“We don’t need no on-line textbooks”

So far I don’t think I’ve blogged about much to do with educational technology. I’ve long held the belief that IT provides an extraordinary opportunity for the creation of exciting new resources that really support learning in ways that far extend the limitations of a conventional printed textbook. But in more over twenty years of waiting I’ve still to find anything that gets me very excited.

There seem to have been a number of factors that have led to this situation. First to blame are traditional educational publishers who have resiliently clung to what they understand best – the conventional textbook format. They are still stuck in the mind-set of IT being used to ‘automate’ existing processes and products, and have yet to understand that IT provides opportunities to do things differently. The other culprits are the new-media companies, which tend to be run by ex-educational TV producers and as a result place value on telling stories, using cartoon characters and often excessive animation: while some of these might be entertaining and to an extent engaging they often remain superficial and lacking in sound learning gains.

So I was pleased to read this recent article in which the author discusses how we need to look beyond the current textbook format.

The video clips included in the article serve to demonstrate the misunderstanding that the future is still a single-source textbook, but with added videos and audio-clips and a web-site with some sort of social networking site. But the future is much more complex than that and educationalists, technologists and publishers ought to be discussing the more basic issues of how to teach learners how to retrieve data from multiple sources – sometimes by looking broadly, and sometimes by drilling down. Meanwhile the role of the teacher needs to become more of a guide, pointing the way towards the right pathways to make sure students pass through the places they want and need to visit. At the same time they need to ensure that learners are analysing, evaluating and building on what they discover.

And of course the whole examination/league table system needs to change so that schools do not see their main priority as controlling learning very precisely to ensure students have covered the very narrow range of learning that exactly fits what they need to pass their exams, and no more than that.

Despite the proliferation of PCs in our schools, there’s still a long way to go before we learn how to use them effectively and effectively. We have yet to acknowledge that the new generation of already interconnected children are accessing, thinking about and interacting with the world in very different ways to those of their teachers.

6 comments on ““We don’t need no on-line textbooks”

  1. I wish we could get people to get to grips with both ends of education rather than faffing around in the middle. If we were honest about what we really thought education was for we could be much more effective in how we accounted for it and then all the bits in between would be more obviously useful or useless…

    I was listening to an “accelerated” teacher interviewed on the breakfast news programme this morning talking about her first chaotic lessons where she said there was no learning going on. I bet there was loads of learning going on! What she meant was the kids were not prepared to let her use: sit still – follow my leader – National Curriculum – empty vessel – vacuous knowledge transfer…

    I really think the concept of “knowledge” is at the heart of the problem.

    Firstly (if you think learning is all about knowledge transfer) I’m not sure anyone considers what this really means or understands what it could/should be. Some guy called Bruce (can’t remember his surname) from BT gave a presentation at some ICT event in the 90s and suggested that we ought to think about knowledge on a continuum starting with “stuff” (random bits of information) if you add order to stuff you get “data” (a bit more useful) if you add context to data you get “knowledge” even more useful, but it’s not until you add values to knowledge that you get “wisdom” which is surely where we ought to be. National Curriculum at its best gets no further than “data” and is more typically just “stuff” (disordered, decontextualised colouring in)

    And secondly (if you subscribe to a more developmental model of learning) I don’t think Bruce’s continuum is complete without an implementation “doing” descriptor. Not sure what I’d call it, “capability” maybe? I would have this as my ultimate objective, serviced by stuff, data, knowledge and wisdom. I want kids to see how they can take control and use their heads (knowledge) hearts (wisdom) and hands (capability) to do something about it.

    I would be happy for others to focus on knowledge or wisdom or stuff or data, so long as they harnessed some “doing” to make sense of it.

    Sadly if all you want to do is fill kids up with nationally prescribed bits of “stuff”, I think digitally enhanced textbooks with onscreen multi-guess responses to check you have read and retained would be welcomed.

    But if you want to nurture individual capability I think you need to develop an open framework that encourages the kids to write the books themselves wiki style, challenging the orthodoxy and start to apply their knowledge wisely to make things better….

  2. Oh hello Tony, didn’t see your post before!
    There is a depressing thought, kids doing onscreen tests on their stuff capacity.
    The happier outcome sounds like it needs state funding without too much ‘hard data’ accountability. Do we trust our teachers enough?

  3. and for a ‘doing’ descriptor, why just one? Contribute, action, implement, articulate, animate, plan, design, demonstrate, present, exhibit, perform, create, apply may all be relevant. And perhaps all that is needed to nurture individual creativity (apart for a good teacher, supportive peers and access to material) is a YouTube account:

  4. I tried to follow Aaron Saenz’s argument by surfing his article, looking out for the words or pictures that interested me and jumping from one bit to another, but to my shame it was only when I started at the beginning and read through to the end that it made sense to me. I blame the textbooks for my malady – is there someone I can sue?

    • I found the argument difficult to follow too. The problem is he is too positive about the Biology resource, before going on to dismiss it for being a single-source. I guess you could try suing all textbook publishers – but they tend to be very single-minded.

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