Books as Learning Environments

Books are of course learning environments. However, this is usually understood from the perspective of the reader. What is often forgotten is that book production itself is a tremendous learning process. As people work together to write/illustrate/create a book together they are learning a tremendous amount about the subject.

Kieran Nolan, a teacher at DkIT1 in Ireland, asked students to create a book together using Booktype. The project was for a module called “User Theories” for fourth-year students in the BA (Honors) program in Communications and Creative Multimedia. The course looks at different interactive media types, different user groups and the creative ways in which people repurpose and reuse all the digital creation and distribution. In Kieran’s words:

The topic we had last week in class was ‘Emotive Design’ and trying to reduce user frustration with interactive media. In other words, looking at ideas of giving interactive products personality (for instance, avatars) so that users feel some sort of connection and less alienated to the product. So the students are being asked to reflect on the readings and come up with their own idea for an ‘emotive interface.’

Rather than creating the content individually, Kieran’s students are creating a book collaboratively. Kieran liked producing a book collaboratively online because the class can share their ideas, learn from each other, and learn about collaborative production by doing it. The fact that students can produce a book from the result adds another dimension for Kieran: “It bridges the gap between digital and print media and produces a tangible product”.

Kieran utilised the history feature of the production software to track a student’s contribution to the project. The work counted for 15% of the final mark.

Over the space of two weeks, the class collaborated online both in the lab and individually at home to create a compendium book of 21 original design concepts.

The students I teach are well accustomed to using the online space as a learning environment. While a lot of material can be covered in the space of a single lecture, extra time is often needed to help students absorb and reach a deeper understanding of their source material. Online discussion of in class topics helps facilitate this. So too experiential learning is essential for reaching deep understanding of a subject.

We can of course imagine a perfect perpetual production book machine - students write textbooks together and learn the subject and get evaluated on their contributions- the next year's students improve the textbooks and hand onto the next year's students and get evaluated on their contributions etc. Students produceg their own textbooks for their school and to fulfil their own learning needs.

There are some experiments going on in this area but not nearly enough. The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement is largely stuck in traditional publishing work processes. With time, hopefully, the value of learning within the book production processes will be understood and utilised to produce more open textbooks which students need.

http://www.dkit.ie/creativemedia

Produced sometime in 2010/2011