The Digital Codex

The emergence of a new literacy

Published: 3 October 2012

The codex or the bound book marked a technological breakthrough in the printed world. Its significance cannot be underestimated. The codex bought with it the expansion of religious and scientific teaching across the globe. The advent of the printing press many centuries later accelerated the distribution of the written word. The format of the codex or the bound book was so natural and intuitive to use that its format has remained unchanged since its inception nearly two millennia ago.

The third millennium begins with it another profound and technological breakthrough; namely the advent of the digital e-book. The digital book has been in existence for many decades since the NLS project in the 1960s, but until recently the ability for people to author, distribute and consume the written word in an e-book has not been universally available.

The advent of the e-book has enabled traditional text to be supplemented and enhanced with rich digital media. The e-book is no longer a digital copy of the codex but rather a medium that enables readers to interact with the written word in a manner never envisaged before. The reader is no longer the passive consumer of text; rather the reader has become an active participant and contributor to the modern digital codex. The ability to be an active agent is the single reason to be optimisitc about the future of the book and for encouraging widespread reading amongst the younger adult population in schools.

The opportunity for schools to take advantage of the new and emerging digital codex is an exciting one. It has the potential to excite and engage teachers and students alike. As often happens this technological breakthrough in the digital codex is set to transform teaching and learning.


The Digital Codex

Within the education setting, the advent of the modern e-book has led to a growing debate about the use of e-books within the school setting. For instance, will schools continue to invest in books for their libraries, will schools take up the use of e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes and Noble, will the business and pricing model for e-books become more affordable for schools, how will publishers introduce rich digital media into e-books, how will schools overcome the digital divide issues around access to e-books and how will schools engage learners with the written word in a media rich world?    

The modern digital codex will take many forms and it will not be centered around a single form of technology. For instance, depending on what is required, students and teachers will access the codex from the world wide web, e-readers such as the iPad, Kindle or from the Barnes and Noble device and from little known services such as print on demand. Schools will need to be equipped to effectively manage these content distribution channels.

The world wide web, online learning platforms, digital content channels and the digital codex all raise the question about the purpose and function of traditional educational institutions. There is no doubt that technology will continue to transform educational establishments and the digital codex will be one of those catalysts for change. Schools should take advantage of the growing momentum behind how information and knowledge is distributed, consumed and remade. The advent of the new digital codex will have a profound impact on the availability and dissemination of digital literature across the education sector. Whilst recognising that Apple’s textbooks for the iPad marks a significant step change in how we perceive the modern codex it is important to note that we must always focus on the learning experience and how we can better engage learners to become active participants in this new digital age.

The digital codex will take and absorb many forms. For instance, a recent development is the application of augmented reality to the traditional text book. Here the two dimensional images of a text book become part of a larger web based catalogue of augmented reality files. Through an augmented reality app on a smartphone, tablet PC or a classroom visualiser the reader has the ability to view 3D and interactive content when held over a 2D image on the textbook. LarnGear is a company that has developed some interesting applications with its use of traditional marker cards and textbook images to showcase imaginative and interactive AR content.



There is no doubt that the digital codex will excite and engage readers whatever their age. It has the potential to revitalise the publishing industry and the various sectors that produce traditional written literature to support learners in full time education or those in the workplace. The digital codex opens the door to various industries including film, gaming, 3D publishing and many more.

The wave of innovation will be equal to and if not greater than the revolution that began with the printing press. Just as the original codex transformed the world with the spread of the written word, the digital codex will transform how we produce, consume, digest, contribute to and share the written word with the aid of engaging multi-media.

Technological advances in hardware and software have redefined the codex. For now, the digital codex will continue to be refined as new means of authoring, distributing and interacting with the codex continue to be developed.

The digital codex continues to develop and it will take many new forms and shapes. We have already seen the introduction of various elements such as sound, movies, animation and interactive components into the digital codex. The introduction of 3D monitors and 3D tablet devices will further redefine the digital codex for students and teachers. 3D immersive environments enable the codex to wrap around the student so that he or she can engage with subject matter in ways never envisioned before. Gaia Technologies is a UK company that is redefining the digital codex. The company has developed 3D immersive environments for the education sector. Gaia's 3D digital codex is designed to enable teachers and students to author, edit and add their own content and learning objects to the 3D immersive environments.

The challenge for the educaion sector is to grasp the opportunties that open up through the greater availability of digital resources. Schools will need to ensure that their teachers and students are equipped to travel through this ever changing digital landscape so that learning opportunities can be effectively supported. Schools are quickly recognising the power of technology to magnify the potential of all learners and educators alike. More importantly they accept that technology alone is not enough to enable positive change within an education setting. By placing a greater emphasis on promoting positive cultural and pedagogic change the impact of new technologies and services such as the digital codex will be more pronounced.



I regularly mention the issue of the digital divide within the education sector. We see many schools who have secured the position of digital advantage. These schools have well developed ICT infrastructure and networked services and access to networked devices and services is ubiqutious for students and teachers. These supernodes are well placed to take advantge of the digital codex. But there are many other schools who do not have access to robust networked services and were access to reliable end user devices is not always gauranteed. These schools are not in a position to take advantage of the resources that are made available through the digital codex. School leaders will need to address these issues if they are to reduce the widening digital gap between schools.