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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

New textbooks for a new generation

Who says education has to be boring?

Not to date myself here, but my educational enrichment as a child consisted of playing Oregon Trail on massive floppy disks (remember those?), so when I hear about exciting apps and web technologies on the rise, particularly at the college level, I can’t help but get excited.

Soomo Publishing is one example of a company that capitalizes on the unique advantages of interactivity and technology to bring a little fun into the classroom. Offering “innovative digital-native textbooks for select college courses in an interactive learning environment,” the company blends technology and content to provide new ways to process, digest, and retain all that stuff we had to memorize the good old fashioned way.

When I read about this company in my news feed this weekend, I was fascinated. It’s like a cooler, subject-specific, more interactive Blackboard. Teachers can customize the content to meet their classroom needs, and the platform even gives in-depth statistics about how much time individual students are spending with various features and how they’re doing with the material. (The student in me finds that somewhat terrifying, but the grown-up in me thinks it’s pretty cool.)

Soomo Publishing has been in business since 2006, but the company has received a lot more attention recently thanks to the viral success of their Lady Gaga parody:

This is the second parody the company has produced, costing them $40,000 to make, and time will tell if the video’s popularity will translate into higher sales. Although something like this is most effective as a marketing tool, I can definitely see it working, despite the lack of success with their first video. It seems to accurately capture the vision and voice of this company, and it certainly got me to take a look at the website. Not only that, but it also seems to be the right time in the industry: with the explosion of iPads and tablets, I think people are much more receptive to innovative approaches to content.

Source: Youtube.com (soomapublishing)

Now, I’m sure the actual material featured in the web platform is not quite as quirky as some of these videos (and yes, the coursework is peer reviewed), but I think the level of creativity accurately speaks to what the company is trying to accomplish.

After all, the videos led me to the website, which led me to discover that Soomo Publishing is seamlessly integrating interactivity in the form of quizzes and customizable lesson plans. It’s exciting because the enhancements are not forced; these are features that leverage technological capabilities in a really logical, intuitive way, created with a specific audience in mind.

After all, anything that inspires engagement and makes something feel a little less like a chore for students has to be an attractive feature. Moreover, at $25 to $50 per individual, the cost of these packages is also pretty reasonable. I can see something like this working extremely well in a classroom setting, particularly where professors can have access to data that helps them gauge whether students are effectively learning the material.

What do you think? Can you see this working in higher education? Do you think catering to the preference of digital natives is the right approach, or should we stick to traditional textbooks?

2 comments on “New textbooks for a new generation

  1. As someone who’s doing my thesis on the switch from paper textbooks to digital textbooks, I do think that reaching out to the students in creative ways through technology without being held back by one particular format or support is definitely the right approach. This is only true, however, if teaching and learning (and not the technology) are center-stage. These wonderful digital tools are not fix-all solutions… And as I too remember playing Oregon Trail on those floppy disks that will be my case and point. It was fantastic to “hunt” elk or to try to choose the best way to cross the Snake River. I always found myself frustrated as I tried to barter for more supplies at Chimney Rock. Yet never once did a teacher take the time to sit down with my class to discuss what went on in the game, to help us make the connections between Jeb dying from fever and the real conditions of life on the Trail or the implications of this lifestyle for US history. In light of recent research and development, it seems like a shame to have wasted such a great opportunity to pass from simply interacting to deeply learning.

    • Erica Hartnett
      April 2, 2012

      Pamela–thanks so much for your comment. I completely agree that sometimes it is easy to get lost in the glamour of the tech and forget about the content. I don’t remember learning about the history behind Oregon Trail either, now that you mention it. I’m hoping companies like Soomo are successful in introducing digital-friendly tools that facilitate that deep learning.

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2012 by in Culture and tagged , .

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