Teachers Conduct the Music of Books and All That Classroom Jazz

Ben Verbshow writes compelllingly in a recent article titled "The Book Is Reading You: Why publishers need to stop worrying and love the network" in PublishersWeekly.com…

"…Imagine an online Harry Potter in which readers can keeppersonal blogs, engage in live chats in the margins, annotate the textcollectively, compose alternate endings and contribute to communalglossaries and repositories of lore. Or an electronic Moby-Dickthat allows teachers to create a virtual seminar around the text whileconnecting students to a vast library of scholarly resources. Or a newkind of book, native to the network, that we have not yet conceived—onethat employs multiple media forms, and grows and changes over time…"

Emphasis mine.

Ineducation, the multiple media forms are the classroom lectures, thediscussion, the course website, etc. that center around the materialbeing covered in the book.

What grows and changes overtime is the students comprehension and understanding of thematerial. Physically, the students construct notes that grow andchange over time.

As the instructor teaches the courses overand over again, they refine their teaching materails – updating themwith new materials, making changes to adjust to the students,clarifying, polishing and improving their educational technique, so the instructor’s delivery grows and changes over time.

I think Mr. Verbshow’s thinking applies more immediately and transparently to educationalbooks – textbooks and casebooks – than they do to works of fiction. In education, there is a strong connection between the book and the course and this is especially true in legal education. To mix some metaphors, the teacher is the conductor, the book is the music, the syllabus is a metronome pacing the class through the music of the book and the classroom discussion is jazz (the final exam is, well … use your imagination)..

With the networked book, the question is whether listening to other musicians interpret the music is a good thing. If the music is other renowned artists, then it is. If the students listen to other students or pop versions or condensed versions (like when students obtain class notes on the Internet or use Cliff Notes or their legal education equivalent), then the instructor may not be so happy about that and I can see why. Besides teaching the material (the music), the teacher is also trying to teach technique (i.e. how to learn for yourself).

If the book begins life as a digital artifact where the connection to additional sources of authority, example and discussion is effortless (not that finding these materials is effortless, but once found, the connecting is simple), then the networked book can grow and change over time with each and every instructor and students benefit all the more.

Educational books are already networked books, but they are not – at present – born digital. Through the course website and the online syllabus they are manually bolted into the network in a clunky and imprecise manner. This will come to seem quaint in the coming years – more starkly to our digitally native students.

The book IS a network and it must be born there.

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