Active, Passive and Pactive: Educational Ebooks On or Off the Web

I was reading an interesting article over at the TeleRead blog titled "ThoutReader Meets Scholarly Book: An Experiment and Review" and one particular passage really caught my eye.

"…Until hardware comes out that makes me feel like I’m reading a bookinstead of cruising the web, the decrease in concentration caused by myweb-ADD will constrain me to p-books; when I’m reading somethingserious, I want to get away from all the distractions of the Internet, not have them at my fingertips…."

Emphasis mine.

Thisis the aspect of ebooks that makes devices like the Sony Reader moreinteresting and compelling. It’s similar to a description I onceread about watching movies on a computer. When you are using yourcomputer, you are leaning forward – ready to interact. When you are watching a movie on your television, you are leaning backward,expecting not to interact. These postures are indicative of thecontext and so the interface or device must take them into account.

Readingbooks on your computer when you are leaning forward invitesinteraction, linking and distraction. Why do you think they callit a "browser" and not a "reader".

Oddly enough, this was one reason why we discardedthe idea of putting CALI lessons into a DVD format. The contextwas all wrong. Students expect to interact with CALI lessons -leaning forward, and CALI lessons on the television invite the user tolean backward – be passive. (I should note that it was suggestedthat CALI lessons on the television would make an interesting drinkinggame for law students on Friday nights like Trivial Pursuit DVD).

It’s not as simple as this, however.

Whenyou are reading a novel or a long passage, there is some passivity tothis. When you are interacting, there is some interactivity tothis. Duh. But reading a textbook or studying aneducational subject can have elements of both. Sometimes you areabsorbing the information, sometimes you want to take notes, makelinks, look something up, etc. Some people are constantly in thismode with everything they read, but I would suggest that most peopleare in this mode more often when they are reading textbooks. Learning is a series of interspersed periods of absorb and integrate,passive and active, learning backward and leaning forward.

WhenI am browsing the web or reviewing new articles in my news reader, I amin a semi-between state of passive and active (pactive?), and when Ifind something where I want to drill down, I lean forward and becomeactive. If it is a long-ish article, I lean back and becomepassive.

I could lay this on the device manufacturers andsay that they must design their ebook readers to be capable in eithersituation so that I can transition easily between active, pactive andpassive. The television is pretty passive, with a small amount ofactive via the remote. The laptop is pretty active and too heavyto lean back on. The new lighter, smaller, ebook readers that arecoming out in the next few weeks might hit that sweet spot that is pactive.

We’ll see.

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