Saturday, October 12, 2013

The End of Textbooks as I knew Them and 5 Reasons it is Democratic

It seems that I got to the end of textbooks in my classes. This week I had an email from my contact at the book store. "What are your book orders for next semester". I almost sent an email saying, keep it as it is (that is no textbooks). But then I stopped myself. I wanted to hear what my students have to say. As I have said before my students and I have worked through half a no-textbook semester so far. The reaction was mixed and we have set a better infrastructure for making it work. So I went back to my class and asked. I felt I could ask and get honest answers because the answer has no direct impact on my current students AND I think we have developed an open rapport. When I pose a question like this we usually go around the room with each student weighing in. This time they all just said almost in a chorus- digital resources rule. The tone was a "you've got to be kiddin me" tone.

As an instructor this is plainly the better (though more labor intensive) approach. I choose my own materials, can present divergent point of views AND I must take the lead in presenting the underlying structure and way of thinking that connects everything. In a way this is the opposite of teacher proofing. Textbooks are easy in a deceptive way because they take away our need to unpack what it is we are trying to teach. So out they go.

At this point for full disclosure I would like to add that my students are asked to buy a few books, practical guides that have usable materials (Teacher trade books), but no textbooks. That is I am not anti-books, just pro making good instructional choices. And this is first and foremost an instructional choice with side benefits.

I also think that most of the current models for textbooks are obsolete and most of the companies simply do not get IT. The change is not just in format or even in the media included. There has been a shift in the way we consume all media. I am not sure I would like to see textbooks in the future, but if we do, it would probably have to follow a model like Netflix more than the traditional bookstore or even iBooks.

I am also wondering how this choice is linked to democratic education. I don't want to push it too far but here are a few ideas:

1. No textbooks make my classes effectively cheaper, thus more accessible. More likely I am simply releasing students with less debt. It is my small contribution to decreasing the cost of higher education. It is about $100 for each class (if you take into account that students sell their books back, more if they keep it). If we all did it, it would represent a savings of about $4000 to an undergraduate in our program.

2. A significant portion of the materials I use were developed as part of federal and state efforts. Such these efforts belong to all of us. Reading Rockets, and the Education Northwest are two great examples.

3. Using digital resources allows me to present divergent view and critiques that are presented with the same passion and expertise. This will force students to weigh the evidence and make up their own mind as budding professionals.

4. Most textbooks are currently rented for a period (especially if consumed digitally), or resold. The cost of textbooks forced most students to have only temporary ownership of the material. This creates two classes of students, those who will have access to quality materials (could afford to keep the books) and those that don't (had to resell). Since the resources are digital students can save them for future use.

5. It is more environmentally sound- less dead trees.

Since I am thinking about democratic education

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