So, continuing from my last blog article, if the answers to our questions are changing and they are constantly available to us, and helping our children learn to find, validate and use valuable information/media has become a central defining component of literacy, then of what use are textbooks. If stripped of the content – the right answers to questions – then what is left and to what purpose.
In my opinion, quite a bit is left. I took one of those remedial classes in my first year of community college, something like “Improve Your Study Skills.” I remember the professor telling us what to do upon receiving our textbooks each semester. We should scan through and register key items and sequence of ideas in the table of contents and also scan the index, looking for names, words and phrases that stand out. Each of these textbook elements provided anchor points within the content, giving it shape and meaning.
If the teacher or learner is starting without a packaged and provided collection of content, then a locally maintained table of contents (outline) and index (list of essential terms) become something quite different. Instead of anchor points, they provide idea magnets, serving to help draw together the most contextually relevant and defensible information in a sequence and shape that provides the deepest meaning to the content. It is, in a sense, a skeleton that gives shape to what might otherwise be an ugly bag of mostly water. (I always wanted to use that phrase – Geurs, Sanchez & Sabarof, 1988)
I had originally written a long technical examination of metadata here, but it would be one of many avenues to this sort of learning tool, and who am I to suggest how this might technically work. But what comes closest to being my personal and professional textbook today is Flipboard, a magazine-forming social network aggregator for both iOS and Android. I’ll be attending the upcoming Educon at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy this week. In preparation, I’ve configured Flipboard to grab all tweets that are hashtagged with #educon, as well as the resources that are shared by those tweets. The effect is a new chapter to my textbook, capturing content from others who will also be attending or simply paying attention to the event via the social network. My textbook (Flipboard) is a carefully arranged, personal and constantly evolving set of information magnets, that attract the content that I need or want to see.
Might the day come, when a subject to be taught, is conveyed as a flexible outline of tags (so to speak). The job of the teacher would be to locate (or cause to be located) and attach content (both open-source and/or commercial), in any appropriate format, to that arrangement of scope and sequence-forming tags and constantly filter and refine that content based on changing conditions and newly available content?
What might this process look like as an integral part of teacher education? Might the act of starting their own flexible digital textbooks be a part of learning to teach. (Is “Flexbook” trademarked? How about “flexibook?”)
My point is that we have every reason to conclude that learning tools that assume a static, centralized and standard arrangement of content is irrelevant to the needs of today’s learners – and that today’s prevailing information environment provides for us some pretty compelling opportunities.
- That teachers can easily construct and refine learning tools based on local and universal conditions and individualized to the circumstances of specific learners.
- That learners can personalize their learning tools based on their self-discovered learning styles and their evolving personal interests.
- That these learning tools need not be turned in at the end of the course, but carried on, edited, adapted and grown.
- That learners can graduate with more than a paper diploma – that they might take with them a personalized digital library or network of content that they continue to maintain and evolve based on their continuing needs and interests.
- That this action of personal curation can become an integral part of formal education, further shifting it from
Something that is done to children
Something that we learn to do for ourselves.
Plugged in with iPod, head set to communicate with game guild members, game controller, game keyboard to text players without broadband, and a laptop for IMing.
Several years ago, I wrote a blog article describing a picture that I'd taken of my son, in the TV room, wrapped up in his “technology.” I'm including the picture here, since he is no longer a minor and I can no longer so easily peak in on his techventures.
In the article I suggested that it wasn't technology that defined his experience nearly as much as it was the information that he was playing with. It continues to be a central theme of my work, that it's a new information experience we should be facilitating for our learners, not simply applying technology to old teaching pedagogues.
A few days ago, an old friend from my state agency days, John Spagnolo, gave me reason to revisit that article, when he commented with some questions that got me to thinking.
Among them was:
How have “smartphones” and cellular connectedness changed the nature of information over the past 8 or so years since this was written?
