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Electronic Science Books

Eventually all books will become animated, vocal, and interactive. Imagine learning orbital mechanics like a video game where you may choose burn rate and burn time, then have the book show you what happens to the rocket. Imagine a chemistry book that lets you bring together different molecules and watch what the van der Waals forces do to them, following through until the molecules reach a stable state. Imagine a biology book that takes you inside a working cell; the book lets you see cell parts in operation and shows what any part does either normally or under disease.

Imagine a statistics book that dispenses with artificial measures like averages and standard deviations and gives the full data visually. Imagine a mathematics book that lets you to choose your own parameters for functions and visually shows you what happens to their derivatives, or lets you dispense with simplistic models entirely and directly work with simulations. IBM and the U.S. National Science Foundation are funding work by the Mathematical Association of America to build interactive mathematics texts over the next 2 years [61].

Imagine a physics book where an apparently alive Galileo, Newton, or Einstein propounds their various theories then guides you through developments and consequences, letting you ask questions or suggest alternatives. As technology improves, you will be able to change Galileo, Newton, or Einstein to whomever you wish: perhaps a favorite aunt, a teacher, Bugs Bunny, or Walter Cronkite.

Imagine a computer architecture book that lets you tour a computer chip. The book first displays a chip as seen by humans normally--a black fingernail-sized sliver of shiny silicon. The book has two controls: a joystick and a light-dimmer switch. As you move the joystick the book displays the image you would see if you were at that distance and point of view.

Pressing down on the joystick brings up a quarter-scale display in the lower right-hand corner with text, voice, or video of the author explaining what you are seeing, and telling you about other things that you might like to see if the current view interests you. Touching any portion of the screen also pops up a little window to explain whatever is being displayed at that place on the screen. The dimmer switch controls the timescale; twisting it changes the speed at which things happen.

As your viewpoint gets nearer to the surface of the chip the chip expands to cover the entire display, then the horizon disappears off the screen. As you get closer to the surface you begin to see pulsating rivers of light representing electron flows, and you hear a susurrus of sound representing thermal noise, which later grows to a keening roar as you approach a river of light. Getting closer to the chip surface and reducing the timescale you can see individual clumps of electrons switching through individual gates. The sound has also slowed, so you can hear each electron whizzing by. Getting even closer and further slowing the timescale shows a single electron about to tunnel out of a channel.

This tourbook idea works for any physical construct, natural or artificial. We could have tourbooks for trees, fire extinguishers, DNA, motor boats, lungs, car engines, eyes, televisions, humming birds, space shuttles, whales, or cyclotrons. More expensive versions of these books could dispense with the joystick and dimmer switch and instead accept simple vocal commands: stop, go, faster, slower, zoom here, pan, undo, reverse, put this there, what is this, show me more, tell me why.

next up previous contents
Next: Other Educational Books Up: Changes in Education Previous: Changes in Education
Gregory J. E. Rawlins