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Textbooks’ Digital Future

E-books may be replacing hardbound versions in college classrooms.

Greg Hinsdale / Corbis

Harold Elder is not your typical Apple fanboy. Yet the 58-year-old University of Alabama economics professor pre-ordered an iPad to make sure he had one of the first ones. The device is “something that I’ve been waiting for for years,” he says. And not, to be clear, merely for reasons of gadget lust. “It really has the possibility of making the learning experience much richer,” says Elder, who is considering testing a new iPad-ready digital textbook in his introductory microeconomics course in the fall of 2010.

“Richer” is certainly the right word to use. App developers aren’t the only ones who greeted the iPad’s release with gratitude and optimism. The textbook industry, too, sees it as a way to woo customers away from the used-book market, boost profits, and help students learn better. It’s a pivotal moment for a segment of the publishing industry that has stubbornly resisted change. Thanks in large part to the iPad and an expected rush of competitor slates, that resistance is crumbling.

Of course, it won’t happen overnight. Textbooks today are still bought and sold in much the same way they’ve always been: as ink-and-paper objects assigned by professors and purchased by students in campus bookstores. “It’s a slow-moving pharmaceutical market,” says Matt MacInnis, the CEO of Inkling, a startup working on digital textbooks. “The professor writes a prescription, and the student goes to fill it.” It may be slow-moving, but it’s highly profitable. While McGraw-Hill Education’s earnings fell by 14 percent in 2009 because of the recession, college textbook sales actually increased.

But just ask any journalist or musician: technology has a way of laying siege to comfortable industries. And the iPad may be the first of many barbarians at the gate. Apple sold 3 million of the devices in its first three months, and now competitors, reportedly including Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Amazon, are preparing rivals. Educators and students are enthusiastic about them; at least three colleges, including the Illinois Institute of Technology, will offer free iPads to incoming students. But what will they put on them besides Bejeweled and Facebook?

There are already digital textbooks available, and their numbers are expected to grow: according to Simba Information, which provides data and research on the media industry, they represent less than 2 percent of textbook sales today, but will reach 10 percent by 2012. But in 2010 the offerings were pretty meager. CourseSmart, a San Mateo, Calif., company collectively owned by five of the biggest textbook publishers, has 6,000 educational titles for sale in digital format. But its electronic books are little more than scanned versions of printed works. A CourseSmart e-book includes some neat functions, like search capability and digital note-taking, but for the most part, it has few advantages over a traditional textbook other than weight and price. (CourseSmart books usually cost less than half the price of a new printed book.)

That’s where a company like Inkling comes in. Inkling, a 20-person San Francisco startup, and its competitors—including New York City’s ScrollMotion—are working with the textbook publishers to bring their books onto the iPad, iPhone, and other future devices. The aim, says Inkling’s MacInnis, is to harness all the advantages of a multitouch, Web-enabled slate. That means chemistry students won’t just see an illustration of a benzene molecule; they’ll spin and rotate a three-dimensional model of one. Biology students won’t just read about the cardiovascular system; they’ll see video of a beating heart, narrated by a world-class heart surgeon.

Interactivity, though, is only part of the story. Bringing texts onto a digital platform provides an opportunity to make the book as social as the classroom. With Inkling’s technology, for instance, a student can choose to follow another’s “note stream,” or view a heat map of the class’s most-highlighted passages. Professors get real-time information on how much of the reading assignment the class actually did, or whether a particular review problem is tripping up large numbers of students. All that comes on top of the cost savings: even these advanced digital textbooks will cost less than their print equivalents (with most of them in the $99 range) and some will even come “unbundled,” allowing students to buy the individual chapters they need most for a small fraction of the cost of a full textbook.

Textbook publishers stand to lose some revenue if individual chapter purchases catch on, but they hope to more than offset the loss by attracting new customers. Big publishers like McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Cengage are locked in a longstanding battle against the used-textbook market, which now totals about $2.2 billion, according to Simba, and from which they earn no revenue. Online textbook-rental companies like offer lower prices than the publishers, and reach a wide customer base. But traditional publishers think technology will be their salvation. There’s no such thing as a “used” e-book, and digital textbooks are the center of a whole ecosystem of services—such as homework-management systems and video-capture technology for recording lectures—that publishers hope will be profitable. “We’re becoming a software service company instead of a textbook company,” says Peter Davis, president of McGraw-Hill Education.

