‘Free’ textbooks? Why not? December 4, 2012Posted by ianinsheffield in Inspiration, Musings.
Tags: collaboration, crowd-sourcing, ebooks, textbooks
Listening to recent Hack Education podcasts by Steve Hargadon and Audrey Waters, one theme which keeps popping up is that of educational book publishing. I guess the burgeoning ebook market linked with the proliferation of ebook readers makes this a timely topic.
In recent years, changes to our National Curriculum and Exam Board specifications seem to come around more regularly than the number 120 bus. The textbooks we have in school struggle to keep up with that frequency of refinement of content and given their cost (a GCSE Physics textbook will be anything between £15 and £20), even if they could, the majority of schools couldn’t afford to replace them with any degree of regularity. I remember it being tough as a Head of Physics when it came to the point where we needed to replace our standard textbook; it involved me and my colleagues spending a considerable time reviewing what was on offer from the various publishers to find the one which best suited the course we were delivering … and hopefully future iterations of it! With 500+ students studying GCSE, the cost was and still is phenomenal.
Maybe ebooks offer a route forward since their content can (in theory!) be updated more swiftly, though I suspect that will be at a cost. However, this newly emerging market is not without its problems: distribution platform, file type, digital rights management, cost recuperation when the student leaves the course. Suffice it to say there’s still some way to go.
But maybe there’s a third way? Given the blossoming notion of crowdsourcing and the increasing comfort and confidence with information from sites like Wikipedia, perhaps there’s an opportunity to be seized here. With over 3000 secondary schools in the UK, there must be around 10 000 Physics teachers. Even allowing for some who might lack experience and others who lack the will, with a page count in a textbook at around the 300 mark, it’s surely not beyond the realm of possibility that there would be enough willing contributors to ‘pen’ a single page each? Yes, for most teachers the time or inclination to write an entire textbook simply isn’t there … but if it was possible to collaborate with a group of like-minded individuals … Surely the Web has now provided us with both the communication channels and the tools to create the product?
Once we accept the possibility, the advantages of crowdsourcing an online Physics textbook start to appear:
- from start to finish the process should be more rapid than a traditional publishing route
- any alterations and additions can be made instantly
- living online enables ‘live’ linking out to other resources
- the digital format means rich media are easily incorporated
- end of section questions (if appropriate) could have auto-response/auto-marking included to provide rapid feedback for students
- social features could be included to enable commenting and discussion on each topic, section or paragraph
- through the right choice of platform(s), the ‘book’ could be distributed in a variety of different ways – printed, mobile-enabled, ebook, etc.
If an open platform was chosen with storage or distribution in open formats, users would still be able to amend any aspects of the ‘book’ to better suit the needs of their students or local circumstances, rather than choose a textbook which meets the average needs of an average student. Perhaps we might even have students authoring sections?!
There are also other potential wider benefits. Teachers and schools in developing nations invariably lack the financial resources to buy textbooks at the price we in more developed economies are able to afford. Worthy organisations like Book Aid repurpose the books which have reached the end of one life, for a new one in another land. Without any experience of how the recipients actually feel, I can only imagine that they have equal degrees of gratitude, tinged with regret that they have to rely on cast-offs? But given the increased connectivity that many peoples are now beginning to benefit from, an open textbook model would mean they too could enjoy the latest version of any book, perhaps in a format and with content that lend themselves to their local circumstances. And needless to say, it need not be one more handout since they would hopefully be in a position to be co-authors. To return to my comfort zone of Physics, the textbooks we use have content which (hopefully) reflects our everyday experience, so in a section on motion, there might be exemplars which draw on a passenger jet or an Olympic swimmer. I wonder how the same section might be written for a learner on the savannah in Africa or tropical rainforest of Borneo? And how might sections written to reflect those peoples’ experiences be used here to help our students better understand and appreciate the lives of friends around the world?
Free textbooks could be ‘free’ in so many ways.
And it appears things are already under way.
