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Home | Tag Archives: textbooks

Tag Archives: textbooks

Op-Ed: Traditional Textbooks Make No Difference in Your Child’s Learning. Let’s Change the Model.

There is a dirty little secret that textbook publishers don’t want the people in education to know. That little secret? Textbooks have little to no impact on student achievement. You read that right: Little to no impact on student achievement.

Those books that states, districts and schools spend $7 billion dollars on each year don’t make a pile of beans difference in how your child does in class.

Of course, any classroom teacher with more than a few years of experience under their belt probably knows this to be true, or at least has suspected so. That is why entire school systems can interchangeably switch periodically from one publisher’s text to another when an “adoption” is made.

Pedagogy and content in many courses does not change substantially from year to year. Those prepositions that you had to memorize in your high school English class are the same prepositions your child or grandchild has to memorize now.

That multiplication table hasn’t changed too much in millennium, and the Constitution hasn’t all of a sudden changed its wording for the new millennia. The 90 degree right angle you learned about in elementary school is still 90 degrees.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the recent study by Harvard’s Thomas Kane that found that traditional printed textbooks, in a six state research project had and I quote “…near-zero relative effects on achievement measures.”

Near zero.

And while that study was just about Math textbooks, similar studies have found similar finding in Science, Language Arts and Social Studies textbooks in K12 as well.

Dirty little secrets. Now you know.

And while the publishers have forever simply responded to the beck and call of the state education agencies and published to whatever “standard” de jour the states have decided to come up with, perhaps it is time that we reexamine the use of the traditional textbook in a modern classroom.

It has become obvious that the business model of printing paper texts is fast coming to an end. And while the above research certainly doesn’t bode well for publishers and adds another virtual nail to the coffin, there are game-changing organizations out there that are rewriting the rules of textbooks.

Open Education Resources (OER) such as Rice Universities “Open Stax” project create college-level and AP certified digital textbooks that are free, sharable, and every bit as “authoritative” as traditional paper textbooks.

The advantage of OER of course, is that no one single entity owns the material and texts can be augmented, reorganized, and rewritten to fit the needs of the user be it a single classroom teacher or an entire statewide adoption.

No big time textbook publisher that I am aware of has that kind of model in place. OER is a disruptive, money saving, and shifts the power away from the publisher and towards the teacher and student.

Consider the recently released “modEL Detroit Project”, a complete online OER course in English Language Arts for Kindergarten through 8th grade. Over 1700 downloadable presentations for graded K-8 that include lessons, differentiated instruction and more that are designed to reduce planning and prep time for teachers.

ANYONE can use it. Anywhere. You don’t have to be a teacher in Detroit to be using it. A teacher in El Paso or El Segundo can just jump on the site and use away. Indeed, the website actually encourages the widespread use of the lessons, instructing users to simply change the name on the slide decks to match their needs.

These are simply examples in a large and ever growing OER ecosystem that is designed to push the traditional view of textbooks out the window. Organizations such as “Open Up Resources” have created entire online courses that teachers anywhere can use for free.

Indeed, the OER Open Up Math and Language Arts curriculum have consistently ranked tops in the nation , winning multiple awards.

When was the last time your kid’s textbook won an award?

Perhaps no organization is more embedded in the OER space as the world famous produces not only OER digital textbooks that can be modified by anyone including students, but also online learning games, simulations and study guides. Just last year, Ck12 released their “Flexbook 2.0” which combines ALL of their multiple online resource into a single online textbook space.

Essentially they have created an entire course-in-a-book that, like all good OER can be modified and shared for free. A student can read a passage, watch a related video, conduct a simulated laboratory, take a short formative assessment, all without leaving the Flexbook.

At a recent conference, Miral Shah, CTO of Ck12, said that the “Flexbook 2.0 is not a tape, it is a CD…you can chose the play sequence yourself.” He explained that a textbook, like an old cassette tape, had to be digested in sequence, Chapter 1 to 2 to 3 and so on. Because it was printed, the sequence could not change, like the music on cassette tape.

When CDs came along, you could program the sequence to fit your mood or hit “shuffle” and hear the songs played at random. Personally, I believe the Flexbook 2.0 is more like Apple Music, where the user can personalize the playlist not only to match the mood, but time of day, location and more.

You can even see what playlists your friends are listening to, much like the Flexbook 2.0. Over 200,000 Flexbooks have been created, remixed and shared in the years since CK12 began.

All of these OER organizations are disrupting the traditional textbook model, and I suspect that in a few years, they and others like them will force the “big time” textbook publishers to become online content providers who will simply slip away from the business of printing paper textbooks.

