' Peer Factor: Case Study

Rethinking the Textbook: Toward a Participatory Paradigm

KW: Just as the word book is an inadequate term to describe the electronic media and platforms that are creating book alternatives, textbook is a less than adequate term for emerging digital learning tools. The next-generation textbooks are part of a larger cultural revolution that is reinventing both text and book. This change is taking place in the context of what Henry Jenkins (2003) calls participatory culture, a phenomenon causing huge shifts for content-driven media businesses:

Patterns of media consumption have been profoundly altered by a succession of new media technologies which enable average citizens to participate in the archiving, annotation, appropriation, transformation, and recirculation of media content. Participatory culture refers to the new style of consumerism that emerges in this environment…Not surprisingly, participatory culture is running ahead of the technological developments necessary to sustain industrial visions of media convergence and thus making demands on popular culture which the studios are not yet, and perhaps never will be, able to satisfy. The first and foremost demand consumers make is the right to participate in the creation and distribution of media narratives. (p. 286)

We need only change the phrase “popular culture” to “education,” and “studios” to “textbook publishers and universities” and Jenkins has captured a snapshot of where our sector is headed. This participatory paradigm is antithetical to the print model where published content comes from a select few, the systems for participation and revision are closed, and the production process is linear and finite. The college and university system is, likewise, a top-down institution. Students are too often treated as consumers of knowledge that experts bestow rather than as “prosumers” who co-create their educational experience by sampling and remixing courses, by seeking out skill sets needed to complete projects of their own design, or by interacting with instructors and peers in a collaborative manner.

The Peer Factor game addresses this emerging cultural environment by offering a context in which students can direct their own educational experience. Participatory culture is a “learn by doing” culture and, as Ryan points out in the Game Pedagogy section, games give students an opportunity to experiment with different approaches to form their own hypothesis and reach their own conclusions. Additionally, the “peer expert” ethos inherent in Web 2.0 culture provides the perfect forum for the peer review lesson. As instructors, our first, and perhaps most difficult, task is to empower students to think of themselves as experts with useful observations and advice to offer. This lesson is easier to teach in a new media environment where amateurs create, publish, and edit wiki-encyclopedias, blogs, and websites. In this realm, everyone has a place at the table and everyone's opinion counts.

RM: Rethinking the textbook isn’t just about keeping up with the Web 2.0 hype, and I do not wish to be mistaken for making such a claim here. As we have discussed elsewhere in this webtext, there are opportunities to create learning objects that do things that print textbooks cannot do. The gap in peer review coverage that Kim discovered, for example, may have to do with the limitations of paper-based textbooks. The concepts of peer review are best learned by doing—through interaction or simulated interaction—and they are deeply instructor dependent, relying on individual instructors to establish their value in any given class. But until now there was no way to make a textbook that could provide interactive experiences with peer review or other complex social processes.

This is not to say that print culture products are destined for the scrapheap or that games are the panacea for the educating the 21st century student. Our goal with Peer Factor was to see if we could bring together the best of both worlds, print and new media, to create a resource that had the depth of a print resource and the engaging interactivity of a game.

This webtext draws upon these resources and experiences to discuss how we took the next critical step and designed an interactive educational text that employed game elements. Games present themselves as very real possibilities of valid teaching tools. Early class tests are promising, but it remains to be seen how successfully we can implement a game like Peer Factor into the classroom scenario.