But what about the students? Are manipulable molecules just digital eye candy or real improvements to the learning process? “Technology is never the silver bullet, but it can sometimes be the bullet,” says Diana Rhoten, an education researcher and cofounder of Startl, which invests in innovative education companies. She notes that different students have different learning styles. Some are just fine reading text, while others prefer audiovisual aids, and kinesthetic learners need to interact with something. “In a digital book, I have all of those modalities available to me,” she says. “That is huge. Customization is going to have a great impact on learning.” And if it means getting an A in organic chemistry, paying $500 for an iPad seems like a smart choice.



Barrett Sheridan


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Classroom of the future


E-EDUCATION In a world that’s connected. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty


Interactive whiteboards, wi-fi, LAN, video conferencing and even a robot in place of a teacher…that’s education in the digital age

The year 2020? Maybe it’s 2050. The bell rings, some hundred middle school students pile into a classroom and take their place in front of their PC. The teacher walks up, switches on the whiteboard. A few clicks on the laptop later she’s ready with her multi-media presentation. The students are free to choose between the small and the big screen to follow the lesson.

Today, the PPT is on volcanoes. The graphics appear, and the kids watch unblinkingly. The main points of the lesson form the text, and the teacher fills in the details, answering questions. Just when student attention dims, a volcano erupts with a loud bang. Clap and cheer! Lesson over, the students take an e-quiz uploaded on the desktop. They search the Net for information, prepare answers, make their own graphics and save the answer sheet on the screen. Class dismissed.

More facilities

As a future classroom, this version is pretty basic. Advanced ones will have interactive whiteboards, wi-fi, message boards for group project work, instant access to interviews, external networks via LAN, recording facilities for radio/TV projects and definitely, facility to join the classroom from home. Children will study e-books or download textbook content. Audio-visual rooms will have video-conferencing facilities with experts. Hypermedia tools will take the drudgery out of homework. In high school, all assessment will be done through computer software. No favourites! Better still, CBT and CAL software will help with self-evaluation. Less paper!

That’s gurukulam morphing into guru-cool, a click-and-learn knowledge port. Here, e-education imparts supreme e-confidence. All right, handwriting will be a dead art, but aren’t key-boarded essays easier to read? And guess who the substitute teacher is? A robot named… whatever. Is this ed-Eden?

“Technology provides opportunities for innovation in the teaching-learning process,” said Nuriya Ansari, VP, Learning Links Foundation. “Classroom learning becomes more interactive, experiential and creative. Students get multi-sensory content that they explore through research.” Difficult concepts are better understood when projects and presentations are made collaboratively, she argues. “Tech solutions prove beneficial not just to achievers but also to those who require special attention.” Teachers are more engaging, students more involved. Assessment needs only an Excel or spread sheet. “Ed-tech is not parallel. Our projects integrate technology within the educational framework in various environments — school-based, online or distance education model to enhance learning.”

Reshaping education

“Digital technology has been instrumental in reshaping what ‘education’ is all about,” said Venky Datla, GM, KU Education Digital India. “Unlike the traditional sense of learning as ‘retention of as many facts as possible and application,’ digitally-enabled learning focusses on ‘application of facts’ and ‘collaboration for quicker and easier learning’.”

Through multi-media technology, “Students gain mastery of the topic and knowledge of the domain,” said Nuriya. “Take magnets — do conventional textbooks show the forces of attraction and repulsion?” Technology demystifies concepts through videos and 3D graphics. Students grasp much more than textual learning when they gather and analyse information. As the child clicks at his individual PC, he doesn’t just get his lessons, he jumps on to a level-playing field of 21st Century skill-sets. Technology removes background shortcomings, it’s a fillip needed to catch up with the class.

Wait, doesn’t classroom DT blunt the child’s intuitive ability? Can students calculate without digital aid? Nuriya believes the essence of technology is its ability to motivate passive listeners to interact, discover and learn creatively through new models and solutions. “Digital literacy programmes of Learning Links have established that students develop three core skills: ability to use technologies effectively, think critically and solve problems, and effectively collaborate with others,” she said.

