How I made the textbook of the future

With all the talk of the modern classroom, there is one technology above all else that is favored in the education community.

Teachers love it. Parents understand it. And kids, well kids tolerate it 🙂

It is of course the humble textbook.

As a piece of technology, and it is a piece of technology, it has evolved over hundreds of years to be the ubiquitous tool that it is today. And there is good reason why no other tech has replaced it yet.

It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s light, it needs no power and you can smash it into your bag and it comes out almost as good as new.

And …. of course there are many ways it can be improved. And that is what I set out to do 20 years ago.

For example here’s a typical example. It happens to be Russian, but they are the same all over the world.

Notice what the kids have written in? Yep, they’ve written in phonetic descriptions of the words in the local language. Because they don’t know how to pronounce them. It is heart breaking to see kids with awesome speaking skills being reduced to horrible pronunciation because they are forced to this.

So let’s fix that.

Let’s make it so whenever you touch any of those pictures they talk. And not just in one voice, in lots of different cool funky voices.

And let’s make the pictures move. Nothing too complex, just a touch of life.

Quizzes and games. Cool, nice. Let’s get them talking. And moving. And have them interactive, just like Nintendo.

And oh, a song! Very nice! Let’s touch it and see it play. In stereo. With actions and gestures and animations. Nice.

Maybe add a talking picture book too.

Do you see what I described there?

Yep, that is the Genki English program. That is all I wanted to do. Take something that works really well and make it work even better.

And to some degree we succeeded.

Thousands of teachers from all over the world use it almost every day.

The thing is that no one really likes computers.

All that logging in and out and downloads and passwords? Hassle! And youtube is cool and all, but where are the games? And pictures that talk?

“What about apps?” you might say.

Yes, a few years ago that’s what it looked like. We had Genki English on 800,000 tablets in Thailand and 30,000 in India. It was awesome!

Then Google and Apple came along and said, “Yeah, but if you want it to work on our tablets you have to totally rewrite it. That’ll cost you a few $100,000. Plus updates each year. And…. we’ll take a third of the money people pay you. And …. we’ll basically also make it so people expect it for free so you’ve no way of getting your money back. “

And of course small screens, batteries, tech hassles, updates, tablets don’t really have it yet.

So this is the challenge.

Genki English has the curriculum, the lessons, the awesome songs, pictures, stories and narrations. Everything is there.

But just how do we get it into a form factor that is so amazing, easy to use and understand as a textbook?

Teachers love them. Parents understand them. And if we got the tech right, kids would go crazy for them too.

So just how do we do it? That’s what keeps my brain awake every single night.

And if you could help me find a solution or idea I’d love you too 🙂

Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. And when I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. So I'm sharing it all with you now...

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