I think that one significant change that has occurred over the past seven or eight years, is that I, and many other seasoned adults have, for various reasons, begun to utilized this networked, digital and abundant information environment. I often say to friends, as I slip my phone back into my pocket, that we live in a time of no unanswered questions. The answer is almost certainly waiting in our pockets or on our laps. My cellular iPad has become a welcome and valued companion as my wife and I drive across North Carolina to visit with family and old friends. It helps us to continue conversations about the news, movies, the best route around Charlotte and settle minor arguments.
For my son and daughter, I suspect that their use of these connective tools has not changed significantly over the past several years. They cultivate networks of friends and acquaintances, which have probably grown with my daughter, whose interested have expanded, and grown smaller with my son, whose interests have narrowed and become more focused. They use Twitter more and Facebook less, and are probably more likely to be interacting with friends via a specific application, such as a game or Pinterest category.
I also wonder if, in many instances, we might be finding more creative ways of using this new info-landscape than our children.
Spagnolo also asked,
How does your son connect to and interact with his information today?
I suspect that both of my children interact with information more through games and through specific applications. I was so terribly disturbed a few years ago when smart people started suggesting that the Web was dead, that apps were changing the way that we used the Internet. But apps have certainly changed the way that my children use information and I find myself preferring to use Amazon and Craigslist apps instead of their respective web sites.
Apps have become an intriguing new avenue of economy, that I've suggested to me son, where people are making a living by designing highly specialized and compelling tools for using and playing with information.
Finally, he asked,
Has the nature of information influenced the emerging “appropriate technologies” like the digital learning object called an iBook?
My knee-jerk response is, “Not nearly enough.” This current push toward digital textbooks, urged on by our Secretary of Education, concerns me. I worry that we're engaged in a race to modernize schooling, rather than a sober and thoughtful imagining and designing of learning materials and practices that are more relevant to today's learners (ourselves include), today's information landscape and a future that has lost the comforts of certainty, but become rich with wondrous opportunities.
What I enjoyed, though, about my experience in publishing an iBook was learning to hack some features into the book that were not part of Apples general instructions for using their publishing tool. This is the ultimate opportunity of digital learning objects and environments, that they can be hacked into new and better learning experiences by information artisans who see what's there and what it can become.
It is customary for us bloggers to write a year-end article, announcing our top ten “whatevers” for the year just ending. I’ve read some good ones written by smarter and more aware people than me. I would point you particularly to the series at Hack Education, written by Audry Waters – who is a true ears to the ground educator/journalist.
Me? Well I just haven’t been paying that much attention, applying myself more to specific production projects, including, but not limited to the 2nd edition of Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network (print | Kindle | iPad). Teaching myself to create an interactive iBook has been one of the most authentically enlightening educational experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
At any rate, at this point in my so-called career, I’m not apologizing for spending my time doing what I feel like doing. So, being less than qualified to list the top ten of anything for 2012, (did I mention this, or this, or this?), I’m going to come at it from a different angle.
Here are my hopes and wishes for 2013!
- I hope that we come up with a better target phrase than, “preparing our children for the 21st century.” It’s so 20th century, and we have, after all, got more than a tenth of the new century behind us.
- I hope that we can articulate a clearer distinction between personalized learning and differentiated (individualized) instruction. To often, when I hear people discussing personalized learning, they are actually talking about instruction. One is about becoming and the other is about being done to.
- I wish that we would really start using our hands more, that this whole maker subculture, some how, starts to become an integral and defining part of the culture of schools. Let’s replace our 30 pounds of textbooks with a tablet computer and a kit of personal hand tools.
- I hope that we learn to bring fun back into learning, by recognizing the learning that happens when we’re having fun.
- I wish that the institution of education would stop taking itself so seriously. Our efforts to make ourselves more important by introducing complexity into the process just makes teaching less enjoyable — and it irritates the customers.
- I hope that teachers and administrators find ways to purposefully learn more and learn more in front of their students. ..to become “public learners.”
- I hope that we get digital content right and not simply convert it to digital. I wish that we could stop using the term “textbook” and find something less suggestive of a teaching object. What would you call a learning object?
