This piece was prompted by reading an article from McGraw Hill Education CEO David Levin. Clearly McGraw Hill sees huge, expensive textbooks as a hard sell in this era and recognizes the advantages of digital textbooks.
The advantages are there for the publisher – lower production and distribution costs and timely updates to content. The authoring and editing costs, however, must be greater for digital content. The advantages are there for the learner too, according to Levin – “personalized textbooks”. What’s missing in this article is a description of what “personalized” is in this context. I suspect educators and publishers might understand this concept in different ways.
I now buy technical books for myself in digital format and read them on a tablet. Fiction books I still prefer to have in print as I typically read them just before sleeping and using electronic devices just before sleep can interfere with nocturnal rhythms.
Publishers have provided a range of personal tools for me – dictionaries, bookmarks, note making facilities and so in, which are all convenient and useful. I don’t need physical post-it notes for example. With interactive books such as iBooks it is also possible to include interactive diagrams and other images and to include quizzes and other tests.
What’s missing from an educator standpoint is the data. What do students understand, what did they read or not read, where did they spend their time? These important aspects are not available in the digital textbook.
A further aspect for many teachers is that simply having a textbook for a course is not a complete solution, however good the book. It can also lead to lazy, teaching by the numbers if one is not careful. Supplementing the textbook or even replacing large parts of it is common practice. In one case I found that I wrote such copious notes for my students that I ended up publishing a textbook for the course.
It is true that this leads to a duplication of effort and multiple resources, especially now that the internet offers so many forms of self-publishing. The growth of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement is, in many ways, an attempt to make this process more efficient.
However, there is much to be gained, from an individual teacher’s point of view, from writing their own resources, even where this duplicates effort. They are able to personalise aspects in ways that suit their own environment, culture and groups of learners. They are able to gain a deeper understanding of topics.
By then moving these resources to an LMS and adopting a blended approach, teachers are able to create additional activities and assessments based around these and to have access to a rich data set about individual student progress. The LMS, where courses are well-designed and not simply resource collections, then allows interactivity and individual choice/autonomy – which we know that students value. The blended course also permits a new way of teaching which includes social involvement such as peer-peer editing and assessment. It also provides an expanded classroom in time and space as students can access it when and where they choose as well as receive guidance in the physical space.
So, I was thinking, where does this leave a publisher? Where is the divide going to fall between the LMS and the textbook resource? Should publishers continue to develop LMS courses rather than interactive textbooks? Should they set up their own cloud-based LMS? Should they set up MOOCs?
The current trend is to LMS agnostic content (standards–based) such as SCORM and the coming developments in the Tin Can API. These are digital and interactive resources that can be inserted into online courses.
From my own anecdotal experience (people write to me about my textbook) I know that there are teachers who love that comfort and often feel lost when there is no specific text for a course. Possibly they will buy these publisher resources for their blended courses.
Is there a way for the publisher to supply these resources and deliver the data on individual learners that teachers increasingly need? It seems to me that this is unlikely to happen because of genuine concerns about student privacy.
The blended course can indeed replace and greatly improve the textbook, be it digitally enhanced and personalized or not. So my feeling is that publishers of school textbooks may well continue to struggle even as they move to digital versions.
They certainly live in an interesting world.