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The Textbook of the Future, How We Use Our Time, and How Mosquitoes Changed Everything

John Maynard Keynes thought future generations would work less and less. By 2030, he predicted in 1930, most people would work only 15 hours a week. Today, many people feel they work more than previous generations. But a new study suggests that how we use our time hasn’t changed that much in 50 years [1]: “One of the most fascinating myths the authors take on is the idea that people today are much busier than they were in the past. Certainly, life feels pretty overwhelming from where I’m sitting, with a full-time job, children and an arm’s-length list of chores that never get done. The media propagates the idea that we’re always multitasking, and that computers and phones have demolished the boundaries between work and home. Time-use data offers one way of examining objectively whether or not we’re really busier than our parents once were. The authors find little proof of increasing busyness among the population. Yes, as expected, people were spending far more time on digital devices in 2015 than they were in 2000. But the data provides little evidence that people now spend more time multitasking or that they’re switching more often from one activity to another, which might make our time seem fragmented and frantic.”

Kafka is often billed as the quintessential modernist. Was he? [2]

Sean Johnson reviews a graphic history of our relationship to the moon [3]: “Every time astronomers grew in their power to study or understand the moon, their discoveries would inevitably include some new mystery that continued to elude comprehension. Try as man might, our nearest celestial neighbor would remain a mystery to him as long as he remained held by his terrestrial confines. Though Moonbound is ostensibly a book about the NASA mission that landed the first men on the moon, Fetter-Vorm punctuates the story of Apollo 11 with accounts of the science that made the moon landing possible and the longings that made it inevitable.”

When Delmore Schwartz published “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” in Partisan Review in 1937 it struck an immediate chord. Why? [4] “It is a sobering study of no-longer-immigrants who have not yet found their balance in the new land. The narrator’s cries in the dark theater cannot affect the course of events. The artist baring his suffering cannot expect anything from an audience that appreciates the entertainment but is indifferent to his pain. While the ominous force of the story derives most obviously from the young man’s condition and sense of himself, it is hard to imagine that someone of Delmore’s intelligence and sensibility was not affected as well by what he knew of the mounting dangers to the Jews of Europe. Rarely has a sense of foreboding had greater justification or found subtler expression. The story admired for its personal singular intensity is also an augury of desperate times.”

How mosquitoes changed everything [5]: “They slaughtered our ancestors and derailed our history. And they’re not finished with us yet.”

Essay of the Day:

What will the textbook of the future look like and what does it mean for student learning? Brian Barrett reports [6]:

“The major publishers are publicly traded companies, under pressure to demonstrate constant growth. Pearson’s digital-first strategy is a significant step toward a more sustainable business model. Under the new system, ebooks will cost an average of $40. Those who prefer actual paper can pay $60 for the privilege of a rental, with the option to purchase the book at the end of the term. The price of a new print textbook can easily reach into the hundreds of dollars; under digital-first, students have to actively want to pay that much after a course is already over, making it an unlikely option for most.

“The benefits to Pearson are self-evident. More than half of its revenue comes from digital already; this move accelerates that transition, while providing substantial savings in printing overhead. It also helps nudge faculty toward using Pearson’s digital platforms, which for $79 offer an array of ancillary features like homework plans and assessment tools along with access to the book.

“Students stand to gain, as well. In addition to costing less than their physical counterparts, digital textbooks take up less space, and they’ll get more frequent updates. ‘Up until now the product development cycle and the revision cycle were still driven by essentially the way the world has been the last 40 years,’ Fallon says. ‘From now on all updates will be digital first. If there’s a scientific breakthrough, a compelling business case study, developments in contemporary politics or world events, you don’t need to wait three years. You can, from one semester to another, update content.’”

* * *

“But more technology doesn’t always mean better results. Within K-12 learning environments, the digital divide means that students in low-income and rural households have less access to reliable internet and fewer connected devices on which to complete the online portions of their homework. And while Pearson’s initiative applies only to textbooks in higher ed, the shift to digital has implications at the collegiate level as well.

“‘We are finding that even though undergraduates prefer to read digitally, these preferences aren’t actually showing positive or even equalness in terms of effect on comprehension,’ says Lauren Singer Trakhman, who studies reading comprehension at the University of Maryland’s Disciplined and Learning Research Laboratory. ‘When it comes to things like pulling details, key facts, numbers, and figures, participants are doing a lot better after reading in print.’”

Read the rest. [6]

Photo: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden [7]  

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