the video at a later time).

    4) “View in Motion” feature – Sorry for being crude, but I’ve been saying for years than I’d rather not use textbooks because they throw up on you… meaning, everything is already worked out, and it’s hard to follow step-by step when all the work for all the examples is plastered on the page. The “View in Motion” feature/slider allows students to see each step for each example as they are ready to reveal it to themselves. They really do favor this feature to a paper book.

    5) Using this app was priceless when I had several different subs come in while I attended NCTM Dallas last year – students could move on with curriculum, and I could “spy” on their work from afar: http://www.mathycathy.com/blog/2012/10/algebra-hmh-fuse-app-common-core/

    I have never, ever been the teacher that says, “Class, open your math textbooks to page…”

    I don’t supplement the curriculum – I recreate it, from scratch, using various textbooks/apps/websites/blogs/my own stuff/ etc. etc. as resources.

    Even if an app-for-a-textbook was perfect, I still wouldn’t be able to exclusively use it. It’s just not my style. However… if given the choice between a 2007 paper Holt book and the Fuse App… the app wins.

  26. on 14 Oct 2013 at 12:30 pmGreg - Nick

    Digital textbooks could be better, I agree. For me, they are already better enough.
    There are three things that clearly make digital textbooks better from my perspective.

    1) Durability. These textbooks have the potential to look new forever. That is not to say that we should use textbooks forever, but there is nothing worse than getting a damaged textbook that has important information crossed out or is just falling apart.
    2) Portability. With a digital textbook, students can get the text anywhere they have internet access, even if they are using a different device. Textbooks are heavy and inconvenient to tote around. With a digital textbook, there is a better chance that students will take it home for homework just because it is easier to carry with them.
    3) Search-ability. If there is a problem that I don’t understand in my current textbook, I can bookmark it or put a start next to it, but it is hard to keep track. With a digital textbook, it is much easier to find what I am looking for this (this is particularly helpful for non-math texts).

    I’m looking forward to a day when Math learning Apps will replace the standard textbook. For me, I am ready to make the switch now.

  27. on 14 Oct 2013 at 3:34 pmDan Meyer

    Colin Matheson:

    What we have done is promote the use of our LMS (Moodle) as an online and interactive “textbook”. Students go to the Moodle page to get links to info, read pdfs, etc. but also to engage in forums, polls, formative quizzes, and the like.

    “Go to the discussion forums and talk about topic / question [x]” is fine as far as it goes, but it privileges text over other kinds of media. And I get it. Forums, in 2013, are pretty easy to install wherever. But I’m interested in networked teaching that starts with interesting pedagogies and then builds the technology from there, rather than starting with existing or cheap technology and building the pedagogy to accommodate its limitations.

    Jason Dyer:

    I know there might be NDAs involved so I understand if you can’t answer, but given you have consulted with textbook companies are you aware of any hope on the horizon?

    In their own incremental way, nudged along by market and investor pressure, interesting projects are under way.

    Lia Santilli::

    I think the main reason that digital textbooks aren’t yet different enough is that their main function is still to be a vehicle for content, not necessarily a work space (or, ideally, a collaborative work space).

    I don’t know if I want them to be a work space, though. Or at least that isn’t an obvious use for me. To list just one limitation of tablets as collaborative spaces: I can write approximately ten legible words on an iPad’s surface. Many more on a piece of paper.

    Dan:

    Great points, Dan. I’m a middle school teacher and doctoral candidate and my dissertation study focused on this very issue–are there learning differences between the traditional textbook and the iPad iBook?

    Thanks for summarizing your dissertation here, Dan. This seems to bear out some of Mayer’s research on media in instruction. Of course, ideally an iPad textbook wouldn’t be a straight text transcription of a print textbook, though.

    Joey van der Bie:

    As I read your ideas, I still don’t see the real advantage in a traditional teaching setting. The math courses I know had student interactivity like you propose, only initiated and directed by a teacher.

    I’m not proposing eliminating teachers or increasing their class sizes. I’m suggesting that networked technologies should illuminate student thinking in ways that are currently impossible in an analog class. Much of what I’m proposing would require the teacher to run to every desk in an instant, record and remember all their responses and filter them in interesting ways.

