The Nextbook Must Be…

 

(cc) janthepea

For a science fiction look at textbooks, read about The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer in The Diamond Age and Ender’s desk in Ender’s Game. If you have other suggestions, please comment.

 

A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Tom Whitby, wrote a blog article, We Don’t Need No Stink’n Textbooks. I agree with his position, and was especially impressed with the list of components he compiled from Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum.

Responding to Tom’s title, though, I am growing less unhappy with calling it a textbook.  After all, we seem to have no problem calling the device I’m writing this on, something that only a few years ago would have referred, almost exclusively, to “a number of sheets of writing paper, fastened together at one edge.”

So, granting myself permission to call it a textbook, what do I think today’s textbook should be?

Today’s textbook should:

  • Be a Companion (Mobile) – The student’s textbook should never weigh more than half that of a human brain (about 3 lb.). It should be as easy to ask, as the person sitting next to you –and through it, the reader should be able to ask the person sitting in the next room, on the next continent or a radio telescope in Australia.
  • Be an Encyclopedia Galactica ((Wikipedia contributors. “Encyclopedia Galactica.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.)) (Comprehensive and Cross-disciplined) – The textbook should provide content in a variety of formats (text, images, audio, video, animation), selectable by the reader.  It can be drilled into for deeper exploration, and issues of special interest to the reader will trigger seamless bleed-throughs from other disciplines (literature, mathematics, science, the social studies, health, etc.) – No seams! No walls! No boundaries!
  • Be a Player (Responsive & Playful) – The textbook should be active and interactive. It both reflects and magnifies the learner, the teacher, and their world – and it adapts to its interactions with each.  It does not respond with a “right” or a “wrong.”  Instead, it causes the reader to say, “that worked” or “that didn’t work.”  The textbook will also contrive long-term narrative-puzzles that reach other readers, building communities of mutual concern.  Embedded in each textbook are hidden clues that can be exposed through the productive use of the book and shared with other members of the community – the combination of which solve the puzzle.
    • Be a Sandbox (Constructable & Elastic) – The textbook is totally stackable.  Both teacher and learner (to age appropriate degrees) can remove elements, insert elements, re-sequence, edit and even hack elements.  The textbook will edit itself based on changes reader interest and the changing dynamic global information environment.
    • Be Provocative (fueled by questions) – The textbook should tactically and strategically leave things out.  It provokes questions, the answers of which provide mortar for the personal and participatory construction and reconstruction of the book.  It is always broken and always fixable, and the rules belong to the reader.
    • Be a Journal (Turn the Learner Outward) – The textbook will require the reader to observe, interact with, reflect on and work her personal environment.  The reader will talk to people, use a hammer, play a game for fun, explore a forest, and become skilled at something that does not require a computer interface.  She will report her experiences in a digital journal, which the textbook will productively adapt to, creating richer relevance for the learner.
    • Be a Personal Badge (Identity-builder) – There is an element of the textbook that is public, continually and cooperatively refined by the teacher, the reader, and reader’s family.  It is a demonstration of what the reader has learned, what she can do with what she’s learned, and what she cares about.
    • Never be turned in (Grown into a personal digital library) – The textbook grows, year after year, with new elements added, old ones edited or deleted, and continuously curated – the ongoing and ultimate goal being the construction of a personal and lifelong digital library.

    That’s two more cents worth!

      …Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

      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.

       

       

       

      Beyondthetextbook Forum

      At this moment, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Silver Spring, Maryland, and continuing to think #beyondthetextbook. I will likely continue to grow this particular blog entry as the next two days progress at the Discovery Communications Headquarters, just a couple of blocks away.

      Blog and Print Articles about “the other side of textbooks”
      Beyond the Textbook 3/13/12
      The Page is Dead! Long Live Curriculum 11/29/11
      Not Learning Managed but Learning Empowered 7/20/11
      So What do you Call a Textbook that isn’t a Book? 7/5/11
      Next Textbooks are… 6/26/11
      Six Reasons Why Textbooks Should Stop Being Textbooks 5/19/11
      Only 6 Reasons Why Tablets Are Ready for the Classroom 5/17/11
      TechLearning Article: Textbooks of the Future 5/15/04

      But right now, I thought I would post some links to blog entries I’ve written over the past few years on the subject of “what’s on the other side of the textbook.”

      Also, the other day, I asked readers to come up with a simile for the other side of textbooks, “It will be like a…” Here are a few that plucked my imagination.

      The TB of the future will be like a..

      • like a quest
      • like a production studio
      • like an extension of our brains
      • like a reality game
      • like a video playlist
      • like swiss army knife
      • like a personal assistant
      • like a platform that provokes conversation
      • like a holodeck
      • like a choose your own adventure story
      • like a Palantir
      • map for a learning journey
      • like an interaction engine
      • like a Matrix up-link
      • like an aggregator that searches and updates content
      • more like a word problem than a calculation problem

      More to come!

       

      Beyond the Textbook

      I have been invited to participate in Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum.  I feel quite honored, especially as I’ve scanned the names of other folks who are attending.  It will be a special treat to spend some time with Steve Dembo and David Jakes, two talented thinkers and conference speakers.

      One thing that struck me about this event is the title.  When talking about my dissatisfaction with print-based textbooks, I often ask, “What will textbooks evolve into?”  This implies some assumptions, that textbooks, as we know them, will simply morph into something else that acts like a textbook.

      The title of this event seems to be asking what the other side of textbooks might look like — and the opportunity of this wide open idea fascinates me.

      We’ve been assigned to use our blogs and Twitter to solicit from our readers some ideas about what we might find on the other side of textbooks.  As a teacher, I need a simile.  I need to be able to say,

      “The learning device(s) that our learners will walk into their classrooms with will be more like a ________________.

      So, if you don’t mind, would you think for a moment about this task and fill in the text box above with no more than 150 characters that complete the sentence. You’ll notice that I’ve changed your question a bit, “..will behave more like a…”

      If you would like to expand on your thoughts, please feel free to post a comment.

      Added at 12:17 PM two days later – Here is a word cloud from the similes that have already been posted.