Improving Learning through Digital Interactive Textbooks

By the mid-1990's, computer textbook authors Dan Oja and June Parsons were becoming frustrated with the limitations of paper books. Recognizing the inherent limitations of paper, they thought about the features that could be made available digitally, and set about creating a digital publishing system to provide those features. The result was an interactive, multimedia digital publishing system with features that go far beyond the limitations of paper books, PDF files, or first-generation e-books.

Their company, MediaTechnics Corporation, creates college computer textbooks and related products. One of those products is the BookOn interactive digital publishing system, which is used to deliver digital versions of many best-selling college computer textbooks, such as New Perspectives on Computer Concepts, The Practical PC, and Illustrated Computer Concepts.

In their textbooks, photos come to life as video and conceptual drawings turn into animations right on the page. Many pages include links to web sites so students can access additional information with a single mouse click. The end of each section and chapter contains interactive material that is auto-graded, providing valuable feedback to the learner, and also helping the instructor to track student progress through the course. "Essentially, the paper book is a static snapshot," commented Oja. "The digital book is the complete version of the product, providing the richest learning environment."

Dan originally wrote the digital publishing system in Visual Basic, but over time Visual Basic became less appropriate for the type of products that MediaTechnics needed to create. MediaTechnics developers evaluated a number of alternative development environments, finally selecting Xojo, which they've used for every project since.

Xojo was a particularly appropriate development tool for MediaTechnics developers, in part because they needed to create portable applications that could run from a CD without installation. Install-free operation was a crucial feature, because many of their products are used in computer labs where students cannot make changes to the computers or install any software. Also, the cross-platform support for Windows, OS X, and eventually Linux was a significant advantage of Xojo.

"I like the development environment, and the language itself, and I appreciate the ability to compile one code base for various platforms - it's been a big time saver," said Oja. "Selecting Xojo as our primary development environment was one of the best decisions we've ever made."

"We are always working on something in Xojo," commented Oja. "We are currently working on a number of new projects and major enhancements."