Inkling: Rethinking the Traditional Textbook

I’ve always found textbook reading to be a dreadful bore. I believe this is one of the reasons I became an English major in college.

But even as an English major, I was still assigned reading that I found to be incredibly dull. As I result I created little games for myself that helped me trudge through particularly tedious reading assignments. Sometimes I’d race against the clock: Ten pages in nine minutes? Can she do it? Has it ever been done? (and yes, I’d accompany these lame races with commentary I imagined to be spoken in an old race caller’s voice). Or sometimes, I’d force myself to sit  down and read for 30 minutes straight. I started off with 30 points, and for every time I succumbed to distraction within those 30 minutes, I lost a point. I’d lose points for letting my mind wander, getting up to get a drink of water, checking the time, or checking my phone. I was never  very good at the second game, because the sound of a creaking floorboard was generally enough to distract me. If I received a text from a friend asking if I wanted to get Chipotle? Forget Paradise Lost.  I’ll take a steak burrito bowl with extra guac, por favor.

It seems though, that for the next wave of college students, the days of plodding through boring black-and-white text might be ending. To add onto Brent’s post about using tablet technology in the classroom, I thought I’d highlight Inkling today, a San Francisco-based company that’s pairing with publishers to create textbooks specifically for tablets. They’ve recently developed Inkling for Web, which allows textbooks to be accessed from any web browser, no tablet required. 

Inkling’s mission is to create a better textbook experience for students. They’ve worked to create ebooks that are both engaging and interactive, more appealing than line after line of text. With the creation of the iPad and tablets in general, the way we read has begun to shift completely. “Guess what! The iPad isn’t a book,” Inkling’s website claims. Instead of trying to tailor textbooks to fit iPads, they’re trying to reinvent the way people read. Inkling says: “Take the concept of a page, for example. A page is a block of content divided by what ‘fits’ into a given physical space…Enter iPad. There’s no such thing as a page. There’s a 1024 by 768 screen that can change in response to your fingers. There’s a display instead of ink. There’s memory instead of paper. There’s a world of new opportunities, and whole new set of constraints.”

One feature of Inkling that might lure students is affordability: in eliminating printing costs, they’ve lowered the price of textbooks by 40%, and those textbooks deliver more content. No more flipping back to the glossary or index to look something up; with the tap of a finger you can pull up a search of the ebook. Chapters are filled with quizzes and other assessment tools that students can use to check comprehension. To further enhance the learning experience, the ebooks are filled with videos, colorful photos,  links to other sites, and a social network that allows students to have discussions with anyone else using the book and to see their notes and annotations in real time.

Yes, there will always be teachers who argue that this technology could cause students to become  distracted too easily, but I don’t think that’s the case. Links, videos, pop-ups and pictures that come to life with the swipe of a finger engage students, and many features for ebooks that are just not possible within the physical space of a printed book will only enhance the learning experience.

If Inkling and other ebook companies can lure publishers to create more ebooks for tablets, reading will become an entirely different experience for students. I have to admit I’m a little jealous — I would have loved interactive textbooks in my college days, because they’re an easily distracted person’ dream. While the thought of reading a biology textbook puts me to sleep just thinking about it, I love seeing nature in action — videos with footage of animals in the wild or links to shows such as Planet Earth within my textbook would have really engaged me. Who knows? Maybe if my college textbooks had been half as interesting I’d have stuck with them and become a scientist or something. Dr. Doyle…it has a nice ring to it.

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.