- I fervently hope that we find a way to redefine and assess mastery, not by counting right answers, but by observing what students can accomplish by using good answers.
- I wish that schools of education could stop preparing prospective teachers for a 30-year career by simply readying them for a typical classroom of today. We need teachers who are ready to adapt and adopt almost any opportunity that arises, willing and able to retool their classrooms every day. The best we can do is to prepare prospective educators for the first five years of their career (at best) and assure that they are skilled in persistent and self-directed professional development.
- I wish that we might begin to see that the mission of education should not be our assurance that every student successfully learns the same things. It should be our assistance in helping every student discover and become the best person that he or she can be.
Here’s to an enlightened new year!
It is with great pleasure and no small amount of relief, that I announce the second edition of Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network: A Gardener’s Approach to Learning – formerly known as A Gardener’s approach to Learning: Cultivating at our Personal Learning Network. Switching the title and subtitle was the idea of my wife and business manager, Brenda. She’d long felt that ”A Gardener’s Approach..” did not clearly describe the content and function of the book.
This second edition started innocently enough when, with an afternoon to kill, I downloaded Apples iBooks Author (iBA) software, a free download that helps us create interactive iBooks for publishing through the iBooks book store and iTunes. Since it was my latest book, I dumped the text of Gardener’s Approach.. into iBA and started playing. My initial reaction was not that different from what I initially though if iBooks. They glow and flow, but provide little opportunity for the reader to talk back, which I believe should be a core goal for the next generation of learning content. The iBooks I’d seen were still primarily intended for top-down reader-passive content consumption.
However, when I started factoring in the great fun I’ve had with Apple Keynote’s dazzling animation capabilities and the ability to insert keynotes into the iBook, I continued to play, adding animated tutorials for some parts of the book.
I initially struggled with the HTML feature of iBooks, which I couldn’t figure out for the life of me. I’ve been coding in HTML for nearly 20 years. They I learned…
It seems that what iBook Author means by HTML is actually Dashboard Widgets, which are small programs that can be downloaded and installed on your Macintosh computer and run in the background – and now in the widgets space on later versions of Mac’s OS. They have come in nearly every category of software, but are usually utilities such as calculators, calendars and clocks. I saw no use for any of these utilities in my book, so I set out researching and teaching myself how to write my own dashboard widgets.
As I played (which is what learning often feels like to me), ideas started forming for interfacing my iBook with the web and specifically with web pages that would give readers the ability to add and comment on their own stories of networked learning. It was at that point that I was hooked.
Of course, reading through the book, I learned how dreadfully out-of-date it was, so I started editing and rewriting major portions of CYPLN and adding at least one chapter. After all, the first edition was written before the Apple iPad launched. So, after many edits and re-edits, with the tireless assistance of Brenda, and the launch of Bookry, which provides a tool for creating much slicker widgets than I was writing, I’ve published Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network 2nd Ed, in print, ebook (for Kindle), and iBook (with color, motion, and conversation).
The most interesting part of this endeavor was the act of using many of the skills and techniques described in the book in order to learn how to publish it in these new formats and with these new features. My own PLN grew.
I hurriedly produced the video below as an introduction to some of the features of the iBooks version.
The print and ebook versions, like the first edition of CYPLN, feature QR-Codes, which give the reader access to many of the features of the iBook – without the flair.
One concept that jelled for me during the proces was that of scale. Because the ebook and iBook versions of CYPLN was digital, weightless and so easily distributed, I’ve decided to price for scale. So the iBook and ebook (Kindle) versions are only $2.99 (USD). Since the print version (259 pages) must be produced and shipped, I have to charge a little more, $8.99, which gives me a profit similar to that of the digital books.
This will take you to a page with links to the various purchasing venues: http://goo.gl/EUu7B
Last Wednesday, The New York Times posted an op-Ed piece by Justin Hollander. The Tufts University professor drew attention to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's declaration of “war on paper textbooks,” and his call to replace them with a “..variety of digital-learning technologies, like e-readers and multimedia Web sites.”