  28. on 14 Oct 2013 at 10:28 pmDavid Taub

    Dan Meyer:

    To list just one limitation of tablets as collaborative spaces: I can write approximately ten legible words on an iPad’s surface. Many more on a piece of paper.

    I’ve been thinking about this issue in general – along the lines of the irritating limitations with writing math on computers and tablets in general.

    There is a fun calculator app called something like MyScript Calculator for the iPad which uses handwriting recognition to turn your scribble into an expression to be calculated. It’s pretty good and so I was thinking why shouldn’t it be possible to make something similar that doesn’t calculate for the student, but that turns their handwritten equation into a smaller nicely formatted one on the page.

    This would allow fast data entry, but still make efficient use of the space.

    It would need to include an easy way to “drag” text pieces around and to edit somehow, but it seems easily doable with the current technology.

    The screen could have some kind of sharing mode for collaborative work as needed.

    Short of that, it seems that we might need entirely new hardware with something along the lines of electronic paper with a stylus that has a fine tip.

  29. on 15 Oct 2013 at 2:34 amSMC

    Disclosure: I work in publishing, although I’m not directly connected with the production of textbooks.

    The industry’s motivation for trying to get into digital textbooks is simple – the traditional market is under real pressure as students turn to online information sources, and it’s hard to envisage a good future for that business unless we embrace this.

    Personally I don’t feel anyone has quite cracked it yet – there are lots of interesting ideas out there but too many competing devices and standards, and too much variation in the quality of execution. I’m not sure anyone really knows exactly what does and does not make a digital textbook work. Are they just a cheaper and more portable substitute for print? How useful are the interactive features and multimedia? How should they connect to other parts of the digital ecosystem? Does the whole textbook model need to be rethought?

    As yet I don’t think there are any definitive answers. But it’s a really interesting discussion.

  30. on 15 Oct 2013 at 3:19 amCathy Yenca

    David ~ This is an app my students use for what you propose in comment 28 above – http://www.visionobjects.com/en/myscript/math-application/myscript-mathpad/description/

  31. on 15 Oct 2013 at 6:01 amDavid Taub

    Thanks, Cathy! That seems to be what I was looking for. I’ll give it a try.

  32. on 15 Oct 2013 at 8:06 amDan Meyer

    @Cathy, as our resident Nearpod expert, let me ask you: would Nearpod let all my students put a point or a line on a graph, hit send, and then see the compilation of all those points or lines on the teacher’s display?

  33. on 15 Oct 2013 at 8:29 amjrice

    Its SAMR and RAT with descriptions of how to transform what we do with technology versus simply replacing what currently exists.
    To quote the below blogpost:

    “R :: replacement | redundant | retrograde
    A :: augmented | average | acceptable
    T :: transformed | terrific | tremendous”

    We need to strive for and expect the T, rather than settling for the R.

    http://doverdlc.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-rat-samr-transformative-technology.html

  34. on 15 Oct 2013 at 10:28 amCathy Yenca

    @Dan, Nearpod (the draw feature specifically) allows students to put a point or a line on a graph, and hit submit.

    The teacher instantly sees the student’s work sample on the teacher’s iPad, along with the work samples of all classmates that also submit their work. The teacher can scroll through these preview images, tap them to enlarge them, and share images by “launching” them to all students’ screens at the push of a virtual button (great for instant, anonymous, authentic error analysis).

    Images in this blog post may help clarify a bit:
    http://www.mathycathy.com/blog/2012/12/nearpod-i-think-i-love-you/

  35. on 15 Oct 2013 at 11:10 amDan Meyer

    Thanks, Cathy. But specifically I’m wondering if the teacher can see all those points and lines on the same graph not just thumbnailed out across an array.

  36. on 15 Oct 2013 at 11:15 amCathy Yenca

    @Dan, student work samples are not superimposed on, for instance, one graph, but are individual thumbnails… but how cool would a “superimpose” feature be?

