by Hannah Cook
We are often reminded that we live in a digital age. A free app on a smartphone can direct us to the best restaurants, dating websites to meet potential life partners, on-demand streaming services give us instant access to an entire television series at the click of a button – even one-touch coffee machines make better flat whites than a high-street barista. But whilst it’s hard to imagine a world without these comforts, they come to reveal just how binary we now are with the internet.
Indeed, few would disagree that the world (as we know it) is now completely dependent upon technology, and, as a result, we expect more for our money from digital products. After all, as recently as 25 years ago a mobile phone’s only function was to call another phone – now they’re jacked-up to the tune of three-figure premiums but forgiven this cost because a smartphone is essentially a personal P.A. which runs your life from your pocket. For better or worse, technology has changed the ways we live our lives, whether it’s eating, shopping, or socialising.
However, this isn’t necessarily the case with education. Although the educational landscape has changed to support Generations X and Y with the presence of Interactive Whiteboards, laptops and tablet devices in the classroom, content has always remained within the pages of a printed book – until now. In September, Education Umbrella launched its own eBook platform, TECbook. In essence, it’s a very simple idea: classic content from novels and textbooks published in an eBook format, but TECbook (The Education Cloud book) remains unique in the market as a strictly cloud-based resource where the teacher maintains complete control over their stock – they can even share notes with students via the in-built Notebook, a facility which doesn’t exist in any other eBook platform on the marketplace.
In a nutshell, TECbook does everything you could ever want in a print alternative, but it doesn’t cost the world. Far from it: a five-year subscription for many English texts costs as little as £1, including The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Even larger textbooks are cheaper when bought digitally compared to their physical counterparts. Technology for less; I bet you didn’t see that one coming.
One of many practical advantages to TECbook is the way it complements multiple learning techniques. Whether you rely on visual prompts or repetition exercises you are not limited to the ‘Quote and Capture’ feature for recording information. In fact, the Notebook facility can host all manner of contextual materials to support written work, such as links, pictures, and even videos. As a consequence, students are encouraged towards a more autonomous style of learning as their ability to research benefits hugely from access to external resources ‘only a few clicks away’.
Sixth Form pupil Ashlea Brewin speaks very enthusiastically about the advantages of using an internet-based text: “It’s very easy to break work into themes or topics [because] it allows further exploration of the text in question.” To this end, Brewin asserts she ‘can take the work in easier’ as opposed to having only sporadic, hand-written notes to revise from. On a personal note (forgive the pun), I feel the Notebook and connectivity with the World Wide Web really ups the ante of this product. Not only can it store unlimited multimedia references in line with the text, it also supersedes the need for paper and pens as well as eliminating the risk of your work ever being lost or damaged.
So far, so simple – and impressive – although like any new product launch it has not materialised without some teething problems. With other eBook platforms, the purchasing and distribution process has left some users at a loose end. Thankfully, with TECbook, it’s actually very much in keeping with the rest of the product’s simplicity. It has been specifically designed to follow the chain of ordering personnel in schools.
For example, a school’s bursar will still order a TECbook as they would a print edition and use the ‘pay on account’ option at the online checkout. These TECbooks will then be deposited into their Education Cloud accessed through their login details to the Education Umbrella website. Following this, bursars can opt to ‘give’ said TECbooks to the teacher who requested them, who subsequently has three choices:
Share as a classroom copy – This works for the duration of any given lesson where pupils access a TECbook via an activation code that the teacher can give them. Pupils can then use this on the Education Cloud without having to log in with email addresses, passwords etc. In this case teachers can share notes with the pupils’ TECbooks, but reflexively, pupils can’t record their own notes (none that will save, anyway) nor share them with the teacher. If used this way all TECbooks can be recalled at the end of the lesson and redistributed amongst the next class as required.
Loan – A loan would see the TECbooks sent to each pupil’s Education Cloud. They will have to be signed up to the website too, but like any online store this just requires an email address and password. It can remain on that student’s cloud at the teacher’s discretion, but this is generally until the licence comes up for renewal.
Give – The giving option remains the most definitive of the bunch and means it becomes the responsibility of the recipient. It’s also good to know that if you miss a renewal date, a repurchase will restore all of your saved notes.
For those doubting TECbook’s relevance in a world in which books still exist, keep in mind that today’s schoolchildren have never experienced a world without technology. But neither have Generation X, who largely make-up the existing teaching population. With teachers and pupils fully capable of utilising a tool like this, there’s no need for literary resources to remain confined to a single-faceted form. To give pupils the best chance of succeeding in a tech-dominated society, schools shouldn’t be afraid to embrace this addition to the digital genre. Why not learn whilst you learn?
Learn more about TECbook here.