Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Textbooks Be Gone...It's Time To Pronounce them Dead!

There are few aspects of the earliest school paradigm still hanging on.  Most notably are the rectangular classroom with a front where the teacher hangs out, grading scales, the design of schools in general, and our good friend the textbook.

The goal of the textbook, in my opinion, is to be a presentation of the topics/concepts/skills in someone's words other than mine.  A second version of the material is important, because not every student will get an idea from being in my class and experiencing my presentation of the topic.  The text is one other voice available to my students.  The more voices my student experiences, the better the chance that one will actually hit home and spark long term learning about the topic.

The problem with textbooks are so numerous I cannot even get to them all.  I will, though, give you the biggies from my viewpoint here and now.  Texts are too large.  Texts are too busy.  Texts are too predictable.  Texts are too expensive!  Textbooks are the same as they ever were.  Textbooks don't fit how people learn best and especially how kids learn today.  Textbooks have become dinosaurs.

With all the technological revolution and changes to society due to technology, the closest thing to a revolution in textbooks is the iBook.  With an attempt at embedding multimedia and interaction into the format of a traditional digital textbook, at least something new and vibrant was created.  But, I still think the concept of a "One-stop Shop" for any class's material is a bad one.  No author is great at every topic in the curriculum, so why not have authors write great work for the information they teach and know greatly?

iBooks suffer from an important problem that will make them unusable from my point of view:  they are proprietary to one OS.  Only those using the iOS can utilize the iBook format.  While smart for Apple in the short run, having limited access may force schools to look elsewhere.  It's up to a company or startup to create an OS independent, truly flexible multimedia/interactive textbook format for true implementation of digital texts to make it.  OS independence is important for the authors so that they can be assured the barrier to implementation of their work is at most the writing, examples, multimedia and interactive learning they put into their product.

Today, I am just as happy to create an OPW Text (other-people's-work) by searching for good chapters/sections worth reading for my students.  Post the readings before or after my class and the students have a nearly free text.  Just like a textbook, each chapter needs my perusal and approval before it goes out to the students, but in the OPW Text case I can scrap that bad read (chapter) and look for an alternative.  The flexibility and cost of the OPW text is amazing, and most students appreciate your effort for not killing their pocketbooks (did I mention that texts are expensive)?  If you don't like a chapter available from OPW, then write your own and make it publicly available.

We'll see what happens, but I fear for the publishing industry.  They have dumped tons of money into homework system to tie to their text to get you to buy.  They have created color picture, graph and examples problems at a real expense.  But, they have not done anything to help the content come alive or to engage the reader.  The authors are to blame, partially, for not thinking about the learner of today (the ones using the text) but the publisher should be looking for that innovation and have not been.  The money has been too easy and they have had a captive audience for a long time (especially at the college level).

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