Defining App Affordances in Terms of Social Genres: Visual Collaboration and Argumentative Genres

            In our book, Using iPad and iPhone Apps for Learning with Literacy Across the Curriculum, we posit the need to identify the affordances of iPad and iPhone apps for fostering uses of various literacy practices.   Apps are designed with certain affordances that invite students to employ literacy practices.  These affordances are also shaped by the design of a certain classroom activity.  So, the affordances aren’t simply “in” an app; they are activated and exploited by how the app is used in an activity.

            Fostering transfer of learning based on genres.  Activating and exploiting apps affordances requires an understanding the experiences and practices students bring from previous contexts to their current classroom context—what is known as transfer of practices across different contexts.   Rather than think of transfer as simply applying knowledge from one context to another context, it’s important to also perceive transfer as involving the social processes of knowing how to connect uses of literacy practices in one context to another context. 

            Students make these connections between contexts through uses of social genres defined as typified, recurring social actions.  Rebecca Nowacek (2012) posits that transfer is facilitated by the use of “genres associated with one context…[that] can cue an individual to make connections to knowledge domains, ways of knowing, identities, and goals associated with another, previously unrelated context” (p. 28).   For Nowacek, intertextuality involves the similarity itself between genres while transfer is the active recognition of the potential for using a genre across different contexts (p. 29).  Knowing about and how to use a social genre therefore helps students engage in transfer across contexts.

         For example, the genre of the interview is something that one learns to employ for knowing how to interact as an interviewer and interviewee.  Each time an interviewer and interviewee engage in an interview in a new context, they transfer their social experience with previous interviews to the new interview.  As job-seekers know, each time they do a new interview, they improve in their uses of the interview genre.

            The social genre of visual collaboration.  One social genre that assists with transfer is what could be called visual collaboration—the use of a shared visual image or object that serves to foster collaborative work.  Visual collaboration could be defined as a social genre in that students interact in a systematic, codified manner with a particular image, video, or object in some systematic manner, through, for example, shared turn-taking focused on the same image, video, or object.  When one student notices something unique or interesting about an image, another student knows that they can or need to build on that description.  Over time, students learn to use this genre to collaboratively shared their descriptions of images, videos, or objects.

           The app affordances: Visual collaboration genre.  Concept-mapping, shared note-taking, annotation, screencasting, or video editing apps provide the affordances fostered through use of the social genre of visual collaboration.  For example, in using a screencasting app such as ShowMe or VoiceThread, different students are viewing the same image or video clip to share and react to each other annotations about that image or video clip.  Or, when a student uses the Diigo app to add sticky-note annotations on a specific section of a text, other students may spot that sticky note to respond with their own annotation to the same text.

            Use of the genre of visual collaboration fosters transfer between visual and students’ collaborative verbal or written sharing of ideas.  When students are drawing and sharing their doodles on images using ShowMe or VoiceThread, they use those doodles to draw on their previous use of descriptive talk to reflect on the meaning of those doodles.  Or, in editing video, they can apply their previous use of shared evaluation talk to collaboratively determine the effectiveness of certain edits to make further edits.

             Transfer as a rhetorical act: argumentative genres.  Nowacek (2012) also posits that transfer is a rhetorical act.  Students need to know how to move from the context of interpreting and critiquing images, videos, or written texts to the rhetorical context of convincing others of the validity of those interpretations or critiques.  This requires them knowing how to sell their ideas to others.  As Nowacek notes, “the act of selling is closely tied to the act of reading one’s audience, to understanding what an audience expects and how to either meet or recalibrate that audience’s expectations” (p. 39).   Moving from the context of reacting to or interpreting images, videos, or written texts to the rhetorical context of engaging in arguments about those texts requires students drawing on argumentative genres to know how convincing audiences of the validity of their claims, something that can be a challenge for students.  In analyzing college students’ notes taken in class or in response to readings, Nowacek found that those notes were “dominated by a series of bullet points recording facts.  The rhetorical dimension of disciplinary knowledge—on the rare occasions that it become visible in class—remained invisible in the notebooks… these notebooks contain almost no sense of dialogue, of conflict, of people making arguments (not students, not teachers)” (p. 94).

