For many years, educators and other observers have forecast the death of the textbook.
Yet when Apple introduced iBooks two weeks ago, it was met with great fanfare in parts of the education community. Several major textbook publishers signed on as initial customers.
It’s no surprise that these companies eagerly signed on to a “solution” that largely preserves the status quo. The iBooks, for all their bells and whistles, still have one fatal flaw: they are still textbooks. They are a case, in the words of Pete Townsend, of “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.”
As education professor Alec Couros Tweeted last week, “as long as there are textbooks of any sort, there will be no reform.”
What will it take to bring about the death of the textbook?
What comes next must be created by passionate educators who, in the words of John Carver, superintendent of Van Meter (Iowa) Schools, collectively decide that no one should have "ownership" over what is taught in schools.
iBooks fall far short of this ideal:
- iBooks are created by education companies that are susceptible to politically driven agendas. This is a phenomenon that has been around long before the 2010 Texas controversy.
- iBooks reflect the perspective of a small number of writers and editors, rather than the collective wisdom of experienced educators.
- iBooks largely impose a textbook's "one size fits all" approach to learning on a diverse group of students, with different interests, abilities and needs;
- iBooks will not reduce the $8 to $15 billion the U.S. education system spends on text books each year. iPads are required to read them, and, given the large file size for each textbook, students will likely need the 32GB iPad, which currently retails for $699; furthermore, the $15 textbook is not transferable from one student to another, and thus the cost is the same as a $75 textbook that lasts five years.
How can educators collaboratively develop a tool that solves all of these problems?
For many years now, a rapidly growing number of innovative educators around the world have been using the Web to deliver the best educational experience to their fortunate students. They are finding, and sharing with their students, outstanding Web resources - including primary sources, expert analysis and countervailing viewpoints - that dwarf the information available in any textbook. This information is the virtual version of a "course pack" of articles that many college professors curate for students.
What is needed is a single, central repository that aggregates the work of these educators and makes it easily searchable. Teachers would be able to access assignments created by other teachers, learn from them, build on them, and then contribute their own, improved versions to the repository.
To put a smiley face on a despised term, it would create a "Race to the Top" unburdened by federal oversight.
We’ve created a prototype of such a repository, called findingEducation (a name unlikely to endure). It's in Alpha stage, but in its current form, it has several useful features:
- Its back-end helps includes selective tools that help educators easily find the best online resources about any subject.
- Its “My Library” enables teachers to save the links they find to a bookmarking tool, which can be viewed by other educators;
- Educators than share the links with students on a blog-like assignment page, called a “digital classroom.”
- Teachers are welcome to "frame" the page for the digital classroom so that it appears integrated into the school Website.
- For findingEducation, or any other tool, to replace textbooks, it needs a critical mass of educators from one subject using it regularly. Educators must be permitted to make use of each other’s work, without restriction.
For example, once a few dozen U.S. History teachers create innovative, resource-rich assignments relating to the U.S Civil War, a new teacher entering the fray can synthesize the best of the existing lesson plans to create his or her own.
See a sample page: http://markskillman.findingeducation.com/
For more information on findingEducation:
Take a site tour.