Such technologies certainly have their place. But Secretary Duncan is threatening to light a bonfire to a tried-and-true technology — good old paper — that has been the foundation for one of the great educational systems on the planet.1
This common reaction to our move to digital and networked education is yet another exasperating example of our apparent need to define education by where it happens and the objects we handle to accomplish it. The assumption persists that education is to be administered through the proper and efficient application of technologies, regardless of their century of origin –– and that the publishing industry is best qualified to prepare and distribute the services of those technologies.
What's at stake is not what children carry into their classrooms, but it's the experiences that they take part in and what they carry away from those experiences.
My hope is that Secretary Duncan's war is not with paper, but with a one-way street style of education that revers the source and delivery of knowledge at the expense of our students' essential partnership and investment as they learn and master the practices of lifelong learning.
1 Hollander, J. (2012, October 10). Long Live Paper. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/10/opinion/long-live-paper.html?_r=0
For a science fiction look at textbooks, read about The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer in The Diamond Age and Ender’s desk in Ender’s Game. If you have other suggestions, please comment.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Tom Whitby, wrote a blog article, We Don’t Need No Stink’n Textbooks. I agree with his position, and was especially impressed with the list of components he compiled from Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum.
Responding to Tom’s title, though, I am growing less unhappy with calling it a textbook. After all, we seem to have no problem calling the device I’m writing this on, something that only a few years ago would have referred, almost exclusively, to “a number of sheets of writing paper, fastened together at one edge.”
So, granting myself permission to call it a textbook, what do I think today’s textbook should be?
Today’s textbook should:
- Be a Companion (Mobile) – The student’s textbook should never weigh more than half that of a human brain (about 3 lb.). It should be as easy to ask, as the person sitting next to you –and through it, the reader should be able to ask the person sitting in the next room, on the next continent or a radio telescope in Australia.
- Be an Encyclopedia Galactica1 (Comprehensive and Cross-disciplined) – The textbook should provide content in a variety of formats (text, images, audio, video, animation), selectable by the reader. It can be drilled into for deeper exploration, and issues of special interest to the reader will trigger seamless bleed-throughs from other disciplines (literature, mathematics, science, the social studies, health, etc.) – No seams! No walls! No boundaries!
- Be a Player (Responsive & Playful) – The textbook should be active and interactive. It both reflects and magnifies the learner, the teacher, and their world – and it adapts to its interactions with each. It does not respond with a “right” or a “wrong.” Instead, it causes the reader to say, “that worked” or “that didn’t work.” The textbook will also contrive long-term narrative-puzzles that reach other readers, building communities of mutual concern. Embedded in each textbook are hidden clues that can be exposed through the productive use of the book and shared with other members of the community – the combination of which solve the puzzle.
- Be a Sandbox (Constructable & Elastic) – The textbook is totally stackable. Both teacher and learner (to age appropriate degrees) can remove elements, insert elements, re-sequence, edit and even hack elements. The textbook will edit itself based on changes reader interest and the changing dynamic global information environment.
- Be Provocative (fueled by questions) – The textbook should tactically and strategically leave things out. It provokes questions, the answers of which provide mortar for the personal and participatory construction and reconstruction of the book. It is always broken and always fixable, and the rules belong to the reader.
- Be a Journal (Turn the Learner Outward) – The textbook will require the reader to observe, interact with, reflect on and work her personal environment. The reader will talk to people, use a hammer, play a game for fun, explore a forest, and become skilled at something that does not require a computer interface. She will report her experiences in a digital journal, which the textbook will productively adapt to, creating richer relevance for the learner.
- Be a Personal Badge (Identity-builder) – There is an element of the textbook that is public, continually and cooperatively refined by the teacher, the reader, and reader’s family. It is a demonstration of what the reader has learned, what she can do with what she’s learned, and what she cares about.
- Never be turned in (Grown into a personal digital library) – The textbook grows, year after year, with new elements added, old ones edited or deleted, and continuously curated – the ongoing and ultimate goal being the construction of a personal and lifelong digital library.