            A basic affordance of concept-mapping, shared note-taking, annotation, screencasting, or video editing apps is that they make it easy to share their claims with their audiences.  Students can employ their knowledge of argumentative genres to transfer from the context of descriptive reactions to move into a rhetorical context in which they are using their use or descriptions of images/video to convince audiences to accept their claims.  This requires that students go beyond simply summarizing their perceptions of images or objects to framing those summaries for rhetorical purposes.  Based on the claim they are adopting, they draw on their knowledge of argumentative genres to select those particular images they believe will have the strongest impact on their audiences.

                The value of social genres.  All of this suggests the value of perceiving app affordances as mediated by uses of social genres.  These social genres provide the glue fostering transfer from prior to new contexts, so that students are continually improving on how they use apps to enhance their learning.   Teachers can enhance their students’ exploitation of app affordances by teaching them how to employ these social genres, for example, modeling their own use of visual collaboration or showing them how to consider audience beliefs, knowledge, and needs in formulating claims.




iPads in Education: Critiquing the Positive Spin Memes

As schools and even entire school districts take the plunge and adopt iPads, we have been following  the arguments for an against the adoptions in blogs, YouTube videos, and responses, and in conversations with colleagues.  The discourse about the relatively new technologies and mobile devices is telling.  It helps us understand how professional books like our book, professional development initiatives, and mobile device and OS producers position learners, teachers, and parents, as the mobile technologies and devices invade education.  What is good and what are we supposed to believe is good about mobile technologies and devices in education as we take the plunge?  


To answer the question we present and critique some popular memes put out there and reproduced by parties involved in the influx of iPads into educational settings.  We use iPads as the exemplar simply because they currently capture most of the market.  With the continued development and marketing of tablet devices by key players other than Apple, the dominance of iPads might wane, but the discourses and memes will remain the same as tablets and similar mobile devices capture the attention and budgets of educators. 


Our jumping off point for this discussion is a You Tube video:  Apple education learning with iPad US at   Apple has a strong stake in the proliferation of its devices, OS, and ecosystem into education.  In order to do this, they rely heavily on positive testimonials from a range of K-higher education teachers and students.  What do those giving enthusiastic testimonials say--or more accurately, when the testimonials are edited, what memes and discourses remain in the statements that are put out there in social networks to woo potential adopters?


In the Apple education learning with iPad video, in the first setting, JoAnne Boyle, the president of Seaton Hill University in Pennsylvania, preps viewers for the rest of the video by telling viewers that the iPad has “all of the world’s learning in it” and promises that the device will transform us.  (the emphases throughout is ours) Catherine Giuntaan, a faculty member at Seaton Hill states,   “I cant believe how much in a short period of time the iPad has changed how I teach.  It makes the learning, I think, more accessible to the students”  I can, on the Inkling text, leave notes for them; it is overlayed on the content; they immediately see those notes that I leave, and they can refer back to that.”  


Accessibility, transformation/change, and textual layering are affordances these educators mention. Below, we comment on each of these:   


Although the iPad provides potential access to quite a bit of knowledge in the world, we have to problematize this claim by asking how students know what to access and when; and when they do know what they need and when, how is the information framed and presented in ways that it becomes knowledge and enhances learning?  Although this seems like a silly question, can we really point to specific findings from research or composite experiences of iPad users that shows that accessibility to silos of information, in an of itself, promotes understanding of knowledge?  As in all other instances of learning with literacy, we make the case that accessibility only works with clearly defined goals and tasks in which students are either directed to key information or direct themselves to information they can critique in terms of its value and credibility.


What about transformations and change?  Just as educators can make the case that various technologies have transformed education--claims that have already been made with regard to educational radio, educational TV, and computers, critics have also claimed that the basic structure, goals, and expected outcomes of education have not changed significantly in over 150 years, regardless of “technological advances.”  Is a transformation that replaces print texts and paper with digital multimodal texts so revolutionary that it promises to change the very Institution of the School, teaching learning, and  curricula?  Yes.  We make the case that we are at such critical juncture but we do not yet fully understand the affordances of iPads well enough to know which of the affordances, or composites of them, can potentially change the institution.  And hard-core critics of education, the proponents of nothing short of deep “systemic reform” in education, rarely implicate specific transformational qualities of technologies into plans or formulae for reform.  


