Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Over the Hills and Through the Textbook (Beyond the Textbook Redux)

Doug Belshaw has a response to the questions asked at this week's Beyond the Textbook gathering hosted by Discovery. In it, he argues that, similar to the problem with assessment, the issue with textbooks isn't so much what they are but rather with what we ask teachers and students to do with them.

I agree with his general premise -- particularly the latter part -- and would say that the fundamental dilemma regarding textbooks is our lack of common understanding with regards to what they are actually supposed to be and what purpose they serve in the educational process. In the early years in the U.S., textbooks were reference materials that served to augment the knowledge provided by the instructor. They shifted from reference material to pedagogical guide or mirror in the 19th century, and then moved to their current role of curriculum template in the second part of the 20th century.

While we may have argued at length in the last 50 years about what should be included in a textbook (Creationism, facts about Thomas Jefferson, etc.), few have asked the more fundamental questions -- what purpose textbooks should serve and, based on that answer, how should we redesign them? Even when I was writing textbook materials a decade ago, I always operated on the assumption that we all knew what the purpose of a textbook was (a fallacious assumption, obviously).

If we want to redesign the textbook, we will first need to answer the more fundamental question about its purpose. I doubt a majority of us believe it should really define our curriculum. I doubt that many of us think it should significantly inform or drive our pedagogy.

The answer to the future of the textbook and what lies beyond is in our definition of its purpose. As a starting point, here is my working definition. It is both the collection and presentation of information designed to foster successful learning (defined as the acquisition of information and the accrual of knowledge and wisdom). This answer may or may not be similar to yours, but having provided it, I realize that it must be at the core of any effort I make in the future when it comes to redesigning learning content.

I also note this morning that Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster predicts Apple may sell as many as 66 million iPads in 2012. That number is up from the 55 million some had predicted before the launch of the iPad 3. Of course, Apple isn't the only one with good news in the tablet market. Citi conducted a recent survey and found that 6% of respondents (U.S.) already owned a Kindle Fire. That's not bad considering the newness of the device. Not so surprising is the fact that the preferred usage of the Kindle Fire skewed to reading (35%), Web surfing (18%), and playing games (18%).

Finally today, I have clipped a couple of items on LMS platforms. In the first, Keith Kampson outlines the motivations institutions have in using LMS paltforms and how those institutional goals often supersede the desires of individual faculty. The second article, over at Inside Higher Ed, reports on efforts by traditional colleges to boost LMS usage among faculty. Hmmmm...Does it occur to anyone else that, perhaps, the best way to motivate faculty to use LMS platforms is to make sure that the goals of the institution align somewhat with what the faculty are actually trying and needing to accomplish? Just saying.

Suggested Reading
Beyond the Textbook? |
Apple Could Sell 66 Million iPads in 2012: Analyst |
People Mainly Use the Kindle Fire to (Gasp) Read - eBookNewser
The LMS: It’s Not All About You | Higher Education Management
Traditional colleges aim to boost LMS usage | Inside Higher Ed

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