What do you think? A flight of fancy or exciting opportunity? What have I missed?
#TwitterBookRead September 1, 2010Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD, Inspiration, research.
Tags: books, collaboration, Curriculum, reading, research, twitter
Well that proved a really interesting experiment . . . but did I gain anything from it?
If you missed the tweets, yesterday I tried using Twitter to record my progress and any points of interest as I read a book – Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. There’s a little more about it here. I guess I wanted to find out whether it added anything to the process of reading, reading for academic purposes that is, as opposed to reading for pleasure. Had I been reading the book sans Twitter, I’d have made notes as I went. If you want to pick up the record of what took place, there’s a Twapper Keeper archive here, but because a few Tweets didn’t have the hashtag, I scanned back through the stream and pulled them into the document below:
On the ‘upside’ then:
- 140 characters meant I had to really focus on the contents and structure of the ‘notes’ I was taking, so that they still carried meaning.
- The ‘chronology’ of the stream means the notes follow the order of the book.
- Having occasional comments from other tweeple challenged me to revisit some of my notes and rephrase them, or think more deeply about what I’d noted.
- It’s very encouraging when others are taking an interest in what you’re studying (a very important point methinks!)
On the ‘downside’:
- I perhaps wasn’t as prolific in my notetaking as I would normally have been, conscious of not wishing to pollute the Twitterstream too much with my ramblings (folks can get very tetchy!)
- Sometimes squeezed a little too hard to fit the message into 140 characters and consequently may have lost meaning.
- The ‘linear’ nature of the stream meant that cross-linking ideas and concepts wasn’t really possible; I’ll often take notes in the form of a mind map, if I think I can gain something.
- Although the stream is linear, some of the additional comments and follow-up replies come out of order. This can make the archive a little hard to follow.
So weighing the balance of the above, the obvious question I guess is ‘what next?’ How (or should) I take it any further? Well it’s a start and having done it once, repeating the process with another book would enable some of the wrinkles to be ironed out. I certainly think I’d like to be on the receiving end; watching someone else take the lead and contributing as an observer. With that in mind, earlier today John Pallister made a couple of interesting comments by way of follow up:
Now there’s an idea! If other people undertook the task when they’re reading, we could begin to form a library of summaries of interesting literature. Better than simple summaries though because they would have the additional layer of comments from others who had joined in. #TwitterBookRead as John termed it. It’s a win-win-win endeavour surely:
- the reader is perhaps encouraged to think more carefully about the ‘notes’ s/he is making, in the same way creating a blog post often makes us think twice before hitting the keys
- collaborators/observers can dip in and out as they are able, enjoying the opportunity to contribute to the final product
- all get access to a swelling archive of summarised books, enabling them to make a more informed choice before parting with their hard-earned on the full version . . . or maybe find inspiration and pointers to books they might have otherwise missed.
Anyone up for taking this further?
And perhaps this doesn’t have to be restricted just to the edtech community in Twitter. Surely there are potential benefits for our learners, whether they be students in higher ed or primary or secondary for that matter. Working together to review/summarise/précis books or longer articles using the 140 character format could involve a host of different skills. In a single activity, there are opportunities to work up through the levels in Bloom’s taxonomy, undertaking increasingly complex tasks, leading to a higher levels of understanding surely than just reading an article/book sitting at a desk or lounging on a couch? Reading with a purpose surely?
Just needs fleshing out a little. Anyone?
Maths Maps . . . but across the curriculum? December 22, 2009Posted by ianinsheffield in Inspiration, Teaching Idea.
Tags: collaboration, Curriculum, Google maps, teaching resource
I’m lucky to work in a school that’s a member of a wider partnership, a sisterhood, a community. If there’s an issue I’m struggling with and no-one here who is in a position to help, I know I’ve colleagues in that wider network to whom I can turn. Other colleagues here in school however, don’t recognise that they could do that too and bemoan the fact that they feel isolated . . . but then they haven’t
- had the chance to meet other colleagues from our community in the same way I have
- yet begun to establish a PLN to which they can turn.