The beginnings

The beginnings are already here. The Seshadripuram First Grade College, Bangalore, is introducing ‘Interactive Platform On Mobile (IPOMO)’ enabled games/messaging options disabled mobile phones to teachers to mark attendance and students to answer multiple-choice question papers. The handsets are returned and answers and attendance are recorded on the server. An SMS leaps to the parents’ number if the student is absent for three days.

Does technology equal total education? Debatable. But ed-tech makes class size irrelevant, management hassle-free. It brings one-on-one human tutoring closer to possibility. Teachers can leverage the power of well-designed tech tools to understand student requirements more accurately. They can capture data, analyse and tailor teaching to student needs.

Without doubt, older students doing independent study will benefit the most from ed-tech. But kids? The sight of kindergarten children staring into computer monitors is disgusting to a lot of us.


* Classrooms will be “workstations”.

* Micro-robots (Roboteach) will help students with advice and resources.

* Students will still discuss projects face-to-face.

* Classrooms will be re-designed, teachers trained and managements ready to revolutionise school practices.




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Changing trends in Professional Education




Entrance exam season has begun. Plus two students are busy with entrance examinations for the professional courses. They have to write a series of examinations during this summer. There is a growing apprehension among the students and parents regarding the choice of professional courses. Questions like, which course is best , which course has more career potential  are often raised by them. Plus two students with Mathematics and Biology are in a dilemma regarding the choice of medical, engineering or agricultural courses. Moreover reports on impact of economic recession make the issue more complex.

Kerala entrance examinations for Medical, Agricultural and Engineering courses for the current year will be held from 25th to 28th May 2009. Students should not select a course based on the compulsion from the parents. It should not be based on existing vacancies available in the government sector. Try to dream about the research and development that will take place after 4-5 years.  Students’ aptitude and interest must be given adequate weightage.


Medical courses

In Kerala more number of parents are interested to admit their children to medical courses. But the number of medical seats available when compared to engineering are less than 10 percent. So competition is very high. As per WHO recommendations, 500-1000 number of population needs a doctor. But this ratio cannot be achieved easily in the state due to scarcity of doctors. In order to achieve the above status it will take, minimum a decade. Cuba’s achievement in this regard is really commendable in having a doctor per 500 number of population.  Thus it is clear that there is better employment potential for doctors in the state, hence Biology students can give first choice to MBBS course. Moreover potential of doctors in the state will further improve if the concept of family doctor is implemented in rural areas. There exist enough vacancies of doctors in the department of health services.

Dental graduates have only limited number of posts in the government sector. But they can start private clinic under self-employment venture. Recent decision to reduce the duration of the BDS course will affect the career prospects of Dental graduates within the country and abroad. As per the directions of Dental Council of India, the state Government has been compelled to reduce the duration of BDS course to five years with effect from 2008-09. Previously it was four and a half years of study period with one year of internship. With this decision, duration of BDS course will become five years without having internship. During the one-year internship period, the student acquires more skill and confidence to work independently. After completing internship he/she can practise with confidence. While overseas dental education is giving due importance to skill development and hands on training programme with internship and externship in leading hospitals, dental graduates under the new stream without internship will find it very difficult to adjust with the new situation. Recent decision taken by state government to retain internship programme in the state is a welcome suggestion in this regard.
Dentistry is one of the important professional courses having immense career potential in United States and Europe. In USA Dental surgeons are earning more income than any other professionals. In United States patient has to pay huge fee for dental ailments. Now a days more number of dental graduates from India are interested to pursue higher education from USA or UK. During their study period they are preparing for dental licensing examination.  In order to complete the licensing examination successfully, a student must be required to undergo externship in United States/UK under the guidance of a licensed dental practitioner. A student without undergoing internship will find it very difficult to successfully complete the required externship programme and licensing examination.
Ayurveda degree programme BAMS is acquiring momentum in the country and abroad. Now a days people are more interested to pursue ayurvedic treatment than modern medicine for chronic cases. Ayurveda doctors have enough potential in European countries, UK and United states. As part of health tourism this sector can exhibit spectacular growth within the country and abroad.
Homoeopathy is emerging as one of the promising areas in the health sector. Being cost effective, homeopathic treatment can be easily accessible to lower income groups. Government is making all efforts to popularize this system in the state. Homoeopathy is more prevalent in Canada, European countries and United States.

