Saturday, May 28, 2011

Textbooks - the end is nigh

Textbooks account for a major post in every student's budget but not for much longer. I've written many times on this theme and can find very few arguments in favour of keeping the printed tomes. Textbooks are first in line to go digital. Printed textbooks are always out of date (especially technology and science), cannot be updated without printing a new edition once a year and are very expensive investments considering their short sell-by date. Online resources can be updated daily and are subject to constant peer review. Just try and change a Wikipedia article and see how long your change lasts before being erased if you aren't able to provide references.

Textbooks (001/365) by timuiuc, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  timuiuc 

There's an excellent post on the need for course literature to go fully online by David Warlick, Six reasons why textbooks should stop being textbooks. He argues the case for open source textbooks online which can be updated regularly and scrutinized by the most demanding of reviewers - the teachers who use the resources. He gives six convincing arguments for this development that can be briefly summed up as follows:
  • Technology exists already
  • There's a wealth of content already freely available
  • Plenty expertise available (ie teachers)
  • Communities are already in place
  • Learners should be part of the process
  • It's about developing literacy into the digital domain
 He's against the official approval stamp that authorities give traditionl textbooks since today's information society is too fluid to be able to decide that any particular book is approved for several years to come.

"Do textbooks, from the bookstore reflect today’s prevailing information environment? No! But do digital textbooks, that are stamped “Approved” by some government agency, reflect an increasingly dynamic information environment and rapidly changing world any better? I think not! Teachers should be collecting, evaluating, editing and assembling their own textbooks, because it requires them to practice and talk about the contemporary literacy skills of a digital and networked information landscape — in front of their learners."

Instead of publishers and authorities deciding what students shoul read the decision making is now delegated to the teachers and to an increasing extent the students and pupils. New literacy skills are essential for teachers and students to be able to collaborate on what reading (and other media) should be included in a course. This negotiation is a process that leads to a deeper understanding of the subject since all are involved in exploring the latest ideas and theories.

The potential of tools like OER Glue (mentioned in a previous post) points the way forward I think. Using freely available resources teachers and students can together collaborate on compiling course material and resources. The learning experience will be greatly enhanceddue to greater invilvement but before this can be realised we need a change in attitudes towards what we mean by education, teaching and learning. We need new attitudes towards collaboration and new literacies. That is the challenge facing education today. The future is waiting but how do we get there?

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