Classroom E-texts v. Commercial Textbooks: Mythic Pipedream or Dream Coming True?

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The ACTEM and Middletalk listservs have threads about whether virtual resources can really save money over using commercially published textbooks. It’s been an interesting conversation! Maine is a great setting because virtual texts require that everyone have a way to access them. I’m always to see what classroom folks are doing AND what the folks in the publishing industry are thinking of doing. The combination of teachers wanting effective, affordable resources and publishers wanting to serve those needs (for a profit) should make for some interesting developments in the next school year!

I had a glimmer of the possibilities a number of years ago when a teacher suggested we needed to buy a new literature anthology because the one we had didn’t have the right mix of classic short stories for a unit being planned. Wanting to be helpful, I asked which anthology, and was shocked by the price tag of nearly $100 per book (not including shipping). And of course we would need one for each student, a few extras, and the teacher’s edition, along with supplemental materials, for an additional cost per student. So sure, we could do this, as long as the grade level and language arts teams agreed to use their  entire instructional budgets to do so. It didn’t happen. What happened was pretty amazing at the time. The team took a look at the titles of the short stories, including authors such as Melville, Twain, London, Poe, Hawthorne, and others. They were able to find all of them online as both text and audio files. We also found lesson plan ideas, outlines, and critical essays. All for FREE! Of course that’s what happened and it worked wonderfully.

At the same time another teacher created what might be considered a differentiated “textbook” chapter around a unit about the War of 1812 by creating three folders with several online resources, as well as teacher designed materials in each. One had links to material appropriate for elementary level students, another had middle school resources, and the third had high school and beyond. Of course they each contained key information expected of all students. The interesting thing was that although the students initially migrated to different folders, almost every student ended up exploring all three of them. Some students even found links to add to the folders.  Could it be that the engaging material in the differentiated “textbook” made “challenge by choice” more effective? Of course, today the students might be creating those resources for others to bookmark!

Here are some links relating to free textbooks that were shared from the conversations on MiddleTalk and ACTEM. So what do you think? Pipedream or dream come true?

From Jim Burke
http://www.ck12.org/flexbook/
http://earthscienceinmaine.wikispaces.com/1.1+The+Nature+of+Science

And from Amy Deshane
https://brokenworld.wikispaces.com/A+Broken+Worldwhere

And finally, this article about student generated textbooks v. Publisher’s
offerings from Campus Technology is interesting.

http://campustechnology.com/articles/2011/02/16/student-research-can-googling-replace-168-intro-to-psych-textbook.aspx

It makes me think that a skilled educator or group of educators could create a pretty good textbook. Come to think of it, a great class could be built around having students create a textbook. Hmmm…thinking a bit more…isn’t that what happens to some degree when all of the coursework is done on a wiki?

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