Remember Arne Duncan? I do. He was the Education Secretary under the Obama administration, and in 2012 he (somewhat controversially) declared that “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.” From our 2018 vantage point, this statement seems a little silly. Textbooks are still relevant to today’s schools, but I can sympathize with the aspiration - the interactive potential of a true digital-only curriculum is significant, with advantages that traditional print textbooks will struggle to match. Even publishers agree, with organizations like Pearson sinking $930 million annually into a digital transition strategy. On that note, I think “transition” is the operative word in this context. The education industry is in a liminal state between the analog past and the digital future, and we’re all agreed on the destination - how we get there is another question entirely. What will it look like when we have an optimal combination of digital interactivity and traditional pedagogy?
I didn’t have to look too hard to find many possible answers this question, thanks to the tireless work of Nicky Case and their Explorable Explanations hub, a website that “contains everything from video games, to sandbox toys, to interactive graphics/articles/textbooks.” Explorabl.es aggregates digital experiences from far-flung corners of the web, interactive or otherwise, and presents them as a collection of content that combines learning and play. The sheer variety and depth of these experiences is a striking reminder that the possibilities are very near endless when it comes to the ways we leverage technology to deliver teaching content.
I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite Explorables below, but I encourage you to go check out the full list and get inspired by what the future holds for digital teaching content.
Probably the most recognizable of the games I’m highlighting, SineRider has been kicking around on the internet for a while. Anyone who has spent time making graphs on their trusty TI-86 will be instantly familiar with the premise of SineRider: players build slopes and curves using a graphing interface, all in the interest of solving puzzles where little stick figures sled along those slopes and curves.
My personal favorite of the Explorables I sampled, Learning Music from Ableton is a whirlwind course in the fundamentals of music theory and creation. As shown in the GIF above, this content is built around the same kind of basic beat-making interface found in programs like FL Studio, Reason, and yes, Ableton. I could write an entirely separate article about what a clever piece of content marketing this is, because the value this piece provides is substantial. Even as a music enthusiast and musician myself, I walked away with a deeper understanding of music fundamentals, so I strongly recommend running through this course at least once.
Originally created by Daniel Kunin when he was an undergraduate at Brown University, Seeing Theory is a website designed to make statistics more accessible through interactive visualizations. Stats concepts like basic probability are broken out into subtopics like chance events, expectations, and variance, all of which are illustrated with interactives that are easily manipulated by the learner. The site is particularly good at compressing the time and effort it would take to generate and analyze big chunks of statistic data - for instance, generating 100 coin flips to analyze patterns is as simple as pressing a single button.
Created by Marc ten Bosch, 4D Toys is a mind-blowing way to interact with shapes that exist (at least partially) in the 4th dimension. The core premise of 4D Toys is that “the rules of how objects bounce, slide and roll around can be generalized to any number of dimensions,” and with this app, learners can see that phenomenon in practice. It’s available via Steam and the App Store, and I personally lean towards the App Store version as a touchscreen makes the 4D Toys experience delightfully tactile.