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Future Learning
A (Electronic) Textbook Case of Disruption

Schools are starting to take advantage of cheap tablets and open-sourced learning materials to give their students touchscreen, on-demand textbooks that—and here’s the kicker—can save school districts millions of dollars every year. The WSJ reports:

[A} growing number of districts nationwide [are] embracing “open educational resources,” or OER, for kindergarten through 12th grade. These are typically materials in the public domain or released under an intellectual property license that allows teachers to use, remix and repurpose them for free. Supporters see this shift as giving teachers more leeway to be creative, though some skeptics warn the resources can be of inconsistent quality. […]

Teachers say these resources are often more engaging and up-to-date than commercial textbooks and their digital versions, and make it easy to pull in different lessons for students of a wide range of abilities. Some see OER as a cost-saving boon for students in poor districts.

Like any disruptive new technology, these “open educational resources” have a long road ahead of them to public acceptance. Along the way, they’ll have to navigate quality concerns, legacy teachers and administrators resistant to change, and a host of unforeseeable challenges that are sure to surface.

But this is what progress looks like, and if it can bring more current and gripping teaching materials into the hands of students at a fraction of the cost, we wish it the best of luck.

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  • seattleoutcast

    There is an avid group of Latin students online. The recommended text is from the late 1800s. Except for dated materials, public domain texts are just fine.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Most people no longer purchase the big sets of bound encyclopedia books for home use, right? The future fight is probably not over “quality” but rather over cost and over what might be “made available for free” by competing ideological factions.

  • ljgude

    If the fall of 1948 I arrived in the first grade about the time vocabulary and quality controlled readers arrived on the scene. You may have heard of them. Dick. Jane. Spot Puff. We had 8 grades in two rooms and I worked my way through the entire series which ended with the very advanced grade 8 readers. It must of have been 4th grade because it was Mrs. Duncan who took me down in the basement and showed me the old readers stored there that Dick and Jane had replaced. What a joy! The first thing I read was The Song of Roland. Then Beowulf. They were readers – it was probably dumbed down a bit but there were marvelous Art Deco illustrations and explanations about the cultural context of each legend. I was a goner. Soon I was sneaking down to the town library which was maintained in her home by a Mrs Bryant, who told me proudly that she was Scotts-Irish. The first thing I took out was a history of the Goths written by some Englishman in about 1870. I got though it mostly because I had developed the belief that if you started a book, you had to finish it. Ostrogoths and Visigoths with lots slaying and pillaging. Delicious. By High School I was reading the two volume abridgement of Toynbee’s A Study of History. Well, that was a waste of time, I can tell you. He had this peculiar theory that civilisations arose, not because of inherent racial superiority or environmental opportunity, but because some peoples when faced with a challenge rose to it and created a civilisation. He even had this cockamamie idea that civilisations declined when their ruling dominant minorities lost the ability to lead effectively and got turfed out by an internal and/or and external proletariat. All too complicated. Fortunately I went off to an Ivy League school where i discovered it could be reduced to the much simpler idea that the root causes were always economic and resulted from capitalist and/or colonialist exploitation of the proletariat. Fortunately Toynbee disappeared without a trace by the late 60s and you wont find much about him on the Interwebs. Look! Look! Look! Look! Puff outwits witless Dick and it has been obvious for some time that Spot is smarter than Jane. Today, of course, the vocabulary and quality controlled readers go all the way through grade 16 and beyond.

    • Jim__L

      You wouldn’t happen to have any old titles, would you? I’m interested, and I know some homeschoolers who would be too.

  • ——————————

    Of course everything is always about cost, so it will win in the end.

    Anyway it doesn’t matter much…with all the free info available on the web, what is taught, and the materials used, in classrooms, means less and less every year….

  • M Snow

    I have long thought the textbook business was a racket. When I was taking organic chemistry many years ago our instructor insisted we buy a textbook she had helped write. It cost three times as much as average texts of the time and it was wildly inappropriate for us sophomores in that the forward clearly stated the book was designed for graduate students. Nice profit for her–mass frustration for us. The university let her get away with this.

    • ljgude

      Perhaps a bigger racket is the relationship between state level education departments and the big primary and secondary textbook companies. Richard Feynman found himself on the committee to choose science textbooks in California and disrupted the process by actually knowing something about science.

      • M Snow

        Absolutely. A teacher I worked with quit to work for a textbook publisher. She tripled her salary. Her whole job was wining and dining the people who would make the decisions about what texts would be selected. Considering the quality (or lack there of) of the series ultimately chosen, I can’t believe that pure merit was always the prime consideration.

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