Harry Potter and the Half-Baked iBook

The Monster Book of Monsters is a must-read for all aspiring witches and wizards.  With moving pictures and articles on every topic of note, the only real drawback to the textbook is its predisposition to take a chunk out of you.   But this isn’t so different to mere muggle students, whose wallets get a chunk taken out of them by textbook purchasing on an annual basis.  That was of course until Apple decided to step up to the plate…

But have they got it right?  You see, I’m increasingly of the opinion that JK Rowling aimed too low with her imagination on magical textbooks.  She couldn’t foresee the way in which things like textbooks would really be consumed if magic was widely available.  Why on earth would you need a book?

Books were needed, textbooks specifically, because they helped solve a key social problem; the increasing demand for explicit knowledge in an unstructured world.  This was the reality a few hundred years ago.  We didn’t have enough teachers to stand at the front of the room and lecture students from memory.  Textbooks helped this.

But today it seems fairly uncontroversial to suggest that the problems that led to the invention of the textbook aren’t necessarily ones that we still face.  Explicit knowledge is in abundance.  If anything it seems that too many people have started writing their thoughts down for others to read.  Our collective knowledge is comparatively well organised and highly structured.

This begs a question; why is innovation in textbooks today still about books?  We live in a connected world with no shortage of written words.  Apple talks about revolutionising textbooks with a device that can search them.  Well shit, that’s hardly magical!

I was hoping that we’d move away from eBooks towards a new paradigm that connects Open Educational Resources and invites students to put learning together for themselves – something that changes everything.  Apparently that’s not happening today.  Don’t get me wrong, I like that textbooks are getting cheaper – the commoditisation of these things can only really lead to their eventual demise.  I guess we just aren’t quite as close as I might have hoped.


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