In the book we write a lot about textuality.  Within this realm, extended to ideas of intertextuality and intermediality and learning, we critically examine the idea that notes, in and of themselves, and devices and operating systems that make producing and using notes easier, are not positive affordances by design along.    There is a lot of research in the area of studying and study skills that supports the kind of textual layering described by Professor Giuntaan at Seaton Hill.  But we note in the book how app designers mostly just adopt the memes like interactivity or implicitly embrace the sort of education folk logic of studying-to-learn where things like note taking, review, and repetitive reading as embraced as givens.  By now, you can guess the position we take here and in the book:   Teachers need to understand how textuality, intertextuality, and textual layering work in promoting learning and they need to design instruction in these tools, offer students practice using them, and provide independent application across learning tasks across the curriculum.      


Back to the Apple iPad video.  The cameras now migrate to Chicago Public Schools.   There, Stacy Boyd, a kindergarten teacher at Brown School notes that iPads help her students hear letter sounds, trace letters, and repeat skills.  In short, she makes the claim that the iPad helps struggling readers via its multimodal affordances. 


Next Emma, an eight grader, offers positive praise the the Elements app on iPad:  “. . . the Elements app got me more interested in Chemistry.  I thought science was boring, chemistry just wasn’t fun--it didn’t make sense.  But I got this app [Elements]--its not written like a normal textbook; its interactive and written like in a more kid friendly way.  I am a visual learner, and when I can really see the element it helps me because then I can really visualize how it is used in everyday life.”   Emma goes on to note that Elements is not required but now she has a A+ in science.  Emma’s mom, Jan, confirms this:  “Emma is able to go to the iPad and figure out her learning style and her own needs, and which app meets those needs . . . the iPad has engaged her”


Key memes in the Chicago segment are multimodality, interactivity, engagement, and academic proficiency--items salient across the known universe of testimonials.  Are these warranted?


We have every reason to believe that multimodal texts can and should be superior to print-only texts.  But researchers and other educators still have little definitive evidence on how multimodal presentations and interactivity will change the way learners interact with a range of content now restricted to traditional textbooks. Note, we are not saying that educators lack definitive evidence on how, for example, video or simulations could help students understand cell metabolism.  We are saying that it is not clear how a video modality is superior to a well-written textbook that includes learning aids normally written into a textbook.  


The complement to the modality argument is the implication that learning styles associated with various modalities are evident in individual learners and that learners are aware of these modality advantages and choose them as needed or when available.  Again, logically, we  accept the notion of modality preferences and argue in our book that multimodal texts have great potential in supporting literacies related to learning. This with our typical caveat that teachers need to help students understand and make the various kinds of transformations in which they select the modality that best fits their goals and particular tasks in constructing or representing meaning.  In short, learners need strategies for using modalities to privilege different kinds of meaning.  We also make the case that exercising choice in modality for producing texts can be both engaging and can potentially change learners‘ sense of competence and agency.  This latter issue is a huge potential positive affordance for iPads that we discuss at length in the book.    


Interactivity is one of the most powerful memes in education.  But few educators can explain exactly what it means and how, specifically, it enhances learning.  To us, it is often more apparent how interactivity supports engagement which, in turn, enhances learning.  But we have yet to critique engagement.  


Engagement is defined explicitly in relation to learning in the fields of motivation and achievement motivation.  But it is used in testimonials much more ambiguously. An academic definition we like is offered by John Guthrie, Allan Wigfield, and Kathleen Perencevich in their book Motivating Reading Comprehension:  Engaged readers are people who are cognitively competent; they possess the skills and reading strategies necessary in learning from texts.  They are driven by what they already know and their ability to call it up and use it. They are socially interactive in communities of other learners and, finally, the aspect most associated with the mobile devices testimonial meme, engaged learners are motivated. But being engaged is not just being motivated; it is being motivated because you have the drive to learn and the agency to be successful because you are aware of your competencies and want to exercise them to a successful outcome.  


Can iPads, due to their multimodality, accessibility to information, ease of use, navigation, and the like promote engagement on these various dimensions?  Our answer is of course, but in order to promote the capacity of engagement to enhance learning--to look at engagement more than just working on something because it is novel or interesting, teachers have to systematically plan to support students in the various aspects of engagement.  The engagement meme tied to novelty and excitement inherent in using the device, and even tied to the currently novel features of apps, may wear off after kids participate in an iPad intensive curriculum unless teachers are one step ahead of surface engagement though careful planning of activities, lessons, experiences, and learning communities in which iPads are key.


Onto to Durham North Carolina to talk with people in the field of medicine.   


