Design to last

Doug Noon posted a video that I found fascinating: The Story of Electronics. It talks about the obsolescence built into our electronic devices and how that creates problems of many kinds for us and increases profits for the manufacturers.  The message is presented clearly and in an interesting manner.  Now if only we as a society would do something about it…

Doug, as usual,was not content to leave well enough alone.  Rather than let us think about how we really maybe don’t need that next DVD player, he makes a statement:

The general principle here also applies to textbooks and curriculum materials.

And he is right.  Textbooks get a new cover and slightly altered layout and the old one becomes obsolete.  Why?  It isn’t as if the material in the old book was obsolete.  (Granted, that may not always be true in the sciences, but in the liberal arts… )

This leads me to a recent post by Joshua Kim about his preference for  the Kindle over the iPad for coursepacks.  He says:

From what I can tell, the big coursepack providers are also moving away from the Kindle. They want to talk about the iPad. They want to talk about the RIM PlayBook. They want to talk about the coming wave of Android tablets. The Kindle is a more difficult conversation.

Now, I am not a big fan on the Kindle, but I am less a fan of the iPad.  The comments on Joshua’s post seem to have some of the best ideas:  Create your own coursepack and distribute it as a pdf.  It can be read or printed as students prefer.  The document could be converted, using  Calibre or a similar program, to whatever ebook reader format the student wanted.  If we tie our materials to a particular device, we are forcing our students to have that device or making it hard for them to compete with students who do.

If we move our course materials to more generic formats, we are designing them to last.  Students can use them this semester. If we change them, it is a simple job to download the new edition.  We create a more affordable and more equitable situation for our students.  It is a goal I think we should all be working toward.


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