The textbook redefined

Where would education be without textbooks?

I think about just about every course that I ever took and there it was.  In fact, it was a part of the ceremony of the first day of class.  You get the textbook – it’s numbered so that you’re accountable for it – you sign for it and then use it in the course for the term/semester/year.  At university, there’s a rush to go to the bookstore because they really don’t trust you and you have to buy your own.  I know that there was a used bookstore but they never seemed to have the books that I needed.  And forget the library; textbooks were on the shelves but you couldn’t borrow them to take home.  They were restricted for use at the library only.  Later, as a teacher, I was on the other end of that numbered list distributing and recording textbooks on the first day of class, collecting them on the last day of class except for the students who wanted them to study for the exam, and then going to the exam room and collecting them.  Then, you have to reconcile the collection with the original distribution list and identify those texts that have to be rebound or replaced over the summer.  Also, there’s the occasional call home to ask mom and/or dad to make sure that it’s returned.  Textbooks are hard work.  We’re now even concerned about back issues with students who put them in their knapsacks and carry them to school and back over one shoulder.  Whew!

At my university courses, we didn’t have a textbook.  Everything was done on the class wiki.  Since all the class had read/write abilities, we were actually writing the book as we went through the course.  Students would attach their presentation packages, links to resources, and links to Google forms and other online documents for quick and easy access.  But, if the truth be told, if we really had to, we could have sent the content to the printer and everyone have their own paper copy.  At least for the most part – because the course was Computer Science, there would have been links to programs or snippets of code to run to demonstrate a learning concept.  At this point, the traditional approach didn’t serve our needs.

The past couple of days, I’ve been reading about a new Google initiative called “Editions at Play.’

There’s even a Twitter account to follow.

Read The Verge‘s take here.

At present, there are two books available for purchase.  Under the two, there’s a section where people are crowdsourcing/brainstorming ideas.

Naturally, my thoughts turn to education.  There are those advocates who talk about change by saying that we should “ban the textbook”.  There’s a great deal to be said for that.  The traditional textbook, by design, is linear and builds on concepts.  Of course, there are questions and problems at the end of each concept so that students can practice what they’re supposed to have learned.  I’m looking at you, math textbooks.  Of course, there has to be the teachers’ answer key to accompany.

For a moment, throw out all the textbooks and think about your subject/students and what really should be happening in class.  For that same moment, forget that this concept requires that every user has a smartphone to function.

If you could be “champion for the cause”, could you describe a book for your subject area that couldn’t be printed?  Does the concept take us any closer to the change/revolution that engages and champions all students? 

What does it look like?

Chances is, if you’re a teacher, you’re drawing a blank because you went through the system described above. 

What would your students say?

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: Follow me on Twitter: I'm bookmarking things at:

2 thoughts on “The textbook redefined”

  1. Sometimes students ask me how to print out my e-Learning course. I have to tell them they’ll only be able to print a tiny fraction of the content, since videos, zipped projects, external sites, and so on don’t really transfer well to paper. It was actually a problem when I taught MCF3M (math) online as students were so used to print resources. In the end, they have to make their own books if they want them by summarizing the learning. I won’t sacrifice the power of video to make a printer-friendly version. 🙂

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  2. I use the online course for my MHF 4U and MCV 4U courses as my textbook. I do issue the bought text each semester but I find it is a security blanket for the students. The online course is a living textbook where I can add links, videos and supplemental content. I have seen some students print the activities and have notes in the columns. For me to change and add is far more valuable than the textbook.

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