Contributor: Patti Marinelli, University of South Carolina; co-author (with Karin Fajardo) of Conectados.
Is the textbook dead? Numerous articles in the popular media cite declining sales of traditional printed textbooks and increasing sales of e-books and e-learning resources. Indeed, on most college campuses these days, you are more likely to find students’ book bags filled with personal electronic devices, water bottles, and energy bars than with traditional textbooks.
Of course the textbook itself is only one of the more recent manifestation of humankind’s desire to conserve and transmit information. From clay tablets to papyrus to parchment to paper, the medium for this transmission of knowledge has been in constant evolution. Digital learning materials are simply the latest step in this progression. Admittedly, their early form was far from perfect.
Just like the first models of automobiles closely resembled horse-drawn carriages (minus the horses), early examples of digital learning materials were often electronic copies of printed textbooks (minus the paper). However, in recent years these materials—like the automobile—have moved beyond their origins. Digital learning materials now make fuller use of the electronic medium and provide learning experiences that go far beyond the traditional printed textbook.
What are some of the advantages of these digital resources? In Introductory Spanish, Conectados is an example of the latest generation of digital-first learning materials. My co-author Karin Fajardo and I designed this program to take full advantage of the online environment. Here are five ways in which Conectados benefits instructors and students alike:
- Flexibility: More and more colleges and universities are offering the same course in different delivery formats: traditional face-to-face, flipped, hybrid, blended, and fully online. This variety of course types provides more options to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Well-designed digital resources can make it easy for instructors to easily adapt a “master” set of materials to all these course delivery formats with convenient assignment filters and instructor support resources.
- Rich learning environment: Digital learning materials can go way beyond written texts and photos. Online for example, it’s possible to provide extensive audio and video files as well as links to current websites that can be studied as often as the learner needs or wants. Also, digitally based learning need not be a solitary act: Students can connect online with their classmates and instructor for practice, tutoring, and assessment. With photo- and video- sharing capacities, the online environment can even be a place to build community among the class members.
- Learner-centered instruction: The digital environment can be adapted to provide a more effective and more engaging learning experience, where students spend more time on task than they would with traditional print materials. In Conectados, for instance, a five-step Learning Path – Ready?, Learn it!, Practice it!, Use it!, and Got it!—guides students through their learning in ways that are not possible in a print medium. For a quick introduction to the Learning Path, watch the video below.
- Increased support for students: Freed from the limitations of page count, digital learning materials can offer more of everything, from practice to assessment to reference. Student learning can become more self-regulated by providing self-tests, personalized study plans, video-based grammar tutorials, audio-enhanced flash cards, grammar summaries, glossaries, and online one-on-one tutoring.
- Increased support for instructors: For instructors, digital learning materials offer an online course management system that makes it easy to create courses and view student progress. There are no space limitations so the scope and range of instructor support materials can grow exponentially, with quizzes, tests, integrated performance testing, rubrics, syllabus templates, PowerPoints, and extensive explanations and pedagogical guides suitable for both new and experienced instructors.
With powerful benefits for learning and course management, digital learning materials are really today’s “textbook.” The introductory Spanish program Conectados was built from the ground up to make the most of all five benefits. To learn more, please visit the Conectados catalog page.
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What kinds of digital resources have you found to be most useful for intro Spanish? What do you think are the major advantages? Drawbacks? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.