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.