So What do you Call a Textbook that isn’t a Book?

Flickr photo (cc) by DecafI proposed a conversation for the EduBloggerCon last Saturday, part of ISTE 2011. The title was something like “How Might Social Media/Networks Help to Redefine the Textbook?” From the digital votes that it got prior to the event, I’d assumed that the conversation would not make the cut, and so I did not finish up the Google Forms activity I had planned for kicking off the conversation. So I was surprised not only that it was scheduled as one of the first conversations, but also scheduled to be repeated during the afternoon. Someone made a mistake!

Anyway, I was able to hobble together the Google Forms activity, thanks to the immense patience of my un-audience, which resulted in this blog post of a few days ago.

The state of the textbook is such a huge and timely topic that I was not able to focus the conversation specifically on the implications of a next textbook’s socialness. But one issue that did emerge in both conversations what what we call future textbooks, that aren’t books? It’s always seemed like a trivial issue to me, because the English language is full of terms that no longer apply directly to their original meaning. For instance, the word manufacture use to mean to make by hand.

One likable idea came out of the afternoon session from a teacher who uses Moodle as the basis for her classroom instruction. She calls it her digital curriculum. I like it because it describes what we’re talking about in a way that leaves nothing out — though the otherwise useful term, digital, is somewhat limiting.

What I like most about this concept of a teacher designed, produced, and maintained assembly of resources and tools is that there is little that’s new about it. I have never asked the question before, but suspect that if I were to ask an audience, “How many of you do not use textbooks in their classes?” a significant number of hands would go up — and even more if I were to ask about their textbook being merely a supplement to the teachers collected curriculum.

There are two problems here, however, one of which I didn’t get a chance to ask during the unconference, and the second occuring to me on a few minutes ago.

Number one, what about the first year teacher? For how many of us was our textbook the life raft that saved us from drowning in the unexpected complexities of our first couple of years of teaching? This was certainly true for me. ..and somehow, using somebody else’s digital curriculum might not hold quite as much air as an industry structured hardcover-bound curriculum (textbook).

I often suggest to higher ed folks that their job is to prepare future teachers for the first five years of their career, and to make sure that they have the contemporary literacy skills to continue to self-develop within their profession. A significant and pivotal part of this might be the construction of their first year digital curriculum, something that they can carry with them into their job interviews.

But this solution, in itself, causes the second problem. You see, never again, could a principal meet you, a seven-year social studies teacher, in the mail room, two days before the students arrive for their first day of school, and say, “Mr. Warlick, I’ve got you teaching 8th grade math this year.” 🙁

You see,

a teacher,

carrying a self-made digital curriculum,

is a powerful thing!

Next Textbooks are…

A Kevin Jarrett Photo of Elizabeth Davis

Several days ago I submitted a proposal for an EduBloggerCon unconference session asking how social media and social networking might help to define digital (next) textbooks. To help seed this conversation I asked folks, via Twitter, from the train on Friday, to share some defining characteristics of old paper printed textbooks. As the responses flew in, I combined and edited them into more positive descriptions such as standards aligned, focused, unbiased, durable, etc.

Next I created a Google Form survey that asked unconference participants to read a characterization statements about old textbooks and write in comparative characterizations of next textbooks. For instance, if Old textbooks are NARROWLY FOCUSED then Next textbooks are

This morning I culled through the responses, mixing, matching, and editing them together into a defining set of comparisons.  Admittedly, this listing reflects my own biased sense of where textbooks are going.

Old Textbooks Next Textbooks
Old textbooks are STANDARDS-ALIGNED. Next textbooks will be synaptically aligned to the learning needs and experiences of their users.
Old textbooks are CENTRALLY-AUTHORITATIVE. Next textbooks will establish authority as part of the learning practice.
Old textbooks are SAFE & COMFORTING. Next textbooks will demand and provoke new learning (and teaching) through surprise.
Old texbooks are STABLE. Next textbooks will be fluid, dynamic and ever adapting to learning experiences and shifts in the world, about which we are learning.
Old textbooks are ERRORLESS (error ignorning). Next textbooks will admit errors and will socially self-correct.
Old textbooks are NARROWLY FOCUSED. Next textbooks will be broadly focused through logical and interdisciplinary connections and by adapting to the behaviors of their users.
Old textbooks are UNBIASED (self-proclaimed). Next textbooks will admit their multi-bias, and will invite and share reader interpretation.
Old textbooks are PERSONAL/ASOCIAL. Next textbooks will invite and facilitate conversation and, in appropriate ways, adapt and grow through the conversational behaviors of their users.
Old textbooks are MANUFACTURED. Next textbooks will be co-created, cultivated, and grown by learners and master-learners.
Old textbooks are DURABLE BY THEIR RESISTANCE TO CHANGE. Next textbooks are durable by their adapting flexibility.
Old textbooks are HEAVY. Next textbooks will weightlessly make themselves available to any learner, anywhere, anytime.
Old textbooks are VISIBLE. Next textbooks will glow, grow, and flow, seamlessly reflecting the world through the eyes of a learning community.