Even though Nursing, BPharm and BSc MLT have been excluded from entrance examination in Kerala this time , these courses have better career potential within the country and abroad. Globally nursing has emerged as one of the key areas generating more employment. Almost all countries are facing scarcity for nurses. Developed countries face difficulty in meeting the ever-growing demand for nurses. Since the demand gap is very high, Indian nursing schools can exploit this situation. International Council for Nurses (ICN) and Florence Nightingale International Foundation have revealed that developing countries can play a key role in reducing this global problem. Potential for nurses are more in USA, England, Canada, NewZeland, Ireland, Switzerland, Scotland, Australia, Wales and in certain African countries. BSc MLT students can start accredited laboratories under self-employment sector. They have umpteen opportunities in Middle East countries and abroad.


Agricultural courses

Basically compared to other courses, agricultural courses are also not free from unemployment. But there is enough potential for pursuing specialization and research abroad. They can choose MBA programme for better career options. They can also join for specialization in Agri business management, supply chain management and retail management at National Institute of Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad or Indian Institute of Managements where almost 100 percent placement is assured. Agricultural graduates can undertake research in agricultural universities. They can apply for agriculture research scientist examinations.

Among agricultural courses Veterinary science, Dairy science, Agriculture and  Forestry have more opportunities under government and private sector when compared to fisheries and agricultural engineering. Veterinary graduates have umpteen number of opportunities in Canada, European Union and United States. Moreover agricultural graduates can specialize in Bioinformatics and Biotechnology, which are having immense potential within the country and abroad.
Engineering courses

In the engineering sector existing priorities must be redefined. Nano technology, Mechatronics and Bioinformatics are emerging as the future promising technological areas. Global economic recession has started affecting some of the potential employment sectors in the country. It has not even spared the IT industry.  In order to overcome this crisis, major IT companies are taking stringent economic measures like freezing of increments, allowances, etc. Moreover they have started retrenching employees with poor work efficiency. Their major objective is to reduce the number of work force. But recruitment will be reduced in the coming years.

During 2007, more than 65 percent recruitment in the IT industry was through campus recruitments. Now it has been reduced to less than 20 percent. As a sequele to retrenchment, IT industries are more interested to select experienced candidates rather than fresh graduates. Satyam scandal has made a black mark on Indian IT industry. It is clear that future may not be smooth for IT industry in the country – at least in the short run.
The major preferences for the students were to join IT; Computer science or related engineering courses till 2008. Of the 30000 Keralites passing out from the engineering colleges of the state or from nearby states, more than 40 percent is from IT related disciplines. Their sole objective is to get in to a pioneering IT company. But the situation is changing day by day. Major new generation courses like Mechatronics, Nano technology, Biomedical science; Bioinformatics, Electronics & Communication, Mechanical Engineering, Dairy technology, Environmental engineering, Maritime engineering and BTech in Fashion Technology are emerging as the major placement oriented courses.  Civil, architecture and Chemical engineering graduates can pursue post graduation abroad for better placements.
In order to overcome the major threats in the employment sector, engineering students should acquire better skills in their respective fields and knowledge on management principles. Recently more number of engineering graduates has started taking MBA from the best business schools within the country and abroad. Industries have started preferring engineering graduates with specialization in management for technical and managerial post.

Now in order to get better placements, students have to face tough competition. Only those with better skill, work experience and specialization can sustain in the job market. NASSCOM has revealed that, more than 75 percent of engineering graduates in the country have poor knowledge and skill. So in the emerging job market, engineering graduates may not get a mere walkover; but an assessment based on work efficiency and performance. So merely joining the course and passing out with low marks will land the students in tears. From the first semester itself they have to work hard and earn good marks.

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Article of the Week

Getting innovative in the math class


India’s school curriculum governing body, the National Council of Education Research and Training, has made mathematics a prime focus area in schools. Its goal is to make the subject a more visually appealing and enjoyable learning experience. In line with this mission, the country’s Central Board of Secondary Education has directed all schools following the CBSE curriculum to install a Math Lab.

