“Add an app [to an eBook] that has been developed to help you learn. … It almost magically knows you. You are connected to your fellow students and even students who have already taken the course. Your notes, highlights, and questions are all collected in one place. The eTextbook is there to help you learn. The app and the content are providing Content as a Service. It’s the dream of Relationship Centered Learning!”CaaS is an way of acknowledging that our knowledge is constantly changing. By providing students and teachers the ability to continually react to and complement the original text, you provide a dynamic level of engaging interaction to the book that helps it keep up with current thinking while also helping people learn in the manner unique to them.
Of course, simply providing students collaborative applications will not ensure that they get used. The apps need to be well-designed so that they complement the text, not overwhelm it. In addition, an efficient, easily searchable way of storing all of this collaborative data seems essential to its success. But none of these are insurmountable problems. My suspicion is that a successful CaaS book would need two things:
- An original text that is truly engaging. IMO, too many scholarly text are filled with needless jargon that make them all but inaccessible to the reader that isn't immersed in the field. Teach while telling stories, add suspense to the narrative, and don’t be afraid of sensational details. Reconnect with your inner storyteller and construct your text in a way that keeps the reader engaged.
- Presenting collaborative data in an organized way that compliments but doesn't overwhelm the original text. I picture some kind of dashboard where the main portion of the screen is devoted to the book, while a side menu includes sub-windows that potentially includes a chat to other students, search engine (for hard words and learning more about details), and a place for notes (and accessing not only your note history but the notes of everyone else that read the book).
I’m advocating for a riskier, less tidy mode of scholarly production, but not for sloppiness. I’m convinced, though, that the scholarly book that keeps you awake at night thinking through ideas and possibilities unarticulated in the text itself is the book worth reading. It may be that the best form a book can take—even an academic book—is as a never-ending story, a kind of radically unfinished scholarly inquiry for which the reader’s own intelligence can alone provide the unwritten chapters.