Textbooks: Free or Paid?

The move for districts to create their own textbooks and curriculum seems to be taking on steam lately. I know this has been going on for years, but is now really finding more momentum because of budget cuts and the increasing availability of content online.

As a parent, I’ve seen a number of teachers who use the textbook merely as a guide. I have to say those classes were the ones my kids found the most engaging and rewarding. Even when I was teaching, over 20 years ago, I never used a textbook. One school I taught at had NO social studies texts – we wrote our classes as we went (a little too stressful for this first year teacher.) But I actually had students come back a couple of years later to tell me how much they got from that class. And that was without a textbook.

I’m not saying textbooks are bad – far from it. I know many great teachers and classes who use the textbook very well. Teachers don’t have time to put together curriculum -it’s a very time consuming process. Nor do they (I certainly didn’t) have expertise in all the areas they have to teach.

But the movement for Open Educational Resources (OER) and other types of free/reduced cost textbooks is really taking off. I’ve seen a number of blog posts on it lately (check my delicious feed).

My kids have a couple of digital textbooks, but they are basically pdfs online. Hardly worth it. I’m hoping to soon see textbooks that really take advantage of the medium. As AUdrey Watters said ,

But when you digitize textbooks, you can disassemble all those various pieces that comprise it — the different units, chapters, exercises, diagrams, illustrations and so on — and you can reengineer something completely different. You can add video explanations, for example. You can make the diagrams interactive. You can add social elements, letting students make notes in the “margins” and share them with one another.

The Audrey Watters’ post led me to another blog by the Utah Open Textbook project, which highlighted another reason I think these less-expensive, teacher created curricula may succeed:

 you buy one per student each year and give it to the student to keep forever, highlight in, take notes in, etc. – things they aren’t allowed to do in their traditional textbooks.

College students are used to this, but what about high school? or younger? It’s an excellent idea that I think merits more research.

More to come on textbooks, I think.

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