A New Era of the Interactive Student: Textbooks, Tools and Technology

Critical Issues:

The invention of the printing press played a major role in the way humans gather and understand information. It continues to impact the literate world today but with a slight change, the onset of digital technology. The growth of digital technology and an increasing interest in the Internet has led to the emergence of the etextbook. However, despite these advances in electronic format, what potential can etextbooks hold when not in the hands of our students? Many educators may argue, ‘why fix something that is not broken’ or ‘resources are already available and sufficient, so why change it’? I believe this mind frame needs to be placed into a separate context. Educators need to realize that tools being used are still apart of the program and an etextbook is an additional tool, but a powerful one. However, with that being said, the integration of etextbooks takes more than just a willing educator. It requires financial support, a change in workload and the acceptance of the shifting role as a teacher. So the question is not can we change, but rather will we change? Many individuals are still on the fence to whether the transformation of technology within our lives has impacted people on a negative or a positive scale. Do our cognitive abilities decline due to the diminishing use of printed text? As people spend more and more time interacting with technology, can they still ‘think’ about the content in the same fashion?

Within some schools, printed texts are relied on heavily while other boards and provinces are beginning to integrate technology and understand the fundamental role it plays within students’ education. Without teaching students how to use technology appropriately in school, how can we expect them to fully engage with the way they ‘think’ through the content in the school, community and home setting?

Research on the brain suggests that technology can benefit the way in which we learn but it must be used to develop our skills and not just as an addiction that we are mindlessly drawn to such as email, facebook and gaming consoles. If education systems implement technology into our learning through etextbooks and help students discover the joy of learning content in a multimodal experience, is it possible to rewire the brain so that it responds and learns from new technological tools?

Dare to imagine? A Day Made of Glass 2:

Etextbooks and the Brain:

The transformation of textbooks from paper to an electronic format, attempts to enhance the way in which we learn and connect to the evolving world of technology, literacy and science. So the real question is, how does the brain learn best? How can educators create successful learning opportunities within the 21st century classroom?

A learning environment that incorporates e-education creates many advantages for students. Through student-centred active learning strategies, the “contemporary e-textbook design has the power to support the individualization of the learning process” (Španović, 2010, p.460). When used properly, etextbooks offer educators a tool for inquiry through various multimedia and online collaborative tools. However, “student construction of knowledge, and the teacher’s facilitation of this construction, necessitates that both be prepared for the journey of inquiry (Doolittle & Hicks, 2012, pg.88). The main resource is still the teacher and the tools the educator chooses to use, helps to facilitate the learning. Gupta (2011) suggests that in order to be successful, “three critical dimensions of etextbooks” need to be present within the learning experience: “knowledge integration, collaboration and personalization” (Gupta, 2011, p.294).

Print versus’ Digital: Knowledge Integration

With the incorporation of the etextbook, students and teachers are able to access limitless resources via the World Wide Web. An etextbook has the ability to focus and help lead students in a particular direction while ‘opening up’ the learning to various sources such as articles, videos, audio recordings, interactive diagrams and even the ability to define words with the brush of a finger tip. “The textbook is no longer seen as a unique source of knowledge, but rather as a complementary source within a multimedia package”(Spanovic, 2010, p462). Bolter (2001) argues that “electronic structures are less rigid [and] there is no single, linear order of pages to determine how the reader should move through the hierarchy”(Bolter, 2001, p.98). Students may explore in the fashion that suits them best and follow their own path of learning.

Print versus’ Digital: Collaboration:

The Internet provides students with the ability to collaborate in study groups and project teams. Learning can be a continuous process in and outside of the classroom walls. The “Internet caused great changes in human communication, both in the communication between people and in their communication with different sources of information and various types of media”(Spanovic, 2010, p.265).

Students are still experiencing and collaborating face to face (f2f) but are now offered choice of collaboration strategies through different learning formats and tools. This type of collaboration space creates an online learning community with students who are actively participating not only within the environment, but also designing the learning process along the way. Students share a common purpose and follow a set of guidelines that help to facilitate their learning. Reflective practice through classroom blogs helps to extend knowledge and understanding of a topic or experience.

Although opportunities for online collaboration are inexhaustible, educators must create the environment for specific purposes and model the process along side their students. Classes can create common times to meet online outside of the classroom in Google docs or Twiddla, which are interactive whiteboard tools with chat features that are especially useful for the learning environment. Students can present information with creative tools such as Prezi, Gliffy, Glogster or Diigo. These types of presentation tools enable many collaborators so groups can work along side one another while they are designing. Nowadays, many different apps and free online software enable students and educators to communicate through discussions, collaborate through the sharing of ideas and resources, and cooperate towards one common purpose. In short, Web 2.0 tools provide a vast amount of experiences for students and teachers to engage with while using the etextbook. The possibilities are endless.

