In order for educators to teach kids, they need something to teach. Exactly what it is that educators should teach has often been discussed and continues to be the focus of ongoing discussions for over many generations. The delivery of that content, in regard to what to teach, has never been of great concern, because the bulk of it came in the form of text, delivered in a book called the textbook. In the 50’s the education pioneers introduced film strips, 16mm films, and recordings to supplement the textbooks. The 60’s brought the video tape and the overhead projector. With the turn of the century came the disc technology, as well as a wider use of the internet. Today of course we use interactive white boards and document cameras. All of the new methods of content delivery however are, for the most part, just add-ons to the backbone of any curriculum, the textbook. Of course the publishing of textbooks became a multi-million, or billion dollar industry. The importance of Textbooks was reflected in school districts with their strictly adhered to textbook adoption policies. Textbooks are a big deal. It is a common experience of all educators and all parents. The textbook, along with the apple on the teacher’s desk, is an iconic symbol of education in America.
A decade into the new century we have a new way to deliver content. The internet not only delivers text, but allows it to be manipulated, transformed, evaluated, analyzed, merged with video and audio, created, and published. This goes way beyond that which could be accomplished by the printed textbook. It offers educators the potential for not only presenting content to a student, but allowing the student to actually interact with that content to demonstrate more than understanding, with the potential of actual creation of the student’s own content, as well as publishing it out to others for authentic feedback. Teaching the content is the process, getting students to use the content and independently obtaining, and continuing to evaluate and use more content should be the goal.
There are now a number of ways educators have to deal with content. On opposite ends of this list of learning tools are two extremes. The textbook, as we know it over the decades at one end, and Open Source Resources of the internet on the other end. As an educator I have never liked being shackled to a single, stagnant textbook. I am personally comfortable guiding students through Open Source learning. This however, is not the comfort zone of most educators. Comfort zones are the biggest impediment to education reform. I do realize that any effective use of the internet as an open source resource for educators to use for students would require a massive undertaking of professional development for millions of educators nationwide. I would imagine that the billion-dollar textbook publishing industry would have some say in this discussion as well, so the move in that direction would be slow in coming. I believe the challenge is to create the best solution in a mechanism that is recognizable as a textbook, but enables the functions of the internet to incorporate many more tools for learning.
Educators are now beginning to establish a voice through social media. Opinions expressed by educators through blogs and social media are now beginning to gain recognition in the national discussion of what is education to be. I think that is one of the main reasons that Discovery Education used some of the leading connected educators from social media as a focus group, or think tank, to discuss what is “Beyond the Textbook”? Discovery Education was looking to gain insights to their own attempt to devise or improve such a much-needed product. Of course another reason is to have the very same people create a buzz about whatever comes from this forum. Cynics would say that we were being used and manipulated by a corporation. I would like to think that we actually have gotten what we have been asking for, for decades; an educator’s voice in what education needs.
After a long day of discussion between about 16 invited educators and the same number of Discovery Education staff, we came up with several concepts. Most of what we suggested already exists in some form today. They are tools of the internet that could be incorporated into a mechanism for learning, assessing, and creating content. Here is a list of some of the suggestions of the components that the group valued and thought should exist in what should exist as we go beyond the textbook:
- The mechanism will exist on the internet allowing 24/7 access with computer or mobile access.
- Many forms of content may be included: text, videos, audio, animation, graphs, and diagrams
- The ability for flexible content will be provided.
- The teacher will be able to add or subtract material to meet the needs of the students allowing for differentiation.
- Content will have highlighting and note-taking capability
- Content will be linked to dictionary and encyclopedia for easy reference.
- Content will have language translation capability.
- Content will be linked to other supplemental material for further exploration.
- Formative assessment will be built into lessons to assess understanding before moving on.
- There will be a social media component for collaboration and feedback.
- Students will be able to create content within the mechanism.
- Student created material will be archived and shared
- Student created material will be placed in an ePortfolio within the mechanism.
These were some of the highlights of what came from the assembled group. The group had elementary, secondary, and higher Ed representation. Most members were very active participants in social media and education Blogs. I cannot adequately express the admiration that I have for each of the people in this group, most of whom I have met before and all of whom I follow on Twitter. These are people I often recommend following on Twitter. I have also now added to my Twitter list many Discovery Education employees who are working toward implementing our suggestions in some form into their existing and ever-evolving product, techbook. I should note that this entire project was led by Steve Dembo of Discovery Education. It is my hope that other industry leaders will begin to go to the educator’s voice on social media for input and transparency in their development of new products.
Members of The Beyond The Textbook Forum included: @rmbyrne, @courosa, @NMHS_principal, @bethstill, @teach42, @dwarlick, @dlaufenberg, @mbteach, @audreywatters, @shareski, @sciencegoddess, @wfryer, @imcguy, @djakes, @jonbecker, @principalspage, @joycevalenza, @lrougeux, @halldavidson, and of course @tomwhitby
My apologies to anyone that I may have left out.