It does not take a rocket scientist to see that in the very near future, the idea of the “traditional textbook” will pass away, and online courses will be personalized to the exact needs of a student, much like genetic cancer treatments are personalized to the DNA of the patient.

Then, the headline and research will say that textbooks will indeed make an academic difference to students and learning. OER will lead the way because free, well done, and available to everyone is a hard business model to beat.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Textbooks are obsolete. Get over it.

Recently, in their annual letter where Bill and Melinda Gates reflect on the things that they (and their billions of dollars in charitable donations) think are worth thinking about, the worlds most philanthropic couple stated that “textbooks are becoming obsolete.”

Gates went on to say: “But now, thanks to software, the standalone textbook is becoming a thing of the past. Suppose you’re taking high school algebra. Instead of just reading a chapter on solving equations, you can look at the text online, watch a super-engaging video that shows you how it’s done, and play a game that reinforces the concepts. Then you solve a few problems online, and the software creates new quiz questions to zero in on the ideas you’re not quite getting.”

Those of us that have been watching closely over the years collectively said “Amen and good riddance to bad trash.” Traditional textbooks, like those first written by the Greeks and then mass produced by Gutenberg six centuries ago, have changed little in either form or substance over the years.

Since their inception, traditional textbooks have had a number of issues including, but not limited to:

  • Assuming all students learn at the same rate
  • Assuming all student read at the level of the text
  • Are instantly out of date as soon as they are published
  • Schools are stuck with them for years, or even decades depending on funding
  • Are 100% one way communication tools with no interaction allowed by the user
  • Are overpriced
  • Are overweight

And those are just for starters. Fact of the matter is, the textbook has not changed with the times. In years past, perhaps when you were in school, the teacher would use the textbook as the main source of information for the course.

Classes would dutifully march through the books form Chapter One on the first week of school all the way to Chapter 36 by the end of school (If you were lucky. Classes often never made it to the end of the book, where the “fluff material” was usually relegated.)

Gates rightfully points out that digital tools have transformed how information is obtained, shared and taught. Textbooks, alas, have been left in the dustbin of disruption and can no longer justify their high prices.

The big-time textbook publishers have known for years that the internet has changed the game on how information is delivered and updated. In a recent “textbook adoption” a school district teacher noted to me that one of the “new adoptions” was almost a word-for-word the same as the previous adoption seven years earlier. The only difference was packaging.

It seems even the textbook publishers are starting to see the writing on the digital wall. The internet is where information is now housed, not in cumbersome textbooks that are designed more to strengthen lower back muscles than brain cells.

To be fair, some textbook publishers have started to migrate to digital content in an effort to stay relevant, but many are now so late to the digital content game that they are are trying to play catchup to a world moving faster than they can adapt their business models to. Indeed, instead of lowering prices and adding features, most textbook publishers simply repackaged existing material and charged more.

When Apple faced a similar particular economic crisis, Steve Jobs famously said “ Apple will innovate our way out of this.” What came next was the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Devices that changed history.

Textbook publishers apparently never heard of Steve Jobs. Their motto: We will raise our prices and hope the suckers will pay. It has worked for 600 years, why stop now?

Young, disruptive companies and services are taking a bite out of the publisher’s formerly undisputed monopoly, often offering the same content the traditional textbooks offer but for free.

Take for instance the online Flexbooks 2.0: These modern digital textbooks can be modified at will, on the fly, by any teacher, contain visually stunning interactive tools, include assessments that are designed to teach as well as assess, and can be personalized for the individual learner, even adopting to the language of the learner.

Want a Spanish version of their Physics books? Click here and “Viola!” A Spanish version. Oh, and all of that is free, as are college level and Advanced Placement approved OpenStax textbooks from Rice University. Why would any school district pay for something that they can get for free?

Publishing companies are having a hard time competing with free, and are reduced to taking teachers to semi questionable “trainings” which provide info about their books and smoozy dinners to convince them to adopt their books. “Hey, our entire business model is about 20 years out of date, but our burgers are yummy!”).

Consider the “Big History Project” which is partially funded by the Gates Foundation: This 100% online History of the World course is a 100% free, online social studies course for middle- and high-school students. It is engaging. Visually stunning. Understandable. Oh, and did I mention 100% free. And you wish you had that as your history course in school.

Again, consider the history courses you took in school and compare them to The Big History Project. You only wish your World History course was that cool.

Free can no longer be associated with low quality or second hand. Free services and information are transforming how students learn and how teachers teach.

If your child is still learning only from a textbook, you need to march to the school and demand to know what century they expect their students to live in.

If they say they cant afford “all that fancy new stuff,” tell them that free, online resources are as good, if not better than what most publishers are offering now.

And they can afford free.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

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