Digital Textbooks Go Straight From Scientists to Students

In a January 26 post in Wired Science, Dave Mosher writes:

A year ago, electronic textbook publishers turned down David Johnston’s big idea: the first interactive marine science textbook.

Johnston, who runs a marine biology lab at Duke University, wanted the digital tome to show undergraduate students what his scientific field has to offer. But e-book publishers said the subject matter was too niche and the requested features too expensive to make financial sense.

“When we approached them, they essentially told us we were too small,” Johnston said. Frustrated by the experience, Johnston set out to create open source software to publish the book himself.

“We are not going after the biology 101 iPad textbook. We are not trying to build the digital textbook for chemistry,” Johnston said. “We’ve created a simple tool for specialized subjects where there isn’t a textbook, and knowledge advances quickly. Being an open source effort gives academics the flexibility they need.”

The first interactive marine science textbook for the iPad is called Cachalot (French for “sperm whale”). It’s a free, app-based book that covers the latest science of marine megafauna like whales, dolphins and seals with expert-contributed text, images and open-access studies. Through a digital publication system called FLOW, the book also offers students note-taking tools, Twitter integration, Wolfram|Alpha search and even National Geographic “critter cam” videos.

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