In this extract from our e-book, Textbook Heroes: How Digital Textbooks Make Learning More Impactful, Philip Preville looks at how a digital textbook can shape the way lessons are structured, and how multimedia and active learning are bringing new teaching methods into class.
The habits of today’s new generation of students are not the only things that are changing in the college classroom. Increasingly, faculty are moving away from the traditional textbook-chapter-plus-classroom-lecture routine and towards what’s known as “active learning.”
The broadest definition of the concept, first articulated by authors and active learning pioneers Charles Bonwell and James Eison, is that active learning is “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.”
In practice, active learning involves less time spent lecturing and more time on a variety of classroom activities, including minute papers, think-pair-share activities, case studies and problem solving. Active learning seeks to help students make connections between new knowledge and lived experience, so that what they learn resides fully in their individual intellect.
Digital textbooks can help achieve this goal because they can embed many active learning tactics and exercises within the body of the text.
Embedded audio and video clips encourage students to make connections between different representations of concepts and ideas. Quizzes can be administered through digital textbooks and results tabulated in real time, allowing faculty to quickly gauge student comprehension, identify gaps in learning and adjust class activities accordingly. Minute papers can be posted online, anonymously or named, for use in classroom discussion.
Digital textbooks are also more easily customized to suit individual teachers’ in-class needs. Professors control the timing and release of textbook chapters to students. Professors who adopt a digital textbook can use the quizzes, discussion questions and case studies that are included—or replace them with their own.
Here’s one example, from Professor Thomas Morgan of Arizona State University. By pairing video lectures with corresponding chapters, Professor Morgan was able to flip his class and freshen up an old prerequisite course.
Textbook Hero 2 of 9: The Classroom Flipper
Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Pain point: An old prerequisite course in need of an update
“Our first and second year undergrads all take a course entitled Bones, Stones and Human Evolution. The course content had been pulled together by the faculty over many years, but it hadn’t been updated in a long time and my department director asked me to rebuild the course from scratch. As I gathered all the information I realized that I had the material for a textbook, and that I could tailor it to a flipped classroom.
I was slated to teach the course in September 2017 so I started writing in spring 2017 and devoted my summer to making both the digital textbook and the video lectures. It was a very quick timeline. Every video lecture in the course also has a corresponding chapter, so students can progress through the textbook chapters and the video lectures in parallel and it all fits with the course schedule.
I used lots of interactive timelines so you could find and learn about the key people in evolutionary theory. And I used lots of rollovers: there is a photo of a cheetah, and when students roll over the photo with their mouse, text will pop up to explain its evolutionary adaptations. Those are particularly effective.
When I look at my digital textbook from a cultural-evolution perspective, I think this is the latest technology in the transfer of information from teachers to students. People increasingly recognize the limits of paper textbooks. This technology has opened up new pathways. We’ll see whether it sticks, but in my experience it’s been very successful.