With all of the discussion of changes in online education, the focus has been on lectures and classrooms. Of course, another chunk of learning that flows from the efforts of academics is the humble textbook. To date, digital textbooks have been attractive mainly because they can lighten the load in backpacks more than any other advantage. To be sure, iBooks may make these more engaging but it is not clear whether those efforts will really hit the market.

New Scientist reports on the Inquire Project that seems to do something different. You should take a look at their site and watch the video. What Inquire seem to be after is the ability for students to ask questions of their textbook. This is a non-trivial issue but you can imagine how it might make a real difference. Imagine also if this were Siri-based. Their one study indicates that an interactive system like this may raise grades by a level over traditional textbooks. If that sustains itself, there could be some really important changes in education coming and, I suspect, fewer and more expensive (but valuable) textbooks along with them.

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