  37. on 15 Oct 2013 at 6:23 pmcheesemonkeysf

    This is always a problem in the early stages of a new technology. The “Technology Adoption Life Cycle” has proven itself over and over for the last 20 years to be the gold standard in analyzing tech markets.

    The “innovators” adopt a technology because they need to be the first kids on their block to have whatever it is. The “early adopters” see strategic advantages and uses for it — and they are willing to put up with what they perceive as minor inconveniences like limited optimized uses in order to gain the advantages they seek.

    That moment of “crossing the chasm” into the mainstream is that moment when a technology catches fire because vendors have figured out a way to reach beyond the techno-enthusiastic “early adopters” who have sustained their businesses to the techno-unimpressed “early majority” customers who are the major “show-me” skeptics. These skeptics form the first mass market for a technology, followed only later — and reluctantly — by a “late majority.”

    Seems to me that we are still very much in an “early adopter” market in the race for digital textbooks. No one knows the “killer app” for digital curriculum is going to look like, but we do know it might bear some slight resemblance to the analog textbook. But this will not

    As Steve Jobs always used to say, the “killer app” for the iPhone was making a phone call. But it was all the supporting infrastructure tht was built in (seamlessly integrated contacts, e-mail, texting, reminders, calendar, notes, & management of the technology) that transformed the act of making a phone call.

    – Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

  38. on 15 Oct 2013 at 9:18 pmDan Meyer

    Real useful reminder there. Let’s get that comment up in the main post.

  39. on 16 Oct 2013 at 10:10 amDavid Wees

    I’ve written about what I think a digital textbook could include, and it is certainly very different than what digital textbooks currently look like.

    See http://davidwees.com/content/forget-future-heres-textbook-i-want-now

    The fascinating thing for me is realizing that all of the capabilities that we might want in a textbook exist, each in separate forms, but no one has put it all together into one place yet.

    Elizabeth’s point is very true, but it is also worth noting that vendors do not adopt a new technology because it is necessarily effective for teaching and learning; they adopt it because there is a profit margin for them. If we want to create something really valuable and lasting for student learning, we will probably have to do it ourselves.

  40. on 16 Oct 2013 at 12:17 pmDavid Taub

    @Cathy
    I checked out that App and it isn’t really what I meant (thought it has some nice uses). As far as I can tell it allows you to write “an” equation.

    I was thinking about an actual math “workspace”, where I can write an equation and show the step for solving it, all in the same workspace, and then share that with the teacher/other students.

    The handwriting recognition is there, but not the step of implementing it into a full workspace.

    The network ability of the technology is important as many have pointed out, as is the ability to automate tasks such as problem generation for practice, but a big gap still seems to be the utter “convenience” and simplicity of writing math on a piece of paper.

    I think overcoming this obstacle is also an important step for the technology to fully mature for classroom use.

  41. on 16 Oct 2013 at 12:41 pmCathy Yenca

    @David,
    You’re right – MyScript Math Pad is definitely not an all-in-one. You may have to do a little “app smashing” – First, create problems using MyScript Math Pad, then use these images within the “Draw” feature of a Nearpod presentation to get the sharing workspace you desire.

  42. on 17 Oct 2013 at 7:14 ambstockus

    Obviously as a consumer and math ed. person, you are welcome to request any feature you want. However, I get the impression that you focus heavily on the feature where students’ work is gathered together in one view, and that feature ends up being a (the?) benchmark of whether a product is “different enough”. Look, the idea sounds cool, it even looks cool in action, but how frequently do you expect it to be used? It sounds really useful where answers might have a lot of variability, such as spatial tasks like the time you posted a link where you asked people to estimate the midpoint of a line segment.

    But there seem to be lots of occasions where I wouldn’t necessarily want all of the student work superimposed on top of each other. If students were sharing calculations or figures they drew, it would be unwieldy to present all of them in one window. In that case I would want the work in some sort of collection where it could be opened one at a time, or maybe two side by side.

