Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Take a look, it’s in a Vook: Will the Reading Rainbow look the same in a hybrid book?

A front-page article in the October 1 edition of the New York Times cast a spotlight on the latest development in book-technology hybrids: vooks. Four of these new composites, books that intersperse video content throughout ebooks, are being released this month by Simon & Schuster.

This new development adds to the ongoing discussion of the increasingly intertwined roles of books and technology in the classroom. On the one hand, hybrid content offers many exciting academic applications, particularly for non-fiction titles. Adding sound or video to ebooks can greatly benefit educational texts that might otherwise be dry or difficult to understand. Sound samples in a book on music theory, for example, could help students in the same way that color printing improves the quality of books on art history. By making books more multi-platform, teachers can better get through to students with different learning styles (kinesthetic, aural as opposed to simply visual), thereby enabling them to engage a greater number of students.

Yet according to the article, “Not just how-tos are getting the cinematic work-up. Simon & Schuster is also releasing two digital novels combining text with videos a minute or 90 seconds long that supplement – and in some cases advance – the story line.”

The Times article mentions a commenter on Amazon.com who says: “’It really makes a story more real if you know what the characters look like,’…The videos, he wrote, ‘add to the experience in a big way.’” The reviewer here implies that there is a correct way to understand a story, a view which seems unnecessarily limiting to me. An article on Salon.com points out that books are a fun form of entertainment in part because they don’t force one correct understanding of a story on the reader.

The article also addresses the problem of using video in books to enhance its entertainment value by pointing out that publishing, which is not in the business of creating video, simply can’t compete with Hollywood. “I can buy a paperback romance novel and in my mind's eye cast Clive Owen as the lead, while a vook is only able to deliver a struggling unknown from the dinner-theater circuit.”

In an academic context, I actually think that videos in books can be detrimental to students’ learning. The act of imagining a new world is what makes books unique for young readers, especially compared to other, more passive forms of entertainment like television or video games. Reading, as opposed to watching, inculcates in young minds the critical and analytical skills that are important both in and outside of the classroom.

Many teachers I’ve spoken to recently are trying to integrate electronic content as a way of engaging students and teaching them to master technology they’ll need to understand in an increasingly digital world. What, in your opinion, are the benefits of multimedia books? What are the drawbacks? Would you consider using vooks in your classroom? Why or why not?

1 comment:

  1. Hmm
    I see it from the other view: how can young writers use various technology and media to enhance their own creations?
    You raise some interesting points, here.