The Videographer now hones in on Malik Burnett, A third-year medical school student who contends:  “I think a feature of medicine is not going to be how much knowledge you can hold in your head but how much knowledge you can put your hands on and access at a give point in time.  The iPad expands that creativity an intellectual curiosity of students."  The relatively new technologies potential in education is sold with these memes:  creativity, engagement, interactivity, individual choice, intellectual curiosity.  Mr. Burnett continues,  “Instead of having to buy a new textbook each year, you can just download the most up-to-date content, in real time.  They write a new chapter, you just download that chapter.  It replaces your old chapter.  That changes fundamentally the way I learn.  It is like having my portable knowledge base. It makes life a whole lot simpler.”  Other medical educators then note that the iPad allows students to access huge amounts of information and to do so without hauling heavy books around.   


We have to problematize the notion of being able to immediately access huge volumes of information up against the notion of learning and integrating that information into one’s schemata.  How is accessing large amounts of information related to learning it, especially learning it well enough to apply it?  What is more, if learners spend so much time accessing information or organizing it for future access, do they spend proportionally more time managing information than learning it?  We realize there are no definitive answers to these questions, but there is some evidence from academe, where we have experience, that we have so much information at our fingertips and spend so much time organizing it, that we might be reading and studying less intently and deeply than we used to--a case of improved breadth of more surface level knowledge over depth.  We make the point in the book that accessing and assessing the quality of information are both crucial in using iPads but the more critical issue is developing specific goals, learning tasks, and outcomes that guide  


We are cautious optimists about how iPads and similar devices will revolutionize education, and our brief critique of some of discourses and memes we hope we can raise a optimistic but cautious and critical stance in other educators.  Our book is predicated on the idea that wedding iPads and apps with literacy practices that support learning has potential to map the journey ahead. 


Identifying App Affordances to Foster Co-Learning in the Classroom

      In our discussions on this site and in our book in preparation about implementing apps in the classroom, we explore the importance of affordances associated with the uses of tablet and smartphones.  Affordances are what a particular object—for our purposes a tool, or environment in which the tool is located, provides the user.  To further narrow this, we will take the position that apps either include tools or organize environments that foster the use of certain literacy practices designed to achieve some purpose, for example, engaging audiences through use of a panoramic slideshow of the Grand Canyon.  

      The affordances are, in a way, features that users perceive in a significant way as helping them achieve these purposes.  Affordances can be part of design, but users can determine what affordances actually play out and teachers can orchestrate more positive outcomes if they are aware of affordances.

      In short, the affordance is more the actualization rather than a static feature of the tool.  Designers might design affordances into an app, but the app might enable or actualize a set of affordances that a designer never anticipated.  On the positive side, these affordances enable users to enact beneficial sets of literacy practices.  On the negative side, a particular tool or an app that organizes tools in a particular way, might inhibit some practices even while enabling others. 

       In this site, and in our book we will explain this tension in detail with examples.  App designers are likely to know what appears to be an affordance of a particular app, at least insofar as the affordances of the operating system it is designed for.  But, they are often equally likely to sometimes misunderstand the teaching and learning consequences of a particular tool or feature enabled by the app and its operating system.  We will discuss these issues in great detail with affordances related to reading in digital environments, using writing tools like notes and annotations and so-called study skills that integrate both reading and writing processes related to learning, like both highlighting and note taking, and reviewing note cards—all features of Apple iBooks 2 app and other e-textbook systems.   What is happening now, and will continue to happen with app design is that designers that provide users opportunities to enact literacy practices. 

       Hence, we make the case that what an affordance provides, either as part of its design or as part of the way a user positions herself or himself is a critical teaching issue.   An affordance is not simply “in” an app. Teachers are also assigning affordance by on how they will be using an app related to achieving their own learning objectives given their particular classroom with their particular students.  For example, an 8th grade science teacher selected to use the app ShowMe, an app that allows students to doodle over an image, as well as add their own audio commentary about that image.  These are features inherent “in” the app.   This teacher wanted her students to take photos to document the steps they took to conduct their chemistry experiments, photos they would import into ShowMe to add their doodles and audio commentaries describing these different steps.

       At the same time, the teacher recognized that her students would be far more motivated to create their ShowMe presentations if they knew that they would using them as tutorials on how to do their experiments for the benefit of their peers.   She is therefore identifying an additional affordance for the ShowMe app, an affordance based on the motivating social value of informing others about how to do something. (This social motivation is reflected in the fact that people have created millions of how-to YouTube videos).   Given her sense of her students’ social needs, she knew that her students are particularly motivated when they are assisting each other, as well as having a sense of purpose and audience for framing their audio commentary as co-teachers and learners.

