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Alaska Educator Makes the Case for Throwing Out Textbooks

| November 23, 2010 | 6 Comments
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What’s the wave of the future in education? If you ask John Concilus, it’s doing away with textbooks. Concilus, the educational technology coordinator at the Bering Strait School District in Alaska, which houses the vast majority of its curricula on a fully modifiable, 14,000-page Wiki makes his case on his blog, The Education Bazaar.

“In the Education Bazaar,” he writes — a theoretical world that reverses the dominant paradigm of top-down, vendor-driven education materials — “school districts, schools and teachers select and or build software, write curriculum content, and devise solutions that meet their needs, not the needs of the vendors and the usual benefactors in the existing system” (read: print textbooks).

In his post “Is K-12 Ready for Open Content Textbooks?” he maintains that eliminating textbooks is still a major hurdle to cross for most schools: “Research shows […] that for most teachers in most schools, the textbook actually is the curriculum. […] When we ask many teachers and school administrators to consider Open Content textbooks, we are asking them to essentially abandon their entire curriculum.”

While the number of schools and teachers using customizable e-textbooks and other open content may have grown since Concilus wrote this post a few years ago, some argue (as do the authors of this recent piece in the Huffington Post) that there’s still a long way to go. Even university students are still holding on to the hardbound volumes reports the New York Times.

Whichever medium the curriculum is delivered, teachers need to educate students about the open source resources available to them online, and how to use those resources with discrimination, not just deny their existence, as so many schools are still doing with Wikipedia.

If students understand both the benefits and the drawbacks of open source content, they can use it effectively — whether it’s the foundation of their curriculum, as it is in the Bering Strait School District, or actually writing Wikipedia entries, as some university students are doing as part of their coursework, or if they’re simply encountering open source content like Wikipedia on a daily basis.

As Concilus told me, “I think knowledge wants to be free.” People can now very easily share resources and collaboratively customize content for themselves; why not schools?

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  • http://twitter.com/VisTechEd Shannon Sullivan

    Great discussion to be had! I’ve been in meetings where “the books are online” was said as a closer. Does that mean pdfs? Are they readable by adaptive software? Are they to be printed at home? Are their audiofiles? This is an opener, and a great one.

  • David Foley

    I rate approach being championed in the BSSD Alaska. Here in Australia we’re heading to national standards. Belonging and working within the state of New South Wales we are ready to embrace the new standards yet hold concerns as to how the standard’s content and assessment will apply to our traditionally disenfranchised students.
    Here we are seeing open source content and technologies such as video conferencing opening up learning in ways never seen before. NSW has installed broadband, video conferencing and SmartBoards in every state school. The video conferencing alone is generating collaboration between classrooms changing content and learning at a rapid rate.
    Flexible and opportunistic learning strategies and content harvesting are becoming the norm in our classrooms. Textbook publishers and learning materials developers should not dictate what occurs in every classroom. I don’t ever want to utter burn the books. But let’s put them in the museum storeroom.
    Empower districts, schools, teachers and students to customize content with the guidance, support and blessing of the education system’s curriculum and quality assurance units.

    • Anonymous

      Welcome to the future! As per Shannon’s question, those details are important to know: whether curriculum is printed, read as PDFs, or on adapative software online. A lot to explore, and much more to come.

  • Skywola

    Youtube has some pretty good foreign language tutorials online, and who knows what else is out there. . . . it can only get better, and, cheaper. Why should anyone waste thousands of dollars on an education when we have the ability to teach them in a way that costs them nothing other than their time? Computers have a great teaching potential, and i believe that we have only scratched the surface so far on what can be done.
    When I was in college, around 1993, I had a discussion with a chemisty professor, and I said, “some day, we will no longer need textbooks, we will be able to view and store them on a computer.” This particular professor, a Dr. Shetty from Ferris State University disagreed, and said it would never happen. Well, I hope he reads this now . . .

  • http://www.mininggems.org MS

    Transforming the learning culture to be student-centered, though teacher guided, is the direction we are headed. Traditional textbooks do nothing but hinder this process. With the computing power that students can be (and are in some cases) given today, we need digital materials that can engage them and inspire them to collaborate, create, and transform the world around them. We know a great deal about how students learn best. I have yet to see any ebook product that applies this knowledge, except for amBook (active media Book). Check it out at http://www.mininggems.org

  • Nick

    Thanks to Open Source textbook campaigns by US PIRGs and websites like UsedTextbookPrices.com / AffordTextbooks.com which are huge part of ” Make Textbooks Affordable Campaign”