Liquidity in textbook form

Last weekend, when I asked my daughter-in-law about her new job, she tossed back a term I hadn’t heard before: “liquid textbooks.” The more she talked about it, the more I was intrigued.

I was very happy for her on a personal level, of course. Kathleen Schreurs graduated in spring with a master’s degree in information studies from the University of Toronto and had spent the summer looking for meaningful work. Last month, Symtext Corp., a startup in the heart of Toronto, brought her on board as its content and project manager.

Illustration by Symtext Corp.
Illustration by Symtext Corp.

But I was curious about how the concept of “liquidity” — a common term in physics, chemistry and finance — could be applied to postsecondary curricula. It turns out that liquid textbooks are fluid, living instructional materials capable of being even more dynamic than those custom-built course books cobbled together by professors for students and sold in institutional bookstores. The contents of a liquid textbook might consist of a wide variety of digital assets: chapters from a host of traditional textbooks, podcasts, audio, video, photographs and the like, augmented by materials authored or collected by the instructor. As a journalism prof, I’m intrigued by the possibility of altering the contents of my course materials on the fly: If a federal election is called this fall, for example, I’d be able to “pour” a series of new materials in my liquid textbook and extract less relevant segments. If a major news story breaks, I could make similar changes. Students gain access to the textbook through their local LMS (learning management suite), campus bookstore or as a standalone product.

It’s a compelling concept, especially for those of us who teach journalism, where the instructional tools and curriculum are in large measure the panoply of events that occur around us each day. The notion of a “textbook” that would consist of such a wide range of materials and that could be altered on the fly offers some interesting new possibilities. I plan to keep this option in the back of my mind as I work with my students through the coming semester.

Update: Retired educator Paul C, over at the highly rated Quoteflections site, draws our attention (thanks, Paul) to a popular rant by Seth Godin on textbooks. Indeed, liquidity in instructional materials goes a long way to addressing many of Godin’s concerns.

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