Friday, May 10, 2013

Time to Ditch The Textbooks

For many in education, the title of this entry is blasphamy. After all, if we do not have a text book for every student, how will they learn all this content we need to cover in less than 180 days?

My first year teaching (2006/2007), I walked in to my classroom and did not find a single text book that aligned with the classes I was going to start teaching in two short weeks. I panicked and pulled out the budget I that was designed by the previous teacher and quickly found that there was little money for text books. I started to dig in our book depository upstairs and found "Computer Literacy" text books, only to discover that they were from 1986. I was in 8th grade in 1986. I thought maybe there were some gems in the book I could use, but when I read the line "by the year 2000, computers will make us so productive that a full-time work week will only need to be 20 hours long." I laughed out loud, slammed it shut, and kept one copy as reference.
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All the programming books I found were for programming languages I wasn't slated to teach. In fact, they were for languages I didn't even know how to program in. Shelved those too. I ended up ordering books for my Web Design class. But then in under two years, I learned why my predecessor did not buy many text books.

Not only are text books expensive, but in my subject area, they are outdated almost as soon as I open the box they were mailed in. The software on the lab computers have been updated twice in the last 7 years, but the text books have not been updated at all.

I have gotten to a point now where I think this class would work best if I flipped it by making video tutorials this summer and putting links to the videos up as a part of a GoogleDoc.

I thought this was a problem that only I was facing in the building. So many teachers are isolated in the profession that we often think that we are the only one facing a problem, but this is not the case when it comes to text books.

At meetings I'm attending the subject of text books keep coming up. It is one of our biggest line items. Many are complaining about the new versions being bought to replace lost or damaged books do not match the old versions. If you keep a book long enough, its content won't match the world we live in. Jokes are made about text books talking about how the Vietnam War should be ended. Math books have word problems that students can't relate to. Science books have Pluto listed as a planet.

See where this is going? Information is not static, but text books are. Static, expensive, and seldom used by their intended audience .... the students. I watch the kids going down the hallway at the end of the day, and many of them are empty handed - without a backpack too. These same kids certainly have their phones out and punching away on the screen.

I've decided to ditch my text books and create a GoogleDoc for each of my classes instead. I plan on using this document to put in an outline of concepts, with a list of skills under each concept, connect the skills to the competency being covered, and eventually align it all to the common core. I'm ditching the text book and making an online living text book instead. In this outline, under each concept, will be links to online resources to help students along. I can include videos, websites, forums, etc. I plan on being the model of a digital citizen for my students by showing them how they can think outside the text book.

I often think of that viral video of the baby going from the iPad to the magazine. These are our future students, and I think they get frustrated with a static text book.

So why a GoogleDoc? Because everyone in our district has access to that technology without issues. We have lots of blocks on services I might have used instead for this type of hyperconnectiveness to online resources, such as Pinterest, but we don't have access to that in our district buildings.

So why not an eBook style instead? We're not there yet. Not enough to choose from yet. I am underwhelmed by what I've seen for my subject area.

I can make the GoogleDoc as interactive as I need it to be and I can invite my students to add to the outline as they find resources too. I could even make that a homework assignment as a part of the research competency. We can be a community of learners, collaborating online to build the resources that will help us toward our goal of learning the course content and meeting the expected competencies.

I hear that tiny voice saying, "but it isn't fair to those students who do not have access to technology outside of school." The technology inequality is quickly closing. Watch those kids walking in the halls with their cell phones, they can go to a GoogleDoc. Also, to do this you may need to survey your students on the first day of class. If a student states "no Internet at home", then find out if they have a DVD player. Videos can be put on a disk and sent home. GoogleDoc can be printed and put in a binder. So can websites. It is cheaper to maintain a binder for a couple of students in each class than it is to buy 30 text books for that class. And the information will be exactly what you want them to access, and as current as the last time it was updated online.

At this point you may have made up your mind to not give up your text book. But give it one more thought. When the idea of a text book was conceived, it was an ideal way to store important information in one place. The Internet did not exist yet, so it served us well for many many many years. But now, we have all kinds of information available to us, deposited on the World Wide Web, ready for us to tap in and share. We are not limited by what comes between the covers and a learning goal outline can be updated as needed at little to no cost. We will be fostering a community of learners who are more engaged because they created the "text book" together with their teacher.

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