That’s two more cents worth!
…Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad
- Wikipedia contributors. “Encyclopedia Galactica.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. [↩]
Photo by Joyce Valenza, who came in spite of her broken knee
I had originally intended to append yesterday’s blog post with more information about, and from the forum. But I think that I have a little more to say than I left room for yesterday.
First of all, I left the Discovery Communication Headquarters yesterday with one of those deliciously contradictory sensations of both exhaustion and exhilaration. It was certainly an echo chamber of people who have the room, by choice or by definition of job, to think about and talk about the future of education. But even though we have largely drawn the same conclusions, when you get these familiar ingredients together in the same pot and stir vigorously, new flavors often comes out.
I’m not going to present a comprehensive report of the conversation here. I would point you to better reporters, Audrey Watters (Hack Education) and Wes Fryer (here, here, here and here) and others who will come linked in the #beyondthetextbook Twitter thread that certainly continues. Essentially, its all about rethinking education, being educated, teaching, learning, and curriculum. I can’t add much to that.
Here, I want to focus in on just a few outlying ideas that I walked away with, especially from my internal efforts to put myself in the shoes of our hosts and an industry that has become one of the definers of education.
One of those ideas got pried loose when a Discovery person asked the un-askable, “How do we monetize this?” It was the only time that the business of selling textbooks came up — and I can’t fault anyone for making a living. It’s an important question, because they know that they need to be doing things differently, and I suspect that they are sincerely trying to get on the other side of just digital textbooks with animations, videos and flash games. There were suggestions of repackaging the conversation, thinking in terms of selling pages (modules), or talking more about digital libraries that children take with them after graduation. This intrigues me, that being educated is knowing, doing, and cultivating tools that help you to continue to learn, unlearn and relearn.
Much was said about resistance from many teachers. Many feel that a classroom without a textbook starts to look like a classroom without a teacher. In addition, few teachers have the time to construct their digital textbooks or supervise student-constructed learning materials.
But another barrier became evident to me that gave me – and this is going to open some eyes – a new sympathy for the textbook industry. I’m for the kids and the future, and I don’t fault an industry for making a living from this endeavor. Who among those of us in that room are not. I do fault efforts to influence the shape of education in order to perpetuate a control-model that is clearly no long relevant.
I want to welcome anyone who wants to be a part of this new adventure.
My sympathy comes from the fact that the only way Discovery could run a sustainable education support business is to go where the money is, and the most uninterrupted money has traditionally been textbook budgets. So Discovery has to frame its service as a textbook, as defined by legislation. It’s easy to say, we don’t need textbooks, that “..the Internet is the best textbook.” But when many politicians hear, “We don’t need textbooks,” what they may be seeing another avenue for slashing education funding. It’s one of those, “Becareful what you wish for…”
So, I think I may unapologetically continue to call it a “textbook.” I could be writing this blog on my tablet (do a Google image search for tablet).
It just seems to me that with some imagination, a product, either commercial or open, could be designed to help children to develop the literacies of learning from their world and the authentic record of that world — and our world has never ever been so recorded.
I think that we could see something come out of this, that, as Steve Jobs might say, “We didn’t know we couldn’t live without,” and part of the compellingness of that product will not be so much in what it is, as in what it can become.
It’s what excites me about today’s tablets, their capacity to become new things.
At this moment, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Silver Spring, Maryland, and continuing to think #beyondthetextbook. I will likely continue to grow this particular blog entry as the next two days progress at the Discovery Communications Headquarters, just a couple of blocks away.
|Blog and Print Articles about “the other side of textbooks”|
|Beyond the Textbook||3/13/12|
|The Page is Dead! Long Live Curriculum||11/29/11|
|Not Learning Managed but Learning Empowered||7/20/11|
|So What do you Call a Textbook that isn’t a Book?||7/5/11|
|Next Textbooks are…||6/26/11|
|Six Reasons Why Textbooks Should Stop Being Textbooks||5/19/11|
|Only 6 Reasons Why Tablets Are Ready for the Classroom||5/17/11|
|TechLearning Article: Textbooks of the Future||5/15/04|
But right now, I thought I would post some links to blog entries I’ve written over the past few years on the subject of “what’s on the other side of the textbook.”