When @tombarrett produced his first Maths Map (do check it out; Tom explains the principle so well) ) and invited his PLN to contribute, I wondered whether this might be a way to open links between colleagues in our partnership? I began to envisage a project where I’d take interested colleagues here through the principles of setting up a Google Map along the same lines as Tom’s Maths Maps, but from any curriculum area. Once they’ve initiated their map, they would then contact colleagues in sister schools and invite them to join (we have a global address list which should make that easy).
Now I know that some colleagues may struggle to see how they can get started i.e. they just can’t spot a topic that they can ‘ground’ (pardon pun!) in a map. I had no problems in the area with which I’m most familiar and was able to initiate this Physics map on the topic of Energy Resources:
. . . but what about other topics in other curriculum areas? Can anyone help? What topic from your curriculum area could use a Google Map to provoke, stimulate or open a discussion and provide a backdrop for a Maths Map-like exercise? If you have an idea and can spare a moment, could you pop it into this form and we’ll see where it goes. (Will post a follow-up and feedback on how the project went, together links to any maps we create)
Thanks to @bevevans22 for a couple of great ideas:
#TMETRU09 – A world first? December 8, 2009Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD, Inspiration, TELIC.
Tags: #TMETRU09, collaboration, community, CPD, pln
Last night I had the privilege of taking part in something truly remarkable, spending around three hours in the (virtual) company of around 100 supportive, innovative and inspirational educationalists – teachers for the most part. TeachMeet EdTechRoundUp09 was an online ‘unconference,’ a sharing of minds and good ideas . . . but a description would take too long and since the wiki provides all the details (including the recording of the session + Twitter backchannel), there’s no point in repeating what’s already been said.
Participants from across the UK and around the globe have been lavish in their praise of the smörgåsbord assembled and delivered with panache by @dajbelshaw and @daibarnes, in collaboration with all the evening’s presenters. Here are just a few comments:
Doug explains how it was all set up here, so I don’t need to cover that ground. So what do I blog about that’s not already been said? Well I thought I might pick up on a point Zoe (and others) made about TMETRU09 not being a ‘course’ but a fanatastic professional development opportunity – how true! There can be no question in my mind that TeachMeets develop me professionally . . . but what do others think about that? Well I’ve cast around t’InterWeb and whadya know?
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) list five dimensions to be found in professional growth:
1. Building a knowledge base
2. Observing models and cases
3. Reflecting on practice
4. Changing practice
5. Gaining and sharing experience
#TMETRU09 provided 2 to enable us to do 1, whilst encouraging 3. The follow up comments and chat from the session suggested that 4 quickly took place, whilst 5 is the foundation on which the sessionwas built. Just check the feedback for evidence of each of these.
Cathy Grant tells us that:
“The goal of professional development for technology should be to help teachers become more productive professionals, and to empower them to make sense of how mastery of technologies can be useful to them, in their teaching and as a tool for professional growth. What teachers learn about technology should be personally valuable for the things they need to do. And learning about technology should be exciting and exhilarating.”
Again the feedback and this visible collation of the comments from the backchannel provide ample evidence that #TMETRU09 delivered the elements of this goal.
And what about the TDA:
“Continuing professional development (CPD) consists of reflective activity designed to improve an individual’s attributes, knowledge, understanding and skills. It supports individual needs and improves professional practice.”
So yes I think that’s score 1 for #TMETRU09. Professional development? Absolutely!
Grant, C.M., 1996. Professional Development in a Technological Age: New Definitions, Old Challenges, New Resources. Technology Infusion & School Change. Available at: http://lsc-net.terc.edu/do.cfm/paper/8089/show/use_set-tech [Accessed December 7, 2009].
The Training and Development Agency for Schools, 2008. Continuing professional development (CPD) in practice. Available at: http://www.tda.gov.uk/teachers/continuingprofessionaldevelopment/cpd_in_practice.aspx [Accessed December 8, 2009].