Researchers explore future of 'postdigital' textbook

November 20, 2014

An interdisciplinary team at Arizona State University has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies program to conduct research on the future of the textbook.

The project focuses on the “postdigital textbook,” a new type of educational technology that combines personalized learning with community-driven features that encourage collaboration and resource sharing, and emphasize learning as a social process. An image of a floating book made of glowing binary code Download Full Image

"Digital textbooks are here, but they’re boring,” says Ruth Wylie, assistant director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and assistant research professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “This project is an opportunity to experiment with new models for what a textbook can be that will motivate and even inspire students and teachers.”

The principal investigator on the project, titled “Towards Knowledge Curation and Community Building within a Postdigital Textbook,” is Erin Walker, an assistant professor in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. The co-investigators are Wylie and Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English.

The project is funded as an Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) grant, which supports exploratory work in its early stages on previously untested but potentially transformative high-impact research ideas.

“The postdigital textbook goes beyond just digitizing print books or replacing still images with videos,” says Wylie. “Instead, it is a tool that helps students curate knowledge and build community with their classmates."

The project is part of an ongoing collaboration among Walker, Wylie and Finn that will eventually lead to the development of working prototypes of postdigital textbooks that can be tested in classroom environments.

The initial phase of the project involves surveying existing research and working with teachers and students to determine what particular behaviors, relationships and goals the postdigital textbook should facilitate to optimize learning.

“The traditional paper textbook is a technology that has been honed and refined over decades,” says Walker. “It offers numerous helpful affordances, or student and teacher behaviors that the technology enables and encourages, like taking notes in the margins, highlighting words and phrases, using the index and table of contents to look up key concepts, and so forth.

“The challenge here is to develop a digital textbook that provides new, intuitive affordances without taking away any of the useful and time-tested features that we all take for granted when we use a physical book,” she says.

Digital technology enables learning materials in digital textbooks to be precisely tailored to students’ needs, interests and learning styles. The postdigital textbook embraces personalization but recognizes that textbooks are effective precisely because they are stable, shared resources that all students can refer to and discuss equally.

“This project is about determining how we need to design textbooks of the future so that they adjust to the strengths and limitations of individuals while also helping students build 21st century skills like working collaboratively in groups and curating and presenting multimedia resources," says Finn.

Joey Eschrich

program manager, Center for Science and the Imagination


More ASU staffers donate, enjoy perks at football game

November 20, 2014

Yet another ASU staffer will be enjoying this Saturday’s game against Washington State from a bird’s eye view. Stacey Whitecotton was drawn from a pool of United Way campaign donors to receive a pair of box seat tickets at Sun Devil Stadium.

Also a winner this week, David Nielsen will have the honor of guest coaching this Saturday’s game; he will submit a diagram of the play he would like ASU to open the game with. Download Full Image

“If we all pitch in a little bit, we can make a big impact,” Nielsen said of donating to United Way.

This year, ASU President Michael Crow is challenging faculty, staff, ASU retirees, emeriti and the ASU Foundation to achieve a combined goal of $700,000.

For the next chance at winning a United Way pledge prize, pledges must be received by Nov. 27. Prizes for the drawing include a signed football for donations at or greater than $100 ($1.93 per week) and a Pitchfork Pass, which provides general admission seating to all regular season Olympic Sporting Events, for donations at or greater than $1,000 ($19.24 per week). Winners will be drawn Nov. 28 and featured in the following week’s edition of ASU Insight.

Here’s how to donate:

1. Get the ASU United Way Pledge Form
2. Send to: ASU United Way, Attn: Katie Aguilar, Mail Code 1304

All who give to United Way will be offered tickets to a non-conference men's or women’s basketball game.


Stacey Whitecotton


Q: What do you do at ASU?
A: I am the senior associate dean for graduate programs in the W. P. Carey School of Business. I joined the ASU faculty in 1997 as an assistant professor in the School of Accountancy.

Q: Why do you donate to United Way?
A: I started donating to United Way when I joined ASU and have tried to increase my contributions every year.

Q: What do you hope for United Way to accomplish?
A: While the United Way helps individuals around the Valley in many ways, I think their most important objective is helping families achieve financial stability. Giving people the resources, skills and confidence to help themselves is the key.

Q: What is something everyone should know about the United Way campaign?
A: As a business professor, I am impressed with how efficiently the Valley of the Sun United Way operates. With one of the lowest administrative overhead rates in the industry, more of every dollar contributed (more than 90 percent) goes directly to help the people who really need it.

Q: Do you have any special plans for your box seat tickets?
A: We are looking forward to watching the Sun Devils beat Washington State this Saturday! Go Devils!


David Nielsen


Q: What do you do at ASU?
A: I am an assistant professor of chemical engineering and have been at ASU since Fall 2009.

Q: Why do you donate to United Way?
A: We need to take care of each other. I believe that giving back through United Way helps not only those in need, but is also essential to the health and progress of the entire community.

Q: What do you hope for United Way to accomplish?
A: To help provide support and opportunities for those who need a little help getting back on their feet, or who are going through a rough patch.

Q: Do you have any special plans for your guest coach pass?
A: I'm looking forward to taking my dad to the game, as he will be visiting us from out of state.

Emma Greguska

Editor, ASU News

(480) 965-9657