After the Beyond the Textbook Forum

Photo by Joyce Valenza, who came in spite of her broken knee

I had originally intended to append yesterday’s blog post with more information about, and from the forum.  But I think that I have a little more to say than I left room for yesterday.

First of all, I left the Discovery Communication Headquarters yesterday with one of those deliciously contradictory sensations of both exhaustion and exhilaration. It was certainly an echo chamber of people who have the room, by choice or by definition of job, to think about and talk about the future of education. But even though we have largely drawn the same conclusions, when you get these familiar ingredients together in the same pot and stir vigorously, new flavors often comes out.

I’m not going to present a comprehensive report of the conversation here.  I would point you to better reporters, Audrey Watters (Hack Education) and Wes Fryer (here, here, here and here) and others who will come linked in the #beyondthetextbook Twitter thread that certainly continues.  Essentially, its all about rethinking education, being educated, teaching, learning, and curriculum.  I can’t add much to that.

Here, I want to focus in on just a few outlying ideas that I walked away with, especially from my internal efforts to put myself in the shoes of our hosts and an industry that has become one of the definers of education.

One of those ideas got pried loose when a Discovery person asked the un-askable, “How do we monetize this?”  It was the only time that the business of selling textbooks came up — and I can’t fault anyone for making a living.  It’s an important question, because they know that they need to be doing things differently, and I suspect that they are sincerely trying to get on the other side of just digital textbooks with animations, videos and flash games.  There were suggestions of repackaging the conversation, thinking in terms of selling pages (modules), or talking more about digital libraries that children take with them after graduation.  This intrigues me, that being educated is knowing, doing, and cultivating tools that help you to continue to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Much was said about resistance from many teachers.  Many feel that a classroom without a textbook starts to look like a classroom without a teacher.  In addition, few teachers have the time to construct their digital textbooks or supervise student-constructed learning materials.

But another barrier became evident to me that gave me – and this is going to open some eyes – a new sympathy for the textbook industry.  I’m for the kids and the future, and I don’t fault an industry for making a living from this endeavor.  Who among those of us in that room are not.  I do fault efforts to influence the shape of education in order to perpetuate a control-model that is clearly no long relevant.

I want to welcome anyone who wants to be a part of this new adventure.

My sympathy comes from the fact that the only way Discovery could run a sustainable education support business is to go where the money is, and the most uninterrupted money has traditionally been textbook budgets.  So Discovery has to frame its service as a textbook, as defined by legislation. It’s easy to say, we don’t need textbooks, that “..the Internet is the best textbook.”  But when many politicians hear, “We don’t need textbooks,” what they may be seeing another avenue for slashing education funding.  It’s one of those, “Becareful what you wish for…”

So, I think I may unapologetically continue to call it a “textbook.”  I could be writing this blog on my tablet (do a Google image search for tablet).

It just seems to me that with some imagination, a product, either commercial or open, could be designed to help children to develop the literacies of learning from their world and the authentic record of that world — and our world has never ever been so recorded.

I think that we could see something come out of this, that, as Steve Jobs might say, “We didn’t know we couldn’t live without,” and part of the compellingness of that product will not be so much in what it is, as in what it can become.

It’s what excites me about today’s tablets, their capacity to become new things.

 

 

 

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.