Strange days indeed. A couple of years ago I went into a bank to deposit cash into my account and was informed by a proud employee that this was a cash-free bank. Now there are quite a few cash-free banks much to the irritation of the customers in striped jerseys and masks.
The classroom without books is a similarly bizarre concept but is becoming increasingly attractive. A few months ago Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger caused quite a stir by announcing that schools would be encouraged to phase out expensive textbooks in maths and science and replace them with free, on-line educational resources. Whether Arnold is well-versed in the benefits of Open Educational Resources and Creative Commons or not is of little importance. The point is that it has started a process and given teachers an opportunity to seriously start using digital learning objects.
An article in the New York Times (As classrooms go digital, textbooks are history) today presents a positive angle on the book-free classroom. Using on-line resources frees students from the restrictions imposed by the physical classroom and traditional teaching meodels. As a school superintendent says in the article:
“We’re still in a brick-and-mortar, 30-students-to-1-teacher paradigm, but we need to get out of that framework to having 200 or 300 kids taking courses online, at night, 24/7, whenever they want.”
Many schools are already providing students with laptops as part of a regional initiative called Beyond textbooks, encouraging teachers to share material and make use of net-based resources. The publishers of school textbooks are of course particularly at risk in this initiative but some are evidently already offering more e-books. One interesting development is the development of "flexbooks" where basic material is made available on the net and teachers can add to them and adapt them to their own school.
The key factor in this type of initiative is to ensure that the digital divide is not widened. Many students do not have internet access from home and it is vital that the move to on-line teaching does not only benefit students from wealthier families. It's worth keeping an eye on developments in California.