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.