Flawed Text

Recently, I bought and read a Pearson college biology text and accompanying iPad application. Although the content in each of the two media is thorough, both formats are gravely flawed. The printed edition is too elaborate, while the e-book format and software are too clumsy. The pedagogy is also flawed.

Printed Format

The text weighs in at over five pounds. This makes it uncomfortable for lap reading and general portability. This problem could easily be overcome by publishing the text in several volumes–a volume per section or two. Why carry around the entire course when studying only a section or two for days or weeks at a time? Using uncoated paper would also reduce the weight.

In addition to the unnecessary use of coated paper, the text is too elaborately produced. Most pages do not need colored text in addition to different fonts and sizes. Many of the illustrations could be in gray scale, since their colors are not authentic anyway. The text could be in a paperback format.

In other words, the text could be published as multiple inexpensive volumes. This could be economical enough in K-12 textbooks that schools could simply let students keep their texts; the schools would buy new copies each year. This would also allow updates and corrections to be distributed more readily. And, of course, some schools would not need all of the sections.

E-Book Format

Pearson’s e-book for the biology text matches the printed book page for page. This might have been a time-saver for publication, but it is a nuisance in practice: because each page is taller and wider than the screen, to see an entire page, it must be scrolled to four different positions.

In any case, there is little reason to insist that an e-book be page oriented. The entire book should be one scrollable page that scales to both the portrait view and the landscape view. A swipe upward or downward should scroll one screenful, while allowing direct adjustment as well.

The text font and size should be selectable.

Graphic elements should be inline, located right where they are discussed–even duplicated at different locations, if needed there. Gratuitous graphics and other inserts should be eliminated.

The software can be written to implement scrolling, scaling, and font selection, as well as to jump from a table of contents to the starting point of any section, or to the last read location.

Pedagogy

The subject matter is presented in backward order, from cell biology to biomes. Instead of this synthetic approach, an analytical (top-down) approach would be superior. A top-down approach begins with what we can plainly see, then reveals greater and greater detail as we progress through the subject. In addition, the top-down approach parallels the history of the subject, allowing the presentation of that history, biographies of researchers, and the motivations for their research. This makes the study of biology a human endeavor–one of the humanities.

Also of pedagogical importance, many K-12 texts, and some college texts, are too littered with marginalia that are distractions from the main line of thought or from the subject matter. They often are mere gratuitous entertainments. Getting rid of these would also reduce the size and cost of a text.

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