Sunday, September 12, 2010

Idaho Makes History Interactive: My Granddaughter's Future

When I was in elementary school I regularly watched "You Are There," a history show that purported to take the viewer back in time to experience important historical moments firsthand. Walter Cronkite narrated the show, and I loved imagining myself aiding runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad and participating in the suffrage movement.

Progressive doesn't usually describe education in Idaho; that may be changing. With the adoption of an interactive textbook by the Idaho State Department of Education, my granddaughter (a first grader) will enter the world of history in ways I could only dream of doing. An article in The Idaho Statesman describes The 43rd Star: Idaho and Its People (developed by Cybervision Text) as a green, paperless text utilizing interactive technologies that function as an audio book, a large-print text for visually impaired students, and a music director--a professional singer teaches students the Idaho State song, something I don't know after 21 years living here. The electronic textbook includes music and animation to engage students and gives immediate feedback on assignments. There's even a search function that enables students to easily find key passages.

As excited as I am about the prospect of an interactive history text in the hands of my granddaughter, I have concerns and questions: Will an audio version undermine traditional reading? Will such computerized learning continue to promote the deskilling of teaching? Will students screech boredom after the uniqueness of the new methodology wears off?

The Cybettext website offers a preview of the textbook's interactive features. I do like the map that shows how Idaho, over time, acquired its current geographic shape. The addition of the state song and an image showing the primary document is a nice touch, although the song itself will bore even those with little musicality. It's a bit disconcerting to hear a Southerner reading Idaho history with a Southern accent.

To its credit, Cybertext also offers the book in a traditional format and has priced both the electronic and the paper versions the same, although I don't know the price.

As Idaho enters the world of virtual textbooks, will history come to life for students and transport them to the world of the free-running Appaloosa of Idaho's past, or will computerized textbooks eventually suffer the fate of "You Are There"? The series was cancelled in the 1970's.


  1. As technology advances, it really is a give and take bargain that is often forgotten. Seeing students all rent text books, use iTunes audio downloads instead of reading, online classrooms, etc. is quite interesting. There are many benefits that come from these new opportunities, but, again, there are things that are given up. Bittersweet. didn't know the Idaho state song???

  2. Although I am thrilled that education in Idaho is evolving, I wonder if we get the same quality of education with all the new tech advances as without them. Everything is, or can be, online now. Even high school is being offered online. I go back and forth whether or not I am learning more from my online and distance learning classes. Sure, they are more convenient, but you lose the interaction with teachers. I know I've learned so much from teachers beyond what is found in the textbooks. I wonder if we are actually hurting ourselves?

    Oh, I don't know the Idaho song either....

  3. I wonder the same things, Gina. It seems to me that the more power / authority we relinquish to the computer, the more we diminish the value of the teacher's expertise.

  4. Will an audio version undermine traditional reading?

    That would be my biggest concern. After all, we are all likely trying to incorporate tech that enhances our lessons into our daily teaching. It's when tech diminishes the need for practise in such critical skills as reading, that it begins to interfere with learning, in my view.

    I've taken many an online course, but they all involved extensive reading, which was good. Maybe it's the fact that the text is delivered in audio format that is the problem here.