Easily adaptable


Mathematics is the eternal bugbear for most students. For all those teachers, despairing how best to get across numerical concepts to students, hope is at hand. The U.S. based Key Curriculum Press, a mathematics publisher of inquiry-based textbooks, mathematics software and supplementary materials for middle-school and high-school students, is partnering with NIIT Ltd. to introduce Math Labs featuring The Geometer’s Sketchpad to India schools.

The programme is a construction, demonstration, and exploration tool that adds a visual dimension to the study of mathematics. A concept that may be initially difficult to understand becomes clear when they see visual representations on screen and interact with them using Sketchpad. Teachers can give students a tangible, visual way to explore and understand abstract concepts in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus since it allows the building and investigation of mathematical models, objects, figures, diagrams, and graphs.

The sketch plane draws new objects using the point, compass, and text tools. Using the selection arrow tool, teachers can select figures and use the menus to reformat measure or construct new objects. It seeks to provide a faster and engaging way to demonstrate mathematical concepts. Sketchpad can help teachers and students quickly understand variables and relationships. When objects are constructed in Sketchpad, you can drag points and lines with the mouse. As shapes and positions change, all mathematical relationships are preserved, allowing teachers and students to examine an entire set of similar cases in a matter of seconds.

Sketchpad can be used across mathematics curriculum, so different software is not required for each class, concept, or grade level. The software has the flexibility to help meet teaching needs regardless of the subject matter, technological expertise, or curriculum. The subject-specific, ready-to-use activity books can be used or customised based on specific activities and demonstrations to differentiate learning for all students. It works easily with the LCD projector, classroom computer, or SMART Board.

The best thing is that it can quickly and easily generate teaching aids such as worksheets, tests, reports, and presentations with accurately measured figures by exporting Sketchpad files to word-processing programs and spreadsheets, other drawing programs, and the Internet.


Email or visit for more details

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Interview of the week

Internet as teacher support 

Interview with Alan Pritchard, author of
Effective Teaching With Internet Technologies
D. Murali
G. Padmanaban (Business Line)
 “If you get it right it’s amazing how the children respond… even those who you wouldn’t expect it from can surprise you with what they do… what they end up producing and what they learn,” reads a teacher’s quote that Alan cites in his book.He says that the level of motivation in the class can be higher when the communication capabilities of the Net are used, especially if the communication is synchronous — happening in real time.For example, Alan mentions, in a ‘video-conferenced language learning’ case study reported in the book, that the teacher found the students to be ‘more attentive than usual and sustained attention for longer than she would have predicted.’Another project found that the receiving of messages by e-mail, even the anticipation, unleashed excitement. A little surprising, says Alan, because a number of children involved in the exercise had e-mail accounts of their own; “even those claiming to be regular users of e-mail and chat were clearly enthused by the use of e-mail in the context of the recipe exchange example.”It was with a similar eagerness, perhaps, that we recently waited for Alan to respond over the e-mail to our questions. And the wait proved worthwhile…

Excerpts from the interview.

First, what is ‘Internet teaching’?

‘Internet teaching’ refers to the use of the range of resources (information and activity) that the Internet can provide. These resources are used to improve and enhance the learning experience of the pupils in question and to support the teacher in his/her work.

Why is it required? What role can the Internet play in transforming the traditional classroom way of teaching?

Internet teaching is not necessarily ‘required’, but it has the potential to improve effective learning, which is the aim of all educational endeavour. (This notion requires a shared understanding of what effective teaching is. There is a range of definitions, but generally it is teaching that leads to lasting understanding alongside the build-up of knowledge. The ability to use new understanding and knowledge in new and different situations is also an important effect of effective learning.)

The role of the Internet in transforming (your word) the traditional classroom could be by the provision of information and high-quality educational activity that might not ordinarily (i.e. without recourse to the Internet) be available.

How effective is the Internet as a teaching medium?

I actually see the Internet as a support to teaching and learning, not actually a medium in its own right. It can be extremely effective in the context of well-planned teaching and learning contexts overseen by a teacher.

Can the Internet replace teachers?

