In advance of next week’s #beyondthetextbook forum hosted by Discovery Education, David Warlick has posted a good “fill in the blank” challenge on his blog: “The learning device(s) that our learners will walk into their classrooms with will be more like a ________________.”

After submitting “palantir” on his Google form I responded with a comment:

I’d offer up the “palantir” from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as an apt metaphor for our next-gen learning devices:

It will allow us to connect and collaborate, and work for both good and evil. There will be struggles over the control of the device, but ultimately each user will need to muster the will, discipline, and skill to use it both effectively and well.

I’ve used “Palantir” as the SSID for our home wifi network for several years. I think it’s an apt and powerful metaphor for information access, collaboration, and digital ethics at multiple levels. In many ways, I think our Internet-connected mobile learning devices are already more like a “palantir” than a book. There was a HUGE amount of responsibility and care which went along with having and using a palantir in LOTR. One significant difference in this metaphorical comparison is that in Tolkien‘s world, there were only a few “seeing stones of Numenor.” In our modern digital age, there is no limit to how many can be and will be created.

What do you think of this metaphor? Do you agree with the statement, “Your next textbook will be a palantir?”

'Palantír' photo (c) 2008, Mr. Muggles - license:

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3 Responses to Your Next Textbook Will be a Palantir

  1. Evie M says:

    Oh, how I enjoyed the “palantir” reference! I’m glad I’m not the only one using LOTR terminology to set up home networks (actually got the idea from some IT guys I worked with years ago).

    I think that “palantir” is a very good term for the analogy. These “devices”, these new “textbooks”, possess much power and promise — and could be sadly under-used or misused. I am currently spending a lot of time looking at the SAS ( — Standards Aligned System  — being created by the PA Dept of Ed as part of my reintroduction to the world of classroom teaching. I ask myself, “How do we get there, from here?” Your “palantir” seems to be the answer to some of the puzzle. We certainly cannot continue down the road most traveled and arrive with students ready to tackle tomorrow’s challenges, to succeed in a world of work where the jobs they may hold have not even been invented yet.

    However, I would like to see the analogy taken farther, to some specific applications. What do you see as the biggest risk for students in “using the palantir”, specifically? What, at this moment in the Web 2.0 universe, is the biggest gain to be achieved by its employment?

  2. Another commonality one could draw between new education technologies and the palantíri is the disparity in power between those with access to the technology and those without. Digital access and literacy (big Warlick talking points) are becoming more and more vital as new technologies are becoming ubiquitous in the classroom. 

    However, one big difference to LOTR is I don’t expect the learners in our world without the “planatíri” to outsmart the ones with them.


  3. Stlbanjo+edtech says:

    Moving the metaphor backwards, how would LOTR have been affected if palentiri were distributed as widely as computers in our world? Would Sauron have had as much power?

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