      And, students can also assign affordances to apps.  While, in this case, the teacher was identifying additional app affordances, it could also be argued that students themselves could also identify app affordances based on their particular goals, needs, interests, and knowledge.  This entails a teacher encouraging students to reciprocally and collaboratively identify app affordances, a shift in teacher control of the classroom to adopt more of a co-teaching approach.

      In a presentation to the Berkeley Center for New Media and School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, Howard Rheingold described his use of a co-teaching approach in teaching a course on social media to his Berkeley students.  Rheingold argues that people need to be self-learners and co-learners in learning to use social media.  Becoming self-learners leads to their sharing online what they learn with others, all of which gives them a sense of agency in knowing that they can inform and influence others as co-learners.   In another presentation at the Change 2001 MOOC, about his forthcoming book, Net Smart, How to Thrive Online, Rheingold describes that learning to be effective users of online social media entails use of five basic literacies:  attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network know-how.

       In his talk, he cites a nice example of co-teaching associated with reciprocal identification of app affordances.  In his course, he created a discussion forum for sharing posts that allowed students to index their contributions for future use in reflecting on their own uses of the discussion forum as a social media—the focus of the course.   He’s therefore not only identifying an app affordance inherent in the app, but he’s also recognizing how that this app affordance—indexing, was particularly important given his learning objectives.

       During the course, his students recommended that, given their use of Facebook to engage in sharing posts, they might also try to Facebook for that purpose.  So, Rheingold let them try out Facebook as an alternative forum site.  However, after a short period, his students recognized that because they couldn’t index their posts, that Facebook wasn’t as useful as the original course discussion forum.  The students were therefore also identifying app affordances related to the value of indexing for sharing knowledge and then recognizing that their assigned affordances were not being fulfilled by use of Facebook.

            Another innovative teacher, Cathy Davidson (2012), describes uses of blogging in her college courses, in which student blog each week on a WordPress class blog about readings and assignments, in which the students comment on each other’s posts.  In doing so, she is assigning the affordances of co-constructing knowledge in a social context of her classroom.  She notes that by writing blog posts, her students are writing more and are far more engaged than in writing essays or term papers given their sense of the social context:

My students write more than they think they are writing because the context is so urgent, compelling, and interactive that they enjoy it and it doesn't seem like drudgery.  They work so hard to articulate and defend ideas about which they have strong convictions that it does not feel to them like the exercise of "writing a term paper."  

       Blogs, per se, don’t necessarily contain the affordance of engaging in dialogic exchange.  Davidson and her students assign those affordances to their class blog that help her students:

write for the world they are about to enter, in their jobs, in their careers, and they are learning how to improve their active discourse already happening on line. They are learning that some of the best thinking (as Socrates would say) is dialogic, and their writing is part of an interactive, vibrant written dialogue. 

       And, because she asks her students to devote two assignments to generate “public contributions to knowledge.”   Her students then perceived this as an opportunity to assign their own affordances to make these public contributions, by, for example, writing Wikipedia entries or contributing to professional medical forums, recognizing the value of engaging in dialogic exchanges with others outside of her class.

       Both Rheingold and Davidson are assigning app affordances in ways that foster co-teaching and learning, represents a teacher—an important shift in the power dynamics of the classroom towards using apps within a collaborative space for learning.

Davidson, C.  (2012, January 27).  Should we really ABOLISH the term paper? A response to the NY Times.  HASTAC


Apple iBooks Textbooks: What is a Textbook?

The recent announcement by Apple of the iBook textbooks and the iBooks Author has already engendered a lot of discussion on many blogs and podcasts about Apple's proprietary authoring system based on epub3--the challenge it presents to the traditional textbook industry, and both the advantages and restrictions it presents to potential authors.  Of course we must not forget the powerful promise of both the iBooks and iBooks Author in improving students' learning in and out of school.  Hold onto that thought.  

In Apple's promotional video for iBooks textbooks, inspired teachers talk about what engages them with teaching and learning and, most importantly what engages students.  The teachers quickly segway to the downside of traditional textbooks: Textbooks are outdated, static, expensive, and subject to adoption cycles that restrict the currency of students' knowledge and teachers' creativity.  Oh yes, and the books are heavy.  They weigh down students' backpacks; most parents have read or heard reports about how these backpacks will cause orthopedic problems that start with first graders carrying backpacks almost bigger than them.  The Apple video teachers go one step further and note that because of the weight of the backpack, students might just stop using the books because of their disdain for carrying them around.  