To clear up any possible misconceptions, my research, and my book do not focus on the use of the Internet as a highly ‘state of the art’, responsive, and fully interactive entity, or as an alternative to a teacher teaching a class of pupils. I am not looking at, or advocating, the Internet as a replacement for teachers, a teaching machine, or anything of that nature.

In all the case studies discussed in the book, the role of the teacher is central, and the importance of social interaction is sought out as a strategy to be encouraged by the teachers involved.

You will see that my book and my research are more concerned with learning, teaching and then the Internet, in that order. I consider myself as a researcher and partial expert in children’s learning, and almost all of my work in this field is in the context of new technologies generally and the Internet in particular.

What challenges are faced when adopting Internet technologies for teaching?

Access will be a problem in many contexts (not too much of a problem in the UK).

Teacher confidence and understanding of the potential of the Internet to encourage effective learning.

Can Internet teaching be integrated with the television medium and taken to places where there is no access to the Internet?

This sounds like a reasonable supposition. Television can supply information, but interactivity and activity cannot be so well developed as it can be via the Internet. The use of teletext type access has potential.

Is infrastructure cost to enable Internet technology in teaching very high? How can this be addressed, especially in developing countries?

In the UK this is no longer a problem for schools; the infrastructure exists and more than 99 per cent of schools have Internet access of one kind or another. I am not really an expert in the area of costs and accessibility, but I know that it can be a problem in developing countries. In time, access will become easier and cheaper I am sure.

Would it be useful to integrate multimedia educational package with Internet technology in classrooms?

I am not really sure what you mean here, but I suspect that the answer is “Yes”.

What are your suggestions to make Internet teaching effective?

Plan for children’s learning first and then see where the Internet can offer support. Teaching and learning must be led by the learning needs of the children, not by what technology is available.

Once learning outcomes have been decided upon it is then possible to consider if there is an Internet/technology mediated approach to achieve the outcomes.

It could well be that there is an Internet approach but that this approach is inferior to a more traditional approach which does not rely on technology, in which case it should not be used.

Is there any area of study where you think teaching with the help of the Internet may not be effective?

Not really. If a technological approach can lead to effective learning it should be used where possible.

Even subjects like physical education have the potential to be enhanced with the use of certain software tools — spreadsheets for comparing results or training improvement; digital video for movement analysis, etc.

However, there are strong constructivist arguments for real first-hand experience. When studying pond life, one should visit a pond, not rely on a computer simulation (a simulation could be useful to extend understanding though).

How should teachers be trained, or what are the new skills they should acquire, to use Internet technology in their teaching?

This is very important. Teachers need up-to-date understanding of the potential of new technologies, including the Internet. They do not need to be cyber experts, but they need confidence and understanding. This can take time for practice, familiarisation and reflection. Time is often at a premium in education and training — it is costly too. More important is that they understand how children learn and are able to provide learning contexts which will allow children to learn — this may include Internet use in some cases.

About your research…

I have researched the ways that teachers use the Internet and compared what they have done with what is currently considered important in teaching and learning situations. I have used the constructivist paradigm (learning proceeds by building on to what is already known, or understood, and is supported by social interaction at many different levels, and so on), and I have looked to schema theory to support the propositions of constructivism.

In my book I have presented a series of case studies of Internet use in mainstream (i.e. not out of the ordinary) classroom situations and I have compared what I have observed with the best precepts of constructivist teaching and learning. I present a framework for assessing the activity of the teachers and the pupils and make analytical and critical comments according to the way that the teaching and learning matches up to the framework.

Alan Pritchard is an Associate Professor, and member of the Centre for New Technologies Research and Education (CeNTRE), at the Warwick Institute of Education, University of Warwick (, where he teaches a range of courses for undergraduates and post-graduates, as well as teaching on the Institute’s higher degree and in-service programmes. He is a full member of the Higher Education Academy.

Previously he has been a primary school teacher, an Advisory Teacher, and Deputy Head of a Middle School. He has undertaken research and published articles in the academic press with particular reference to learning and the use of new technology. He writes widely for professional journals and magazines for teachers. His books include an introduction to learning, teaching and ICT (2000), Using ICT in Primary Mathematics Teaching (2002), Learning on the Net (2004), Ways of Learning (2005), and most recently, Effective Teaching with Internet Technologies: pedagogy and practice (2007).

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