Also, the other day, I asked readers to come up with a simile for the other side of textbooks, “It will be like a…” Here are a few that plucked my imagination.
The TB of the future will be like a..
- like a quest
- like a production studio
- like an extension of our brains
- like a reality game
- like a video playlist
- like swiss army knife
- like a personal assistant
- like a platform that provokes conversation
- like a holodeck
- like a choose your own adventure story
- like a Palantir
- map for a learning journey
- like an interaction engine
- like a Matrix up-link
- like an aggregator that searches and updates content
- more like a word problem than a calculation problem
More to come!
I have been invited to participate in Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum. I feel quite honored, especially as I’ve scanned the names of other folks who are attending. It will be a special treat to spend some time with Steve Dembo and David Jakes, two talented thinkers and conference speakers.
One thing that struck me about this event is the title. When talking about my dissatisfaction with print-based textbooks, I often ask, “What will textbooks evolve into?” This implies some assumptions, that textbooks, as we know them, will simply morph into something else that acts like a textbook.
The title of this event seems to be asking what the other side of textbooks might look like — and the opportunity of this wide open idea fascinates me.
We’ve been assigned to use our blogs and Twitter to solicit from our readers some ideas about what we might find on the other side of textbooks. As a teacher, I need a simile. I need to be able to say,
“The learning device(s) that our learners will walk into their classrooms with will be more like a ________________.
So, if you don’t mind, would you think for a moment about this task and fill in the text box above with no more than 150 characters that complete the sentence. You’ll notice that I’ve changed your question a bit, “..will behave more like a…”
If you would like to expand on your thoughts, please feel free to post a comment.
A couple of weeks ago, I started a blog post recalling a course that I once took as part of my Masters degree. The 1992 course was about developing applications using dBase (look it up). The buzz in tech circles at the time was about Gopher, Veronica, FTP, and something brand new called the World Wide Web. The course was mostly programming – and I loved it. I suspect that many of my classmates (mostly educators in the same degree program) were not so thrilled nor the least bit interested in programming.
The gist of this story concerns the final exam. A couple of weeks before the end of the semester, I sent an email to the professor suggesting that real programmers, as they worked, almost certainly did not rely on memory alone. They had reference books open on their desks so that they could look up various obscure coding options and syntax that might help them solve problems peculiar to the task at hand.
“Shouldn’t we be tested the same way, with the book open on our desks?”
He bought it, announcing at our next class meeting that, “Thanks to Mr. Warlick’s suggestion,” the exam would be open book. “Cheers!” He added that he was changing the exam appropriately. “Silence.” I suspect that some of my classmates felt more confidence with the memory of the solutions to problems they had studied.
I got my “A.” But it occurs to me now that the difference between the exam given and the one intended, was that we ended out not being tested on what we knew – that is to say, just what we’d been taught. Instead, it tested us on what we could do with what we’d learned.
I initially intended for this story to promote open book or open content learning. But I want to come at this from a different angle, owing partly to several pre-Educon blog articles I’ve recently read. You see, if I were to take the originally planned dBase test today, under the originally intended conditions (memory only test), then I would fail it miserably — and I would probably be none-the-worse for the knowledge I’d lost.
However, if I were to sit down and take the test the professor actually administered, with appropriate reference materials available to me, I would probably do respectably well — even 20 years later.
My point is this. What should we, as educators, really care about? Is it just what students can recall at the end of the year or the course? or is it what they can do and whom they will be 20 years later?
If it’s the long haul that we are about, then I wonder, as we write our final exams for the students in our class – or end-of-year state tests, shouldn’t we be willing to ask ourselves, “Can I reasonably expect these children to be able to pass this test 20 years from now?”
If the honest answer is, “No!” then we’re just playing a game.
…Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPadkeep looking »