Washington Moves Toward Digital Texts

We’ve written at length about the shift from print to digital media in higher education. Many universities are now seeking ways to ease the financial burden of higher education for its students. One route that Washington State has opted to take is to offer more online classes with online resource material. According to this report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington state’s current textbook bill is financed through the state legislature, which has been facing financial hardships. The state currently has a half million students taking courses at their 34 two-year colleges. The idea was to create very accessible and affordable resources for students through online portals. The savings alone made the idea a winner. “We believe we can change the cost of attending higher education in this country and in the world,” says Cable Green, director of e-learning and open education at the Washington Board for Community & Technical Colleges.

The state received a matching grant of $750,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help begin development on low-cost online resources for the two-year colleges. The state is taking an ambitious approach to providing affordable education to their students, regardless of the obstacles they may encounter along the way. This is probably just a glimpse at what could be a revolutionary approach towards the future of higher learning.  If students are already receiving their texts digitally, it’s easy to imagine younger students receiving individualized texts targeted to their own reading level.  Personalized learning systems offer a world of possibilities to the world of education.  The wide availability of digital texts bring those possibilities that much closer to reality.

Augmented Texts:The Future of Digital Texts

Which do you prefer, the look and feel of the paper and print book, or have you already grown accustomed to the e-book?  If e-books are your preferred medium, you may have already run across the next advance in e-book technology.  Here’s the Wall Street Journal on experiencing ‘augmented digital texts’, that is, interactive electronic books and articles.    

The increasing popularity of e-readers has resulted in a rise in the number of active readers; and ease of access has many readers reporting reading more than they did just five years ago.  Electronic versions of text, however, are cheaper than paper and print versions and the rising popularity of e-books has proven a double-edged sword for publishers.  On the one hand, publishers are experiencing a wave of new readers and an uptick in the volume of sales.  On the other hand, the adjusted pricing model means that, for many publishers, an increase in digital sales actually means less revenue.  Publishers are struggling to create value in ways that make up that lost revenue.  One such possibility is to offer readers enhanced versions of electronic texts. And publishers are now experimenting with just how much consumers are willing to pay for additional, interactive content.  In addition to the prescribed texts, enhanced versions of popular books might, for example, offer audio and video support. 

Enhanced versions may be catching on: there were more than 4 million copies of Jane Leavy’s biography of Mickey Mantle, “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood,” sold.  The music industry offers an analog here.  The music industry has been producing enhanced CDs, or CD Plus, since 1998 and while there isn’t always a difference in cost between the ECD and the standard CD, the ECDs have proven much more popular:

“This is a period of testing,” said David Steinberger, Perseus’s CEO. “We know the audiences for the two products are different. How do you craft the right level of video? What is the right release schedule? If you assume this is closely analogous to what we have today in the market marketplace with hardcovers and paperbacks, chances are that you’ll miss some good opportunities.”

The ubiquity of e-readers and digital texts has presented educators with a fresh set of challenges as well.  Many classroom educators are struggling to integrate these valuable technologies into the classroom in ways that are neither disruptive nor irrelevant.  And many publishing and educational companies are working to do just that – to integrate new technologies with relevant content presented through a variety of mediums.  Inanimate Alice, for instance, offers a good example of the look and feel of augmented text and demonstrates the way that a wide variety of information can be incorporated into an interactive text.  This enhanced e-book takes you through the story of Alice and her imaginary digital friend, Brad. The four episodes offer progressive levels of interactivity, with the first episode offering minimal interaction, but increasing to a high level by the end of episode four.  The progressive level of Inanimate Alice makes it appealing to a wide range of ages and viewers. ‘Inanimate Alice,’ augments traditional storytelling through the use of images, sounds, text, and interaction and allows students to develop multiple literacies (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc.) in combination with the highly collaborative and participatory nature of the online environment.

Consumers of digital media, including students, stand to benefit immensely from the emergence and refinement of enhanced texts.  It’s a trend worth watching.  And we look forward to seeing how these new augmented texts are put to use in classrooms across the country

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.