Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Re-imagine Education – Learning from Scientists Directly

About one year ago, as Apple announced its interest in digital textbook market, WIRED had an article which might not raise your awareness : Digital Textbooks Go Straight From Scientists to Students. Duke University’s Cachalot app, a novel digital textbook is designed for students enrolled in Duke’s Marine Megafauna class, but free for everyone, everywhere.

app textbookJohnston, who runs a marine biology lab at Duke University, wanted the digital tome to show undergraduate students what his scientific field has to offer. But e-book publishers said the subject matter was too niche and the requested features too expensive to make financial sense.

Cachalot (French for “sperm whale”) is a free, app-based book that covers the latest science of marine megafauna like whales, dolphins and seals with expert-contributed text, images and open-access studies. Through a digital publication system called FLOW, the book also offers students note-taking tools, Twitter integration, Wolfram|Alphasearch and even National Geographic “critter cam” videos.

Scientific data on digital and printed textbooks’ comparative impacts on learning is lacking, but the digital revolution is well underway. Apple’s iPads, Amazon’s Kindles and Google Android-powered devices continue to flood the market and drive down tablet computer prices.

Duke University’s open-source effort represents a departure from Inkling and other commercial ventures. It sacrifices a wide offering of interactive features, monolithic downloads and wow-factor in exchange for simplicity, speed and flexibility. As new scientific knowledge enters a field, a leading academic could make a quick edit in FLOW to instantly and seamlessly update a student’s textbook.

Johnston and McMurray hope to succeed where free, collaborative “Wikibooks” textbook efforts have floundered. Those invited the public at large to contribute; Johnston and McMurray seek expert contributions, and the final text is rigorously edited and peer-reviewed. The process not only provides students with the most current knowledge on a topic, but gives contributors incentive in the form of items on their academic resume.

Cachalot represents a new form of digital textbook, one that is completely open access and populated with current content written by experts in the field. Recently we came across “Science behind Sci-fi forum”(#SciBehindSciFi), and it interested us to explore the possible education value. Even more exciting, learners could join in Sci-fi game design. Broken Crown Games has the goal to create games built on an entertainment-first premise, which allow players to use an immersive sci-fi experience to explore what the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) are currently researching to make this fictional future a reality. In order to get the science in the story correct, they have also garnered advice from scientists based all around the globe. This is about the forum :

The panel is comprised of four PhD-level scientists (plus 1 featured guest each month), and we rather than have these professionals act as hidden consultants on our game’s science-fiction, we decided to make it public how their S.T.E.M. topics will influence the development of our game.  We kicked off the panel yesterday with a post from Jamie Boyer, our resident paleobotanist, which discusses the ideal plants to use for long-term space travel, found here: <>.  And if botany isn’t your cup of tea, our panel also includes a neuroscientist, an astronomer, and an astrobiologist – we’d love to get your feedback as to which topic excites you the most via our poll here: <>.

And, some more details in our conversation with CEO Tyler Yohe :

  • The forum is meant for open discussion.  If readers have questions they can ask them as a reply to the panelists posts, or if they’d like to discuss a topic not covered by the panelists, they can ask the question in our general discussion forum.
  • The audience involvement in the games will come through surveys on the forums, where our development team will pose a question to our readers, and their surveyed response will effect different aspects of our game.  Also, discussions on science topics related to our game will help to more accurately shape the science seen in our game.

sci-fi gameImagine an intersection of Sci-fi game designers, Scientists and learners could build authentic learning experience and  motivation, then learners are able to involve the game development as well. A paleobotany professor could ask his students to pose ‘follow-up’ questions to one of Jamie Boyer’s topics.  I’m sure teachers could also work in minor extra-credit assignments for their students to play the game, then identify & write an essay on aspects of the game on if the sci-fi was probable or not. Will it be more meaningful than playing a Science game already built for consumers? Interested ? Check out this week’s topic : “Life in an Orange Haze… Titan’s Atmosphere”.

The 2 examples in this post are only showing the difference of digital learning vs using dead texts(no matter it’s printed or digitized), and using commercial games in education actually could have more possibilities given the web as an open platform for interactions. Also you might also find another post worth a read : Why are Textbooks Bad for Education?


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1 Response »


  1. Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure (OPLI) #OER | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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