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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The pop-up textbook...well, sort of

Are you nostalgic for your dusty old high school finite textbook? You know, the one about twenty of your predecessors drooled on when they fell asleep trying to use it as a pillow? No? Then you may appreciate Mat MacInnis's zeal for bringing textbooks to life. MacInnis's San Francisco-based company, Inkling, founded in 2009, currently offers 150 digital textbooks for use on the Ipad. One of his leading supporting publishers is McGraw-Hill, a name which ought to conjure warm fuzzy memories in the vein of locker-clad hallways and rat dissections.
It's not like the electronic book hasn't been done already. Between Kindles, Kobos, Nooks, Sony e-readers and the like, the digital bookworm has no shortage of reading devices to choose from. And e-ink technology is easy on the eyes; rather than using light, which can take its toll on your vision after extended periods of exposure, the images rendered by digital ink are actually the result of many tiny spherical beads—black on one half and white on the other—that rotate depending upon the image they are forming. This is not the case with tablets, which, like computer monitors, produce images using light. So why use a less specialized tablet, like an Ipad for instance, for reading? That's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison.
Novels don't serve the same function as textbooks. E-ink technology is wonderful for novels because it allows comfortable reading over long periods, along with portability, with little to no loss of the experience of reading a hard copy version. Textbooks, however, aren't meant to be snuggled up with on a rainy day for hours of entertainment (we're not passing judgment on you if you do this...we're just pointing out that this isn't their primary function). Textbooks are educational tools and are typically used for brief periods of time. And to that end, a digital textbook is a great idea. The digital textbook won't land you in physio therapy three times a week, thereby racking up your health insurance bills. And with its colourful display, it has a very attractive design, which will likely engage students better in their own learning. Additionally, e-textbooks often come with multimedia, quizzes, and the ability to take advantage of social networking for exchanging notes. If you're not sold yet, though, perhaps this will do the trick: for as little as $2.99, you can purchase a single chapter, rather than an entire book. All of this is not to say that owning a tablet is a necessity. Rather, the point is to highlight that if you already have one, it may be worth investigating for parents and students alike.

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