co_LAB the academic book of the future

In May 2016, co_LAB (The Collaboration Laboratory) undertook an intensive, interdisciplinary workshop that brought together students and staff from across the University of Lincoln, UK to collaborate and innovate in response to a core brief. Participants from Media Production, Psychology, Computer Science, Performing Arts and Games Computing considered the possibilities for the production and dissemination of academic knowledge in the context of the digital age, aiming to challenge/expand current perceptions, and lay the groundwork for a wider view of what might be an appropriate format for the ‘book’ in the 21st Century.

The Brief

Using the research questions of the AHRC-funded 'Academic Book of the Future' project as a framework for the workshop, students considered the purposes that different kinds of academic books are thought to fulfil and the forms that books take in the world of digital media and open-access publishing. The workshop employed a discovery-based learning approach, with students free to develop innovative concepts in a range of media that addressed these issues.

The Academic Book of the Future is currently in its second phase of a two-year cycle, which is focussed on facilitating conversations with and between all stakeholders of the academic book (including academics, publishers, librarians, booksellers and policy-makers). As part of this process, support has been given to institutions from across the UK to interrogate current and emerging issues around the academic book and its contexts:

  • The purposes that different kinds of academic books are thought to fulfil
  • The ways researchers and publishers create academic books
  • The forms that books take in the world of digital media and open-access publishing
  • The spaces, physical and digital, in which academic books are found
  • The accessibility, usability, functionality of academic books
  • The impact of academic books
  • The ways value judgements are made about academic books and the research they contain
  • What do scholars want from academic books?
  • What new challenges and opportunities do librarians, publishers, booksellers, and academics face?


After a week of collaborative research, discussions and ideation, a central concept was developed: rather than replacing the book in its current form(s), we wish to develop an interactive, multimodal system for augmenting the book. The principle here is to connect many ‘containers’ of knowledge (print books, eReaders, journals, etc.) and enable different devices and applications to be integrated in order to deliver a variety of multiplatform / multimedia / multisensory features that can support learning, engagement and comprehension. Our discussions and research highlighted a number of preferable functionalities and learning requirements for academics in the 21st century:

  • Personalised and customisable learning experience that supports individual needs
  • Information about the impact, citations and relevance of the book (and its contents)
  • Key-words, overviews and additional information about content, authors, related readings, etc.
  • Ability to tag, categorise, archive
  • Opportunities for users to discuss, analyse, critique and exchange related/supporting/contrary research
  • Sourcing related audio-visual content and other online materials
Scholr: Integrated Learning System

The core concept developed throughout the workshop was 'Scholr', an integrated learning system that aims to support and enhance the academic experience. Scholr is a networked platform that connects existing digitised databases of books, audiovisual content and open data sets; provides a community/social experience where readers can also be producers of new knowledge and academic debate; and allows new applications to be developed across a variety of technologies. The principles of 'collective intelligence' and open/big data would result in more refined, reliable and relevant augmented content, whilst the development of applications could be opened up to the community through plugins and developer kits.

Initial Concept Designs: Interactive Surface

In order to visualise this system in action, we decided to develop the concept further to include an interactive surface that augments the book with additional content to support individual learning preferences and extend the comprehension of the user. After discussing the potential functionality of the interactive table, the group produced a number of initial concept designs:

Concept Design 1
Concept Design 2
Concept Design 3
Concept Design 4

The group decided to develop this concept further by incorporating the visual style of 'Concept Design 1' in combination with some of the functionalities of the other designs. To help with the development and prototyping process we set about storyboarding, filming and producing a range of motion graphics as proof-of-concept materials. Here's a concept visualisation of the interactive table in action:


Advantages of the Scholr Interactive Surface

The Scholr learning system can be accessed and modified on a number of devices, providing additional experiences that can be further enhanced when using the interactive table. Importantly, we are not looking to replace traditional print or existing eBooks. Scholr aims to augment the learning experience, improve modes of comprehension, facilitate intellectual discussion between communities of learners, and make academic knowledge more inclusive and accessible. We imagine libraries and classrooms of the future could use this technology to foster a more collaborative culture of knowledge exchange and critical debate about books. Scholr represents a number of potential benefits for each stakeholder in the academic book of the future:


  • Supports an understanding of the relevance and significance of the book
  • Supports comprehension by providing overviews, summaries and related content
  • Students can become producers of new knowledge by contributing to communities of discussion and debate about what they are reading
  • Keep track of notes, key research findings and quotes from a book by transferring to project folders
  • Intuitive system that is customisable and adaptable to learner styles and requirements
  • Uses gameful design to motivate and encourage users in their learning
  • Enables learners to create their own textbook from topics that interest them the most
  • Suggests related readings (that are supportive or contrary to the current book)
  • Suggests related audiovisual content
  • Embeds digital literacies and Active Critical Thinking


  • Can encourage collaborative team-work amongst students
  • Contribute to community of educators with shared interest in digital pedagogies
  • Compile customised course text-books
  • Potential to develop novel assessments methods that documents/maps students engagement with research through ePortfolios and digitised reading lists


  • REF - allows impact to be documented in real time
  • Feedback from academic community can help scholars develop their ideas
  • Community tagging can make books and articles easier to locate
  • Linking to associated audio-visual content can enhance content and make books more accessible to a wider audience
  • Enables live updates of book editions


  • Connect to and interact with existing digitised book databases
  • The ability for communities to tag and categorise specific content can aid the archiving of books
  • Potential to encourage increased student use of libraries

Publishers and Booksellers

  • Potential for speedier peer-reviewed publishing
  • Customisable publishing for content under Open Access and Creative Commons licence (build-your-own-book)
  • Doesn’t make existing publishing or monetisation strategies obsolete (but rather presents new opportunities)
  • Suggested readings and social debate focussed on particular books can foster enhanced engagement and increased sales
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Created with images by inproperstyle - "ipad apple tablet" • StartupStockPhotos - "student typing keyboard" • thebarrowboy - "285/365 Relief" • miniqueaustralia - "letters typewriter vintage" • jenniferjoan - "Hjorring Library" • LubosHouska - "books bookstore book"

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