    I’m not saying that the feature you’re advocating for shouldn’t be developed, but I’m not convinced it’s the must-have feature to define the next generation of digital products. Granted, I probably need to think more about use cases, but at this moment, it feels more like a niche tool that would only enhance certain lessons or units. Having a general feature that collects student work and allows the teacher or students to present it seems much more useful in a wider variety of situations.

  43. on 18 Oct 2013 at 10:14 amDan Meyer

    Brian:

    However, I get the impression that you focus heavily on the feature where students’ work is gathered together in one view, and that feature ends up being a (the?) benchmark of whether a product is “different enough”.

    This essay considered digital curricula and networked curricula. Aggregating student work is one instantiation of one half of this essay, in other words.

    … but how frequently do you expect it to be used? It sounds really useful where answers might have a lot of variability, such as spatial tasks like the time you posted a link where you asked people to estimate the midpoint of a line segment.

    … and to aggregate guesses on every three-act task and for gathering student data for the sake of modeling and for any estimation task and for tasks where seeing lots of student-generated instances of a pattern helps students create conjectures and for letting students compare and contrast each others’ conjectures …

    … and for all the other uses that would be awesome but which my brain is too small to think up right now.

    But there seem to be lots of occasions where I wouldn’t necessarily want all of the student work superimposed on top of each other.

    Is there a problem I’m missing with turning off that feature for those occasions? In my work with Desmos, we turned that feature on so we could see an overlay of every student’s model of the penny data and we turned it off when students were creating their own faces in Des-man. Because it would have been unwieldy.

  44. on 18 Oct 2013 at 6:02 pmbstockus

    Thanks for the response and thank you for sharing your ideas on other ways you think an aggregated workspace might be used. I’m not convinced that an aggregated solution is necessary in all those instances, but I can appreciate the convenience and awesomeness of having student work presented all at once. And lest you think I’m just being a contrarian or skeptic, I have raised the idea with folks at my company. We already have a way for students to send their work to a gallery, but not aggregated in the ways you’ve illustrated. Unfortunately, I am an instructional designer, not a product manager, so suggesting it is all I can offer at the moment.

    All in all, I appreciate this post as well as the comments. We obviously need people like you thinking ahead about beneficial features educational products should strive for. At the same time, some of the comments here reaffirmed my own experiences, which is that teachers have a knack for maximizing what is currently available. When I first started at Time To Know, I was excited about our curriculum and digital teaching platform. However, when I actually started testing it out, I kept thinking about all the things our software *didn’t* do. I remember thinking to myself, “How in the world can a teacher use this and be happy?” While there were admittedly some frustrations, I spoke with teachers who didn’t see the glaring holes that I did. They saw potential and realized it on a daily basis. They had students whose favorite times of day were learning with our curriculum.

    We should definitely continue to challenge companies to make better and better digital curriculum materials, but at the same time, I think it’s important to recognize and appreciate what benefits can be had with what is available today. Thanks again!

  45. on 18 Oct 2013 at 7:19 pmAna

    I think you are just looking at the wrong examples. Pearsons and McGraw Hill are big companies that are unlikely to change unless they have to. And, right now, they don’t. Change does not come from the big, comfortable companies – it comes from small upstarts and innovators like you and me. Have you read Innovators Dilemma?

  46. on 19 Oct 2013 at 1:54 pmjayanthi

    I love the idea of networked textbooks that allow for quick formative assessments, as well as for students to contribute examples and ideas from their own lives. The increased engagement that could result from using resources that promote contextualized and collaborative learning, is really exciting. This really highlights they ways in which math allows us to understand and interact with our environment in meaningful ways.

    In collaborative learning environments, how do we prevent students from transmitting misconceptions to each other? I like the idea of students seeing each other as resources, and using each other for support in developing their skills and knowledge. But it seems to happen all too often that a student believes they have a grasp of a concept and explains it to another student in a way that is not 100% accurate. How do we promote collaboration while ensuring that our students don’t practice errors?

    This is one reason why a networked digital textbook sounds really exciting to me. I like the idea that a teacher could easily moderate what is posted, and respond to students who may have a misconception about something. All while students are able to share their work and see how their peers are thinking about the same mathematical concept.

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