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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Beta Testing

Full Screen Full Motion

David E. objects that the Global Kids Second Life newcast was not terribly different from what kids were able to create with conventional media years ago. Point taken — I agree that the concept of what they did is more compelling then the execution. And there is a danger in that with new media. I remember when I first went to a convention where CD-ROMS were featured — the vendors kept saying "this is great, and, any day now, we will be having full screen, full motion, video." I was entranced, and came rushing back to the publishing house where I worked to spread the new gospel of CD-ROM. But then, over the next year, one outfit after another came calling, claiming that "this is great, and, any day now, we will have be having full screen, full motion video." I soon began to recognize hype, vaporware.

Just now I’ve been reading about the history of computers, for a bio of Bill Gates I’m writing. I was especially interested when the narrative reached that very same point in the 80s when I kept hearing those promises. It turned out that what I’d sensed was precisely true — each actor was promising what they knew would come eventually, what they were sure the public would want, even if they had no real idea of how to get there. That is the big danger with the digital world — it promises so much, and, in due time, people will probably figure out how to deliver all of those goodies. But right now, in real time, it is a bumpier ride — we the public are the beta testers.

That said, I disagree with David in his concern about replacing human circles with digital echoes. Yes, I am suggesting that a teacher, librarian, or parent could well supply the kinds of questions and challenges my son is looking for in a book. But the reality is that in most cases that will not happen. This is not just a question of time and motivation, but, as I’ve often pointed out in this column, we cannot expect teachers to have sufficient background in all of the subject areas that inspire young readers’ curiosity. So the appeal of creating these digital echoes of books — should that ever happen — is that it will guarantee readers some way to act on the questions and ideas prompted by book. The engaged adult could take it from there. The digital case is not a replacement for adults, but a safety net. Again, that Chicago Historical Museum site Monica pointed to goes in both directions — things you can do there, and things that are best done in class.


  1. Monica Edinger says:

    Safety net? Is there perhaps another metaphor that does not implicitly slam educators? While I too am sorry that American education is in such a lousy condition these days I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of stuff for kids being created to work without adults because the assumption is the adults won’t-can’t-whatever do it. Just another variation on teaching-proofing textbooks. Boy are we one useless bunch, we US teachers.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    I am not saying you are useless at all, but simply that we cannot count on your presence or knowledge — after all, most books are not read in a classroom situation. So why assume that a teacher will have any involvement in how a young reader engages with the text? Looking back at those STEM numbers with high turnover, doesn’t that suggest a need for a “safety net” as teachers churn through their positions?

  3. Monica Edinger says:

    Because teaching IS about interacting with students as they interact with the text. A tremendous amount of my work is helping kids learn how to read — nonfiction too.

    School reading should not be done in a vacuum. Sure, it often is sadly, but I would like to see the pendulum swing toward a belief again that teaching and books are interactive, not separated.