Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reading--By Book or By Nook or By...?

The book is perhaps the quintessential symbol of learning. For that reason, I find it particularly fascinating how technology is changing the reading experience. Already there is evidence that the near-constant staring into screens is slowly flattening people’s retinas. The layout on a typical webpage forces a different flow than words on a page do. I haven’t yet purchased an e-reader, mainly because I like to mark up books in ways those devices don’t yet allow. I’m sure I’ll get one eventually. And the devices don’t seem that far removed from our traditional notion of a text.
But now IDEO, perhaps the world’s leading innovative design company, has been developing prototypes for the future of the book. This video will give you a sneak peek at three versions. I’m fascinated by the concepts and possibilities raised by these models. At the same time, just as the book symbolizes learning –and, by extension, school—I wonder how these new models grate against our long-standing paradigms of the educational process.
In these future books, the reading process no longer occurs per the simple left-to-right, down-the-page pattern. Instead, the reader has to become much more active and engaged to reap the full benefits of the experience. She will have to decide when she needs more information; he will have to determine which path of reasoning to follow. It becomes a cyber-version of the choose-your-own adventure books. We first saw movement in this direction with the advent of hyperfiction. But in both those forms, the author still retained ultimate control of the text. In these new models, the author potentially cedes nearly all control. What does this mean for the notions of authority, originality, copyright, and intellectual property? Does a book merely become a microcosm of the web?
It’s also a world far removed from the structures of education. While many schools are placing greater emphasis on critical thinking and habits of mind, they continue to organize themselves per the long-standing factory model. We have blocks of time—class periods, instructional days, units, grade levels, divisions—through which we move kids in linear fashion and thus measure their progress and, we hope, their learning. It’s just like reading an old-fashioned book.
But I’d argue that we need to embrace the new form of book as our symbol. That’s not because I like to be on the leading, bleeding edge. It’s because of that new book being more truly representative of how the brain functions and thus how people really learn.


Sam Kraus said...

I'm fascinated with the idea of shifting away from the 'old school' model! What are the alternatives? Is there a book on the topic that would make sense to the non-professional educator?

I'm a bit of a gadget geek. However, when I'm reading for pleasure, which I do regularly, I still opt for a book and probably always will. I like the feel, the smell and the tangible evidence of progress as I work my way from start to finish.

Thanks for your provocative thoughts on this blog. I always learn something and walk away wanting to know more. And, it's a great way to get to know you.

Mark Crotty said...

Sam, there are multiple books, but I'm hesitant to recommend any of them for multiple reasons. But the main one is this: I believe we need to look at how the world is changing and what this means for kids' futures. Then we have to ask some hard questions about traditional practices in schools and reconsider them. Then look at models.

I'm not just avoiding your question, though I almost feel as if I am. It's just that your question points to a giant part of the challenge: we have trouble conceiving of any other model because it's so ingrained in us.

I'll give you a place to get you started thinking. At the risk of being self-promoting, it's the video of a presentation I gave a couple of years ago. The title is "Educating for the Future?" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s97gori2yG8 It's in 7 short sections. Watch it if you need to go to sleep!

In a future post, I'm going to be more specific about the questions.

Sylvia Venable said...

I suppose I am old-fashioned, but I contend that I like the look, the smell, the feel of a good book that, once I have read it (assuming that it is a wonderful, mind-expanding read) and marked it with my observations and exclamation marks, assumes its place as part of my psyche and the history of my intellectual development. And an open-ended denouement?--not for me. Hamlet forgiving his stepfather at the end of the Shakespeare's play and walking off in the sunset with him?--not nearly the impact engendered by Shakespeare's fertile mind! The only time I would even consider an e-book is when traveling, as it is considerably easier to cart around than two or three books.

Mark Crotty said...

Sylvia, your idea that each book "assumes its place as part of my psyche and the history of my intellectual development" really struck a chord with me. Maybe it's pure ego (and the need for reassurance) but I love having overflowing bookshelfs as evidence that I'm always trying to learn more and more.