Print versus’ Digital: Personalization:

All students comprehend information in diverse ways and possess unique strengths as well as weaknesses within their learning. With the development of technology, new tools can be used so that educators can ensure that all students succeed. With a digital textbook, students can find multiple ways to interact with the learning material. Notes can be taken within the textbook and saved with easy retrieval. Printed text no longer needs to appear in written context. It can also be translated through different audio, video or visual functions to enhance students’ comprehension of a topic. Each student can study at their own level because the learning environment provides scaffolding opportunities to help students build upon their skills.

All in the Design:

Digital textbooks, online tutors and high tech software are the new learning tools complimenting textbooks. The constraints of the learning can be released and the ability to fuse knowledge into our every day life becomes possible. The etextbook is still very limited and underdeveloped, but with development of knowledge integration, online collaboration and personalization of the learning, students can soar to new heights.

“If an electronic textbook ‘involves’ a student into the learning process in the way that he/she is able to give his/her own examples about a topic, if he/she can check the accuracy of his solutions, if he/she can pose new problems, and is aware of errors he/she has made and similar, then we speak about the interactive student. However, if the textbook includes usual activities performed by the teacher, then we speak about the intelligent textbook” (Spanovic, 2010, p.266).

Many textbooks at the schools today are outdated. Digital textbooks designed to enhance student learning provide learning materials that can be applied directly to today’s learning environment and can be updated quickly and easily. A new era of innovation has arrived. Give students time to think and imagine. Let them dream and leave them free to explore and then,

Ask them to teach us…….
In my classroom, we call this innovation day.

Conclusion: “It’s More Than Just Saving Trees!”

Digital Textbooks in the Toronto Classroom:

An etextbook offers the same functions of printed text as well as addition tools for scaffolding and extended learning opportunities.  It has the ability to hold a vast amount of content compared to the printed text and built in dictionaries and thesaurus’ are added features that help to solidify understanding.

Beyond the multiple advantages that an etextbook can add to the learning environment, the education system must still take into account the expense of such a tool.  Although the initial cost of digital compared to print may be less, the ability to keep the technology up to date and running efficiently may not be an easy task.  With budget cutbacks, many schools have little money to spare for technology upgrades.  At such an early stage of implementation, the advantages may still not outweigh the disadvantages.  If the tools needed to learn are not working properly or are out of date, how can educators justify their use?  Can etextbooks be solely connected to the Internet so students can learn with multiple devices?  With the growing popularity of IPads, Kindles and Ebooks, students can BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and connect wherever they may be in the school, at home or within the community.

Currently the design of digital textbooks still represents the printed version and requires extensive development and testing.  In order for students to truly enhance their learning, etextbooks need to expand past simple pdfs, jpgs and basic animations.  The learning environment should represent a multi-literate and multimodal world that goes beyond the book to offer the students a different experience from the printed text.  A properly designed etextbook offers students the chance to learn through ‘real world’ practice environments, increases student engagement and encourages teaching and learning activities that are student centred.

In order for educators to be successful with etextbooks in the classroom, educators need to be supported during the planning, implementation and assessment process.  Educators must also model using the tool when teaching and consistent feedback should be given to both the students and the teacher.  Above all, trained professionals in the IT field should be available to assist and help maintain the efficiency of the new tools and offer on-going support.


1Flare48. (2011, May 30). Innovation Day. Retrieved on November 21, 2012 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJqM44zm32M

Bolter, D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Doolittle, P., & Hicks, D. (2003). Constructivism as a theoretical foundation for the use of technology in social studies. Theory and Research in Social Education31(1), 72-104. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00933104.2003.10473216

Layman, F. (2007, December 20). Print v. Digital 1. Retrieved November 18, 2012 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8aUKwWGrbk&feature=relmfu

Layman, F. (2008, February 29). Print v. Digital 2. Retrieved November 18, 2012 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Eu36VmH-u0&feature=relmfu

Spanovic, S. (2010). Pedagogical aspects of e-textbooks. Educational Sciences12(2), 459-470

TVO Parents. (2011, May 25). Digital Textbooks in the Classroom. Retrieved November 20, 2012 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=misteE8Yihc&feature=related


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2 Responses to A New Era of the Interactive Student: Textbooks, Tools and Technology

  1. mcquaid says:

    Innovation Day’s a great idea! It looks like you have a space that’s conducive to such tasks, as well as lots of “stuff” to work with.

    I hadn’t seen the second “day made of glass” video yet, so I was glad to see that as well. They’re very neat / futuristic videos, yet many things in them (or like them) already exist… I think of this for example, as well as the dinosaur viewing. Augmented reality with Layar does similar things. I also read some info on Google Glass (not augmented reality) and MicroSoft’s competition, glasses that are AR. Exciting times!

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