In tapping the huge textbook market, Apple has done what all critics of traditional textbooks have done, long before the availability of e-textbook authoring tools like iBooks Author.  For decades educators have been belaboring how static and unengaging textbooks are.  Ever since computer labs appeared in schools in the 1980s educators have had a vision of replacing print with other media, or at least using variations of print juxtaposed with other "richer" media.  Textbooks have persisted, and will persist for some time, surely longer than they should,  because the books are the very core of the institutionalized notion of what a curriculum is, how it is organized, and how teachers should think about the topical domains they teach. Most of the blogs and podcasts that have focused on Apple's latest endeavor have noted that textbook publisher are also a huge industry controlled by relatively few larger companies, most of which apparently have already struck deals with Apple.  But, ultimately, and likely sooner than later because of iPads and other tablet devices, or the upcoming array of "ultrabook" notebook computers, traditional print textbooks, the centuries old artifact of teaching and learning, will fade away.  

But the question that we will address on this site in the sections and our upcoming book is not so much the political or economic implications of the disappearance of the traditional textbook industry, but the implications it has for student engagement and learning.  Almost everything we think of when we envision textbooks  will be transformed into something else.  Again, the Apple promotional video is interesting as a recent discussion of what the qualities of these new iBooks textbooks that will make them better than a ten pound, 400 page general science book used by 8th graders?  Apple responds to the teachers' concerns about traditonal print textbooks.  The video notes that the new books will be engaging because of the audio, video and "interactivity" information that comes to life and information that is always up to date.  Apple promises that the new textbooks will allow students to do things " they could never do before."  The video show stunning examples of these multimodal transformations.  

In the promotional video, Roger Rosner, Apple Vice President of Productivity Applications noted that Apple focused on three key areas in the iBooks textbooks initiative:  (1)  fast fluid navigation; (2) beautiful graphics; and (3) better and easier way to take notes and use those notes.  These are the most currently publicized set of affordances designed into e-textbooks because the designers could design with the features given the technology available.  But are these features just a given as being educationally sound or more engaging?  In our upcoming book, sections of which will be posted and discussed here, we critique multimodal transformation like the Apple iBooks textbooks or other e-textbooks and related materials with an eye on both research in how literacies like reading, writing and discussing can be used to support learning, and a in terms of a bridging framework in which we carefully look at the features of traditonal forms and how they are being digitally transformed for good or bad. We can use Rosner three points to give a taste of how this will work.  

On Rosner's first point, it seems like a no-brainer that "fast fluid" navigation is a huge advantage.  But to what extent does the ability to rapidly navigate out of where you are currently studying something in print, or focused deeply on slowly reading a piece of complex print text, also afford some negatives like taking your preceptual span and your brain away from what you were engaging with?  In terms of bridging, we have to keep in mind that print texts, as linear presentations of content, also used built-in features to engage students with difficult concepts (topic signaling, vocabulary support, marginal glossing) and controlling navigation to the next page.   In terms of Rossner's second point, we can all agree that beautiful graphics are important and something that traditional print texts don't support as well as e-Books.  But there is research that both supports and cautions about the types and placement of graphics or other visual elements in relation to print.  Again, if a reader is concentrating on an important or difficult piece of text, to what degree can the attention and engagement needed be jeopardized by a engaging graphic?  Finally Rossner's third point about the availability and highlighting and note taking/annotation tools is particularly important.  Since highlighting and notetaking are taken as time-tested studying techniques, most people assume that if tools are available that make them more accessible, that students will learn more with them.  But research indicates pretty clearly that the use of highlighting and notetaking, with both traditional or digital tools, require instruction, guided practice, and individual practice for students to use the tools more effectively.  If they are so easy and available, could it be that students will halt the fluency of their reading by stopping to highligh or write notes?  Or that they will rely more on a possible overabundance of highlights ineffectively executed or copious notes that do not reflect the importance levels of topics in a text?

We applaud both the Apple iBooks textbooks and Author, along with the other textbook systems like Kno and  Inkling that are on the forefront of developing e-textbooks and course systems.  But, against the backdrop of the amazing features, we will be carefully scrutinzing the affordances of the all of these as we continue study what textbooks will become and as they are being transformed, how they will continue to support or improve upon the way they support students' learning across the disciplines.   

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