Category Archives: textbooks

networking textbooks

Daniel Anderson (UNC Chapel Hill), an ever-insightful voice in the wise crowd around the Institute, just announced an exciting english composition textbook project that he’s about to begin developing with Prentice Hall. He calls it “Write Now.” Already the author of two literature textbooks, Dan has been talking with college publishers across the industry about the need to rethink both their process and their product, and has been pleasantly surprised to find a lot of open minds and ears:

…publishers are ready to push technology and social writing both in the production and distribution of their products and in the content of the texts. I proposed playlist, podcast, photo essay, collage, video collage, online profile, and dozens of other technology-based assignments for Write Now. Everyone I talked to welcomed those projects and wanted to keep the media and technology focus of the books. And, not one publisher balked at the notion of shifting the production model of the book to one consistent with the second Web. I proposed adding a public dimension to the writing through social software. I suggested participation from a broad community, and asked that publishers fund and facilitate that participation. I asked that some of the materials be released for the community to use and modify. We all had questions about logistics and boundaries, but every publisher was eager to implement these processes in the development of the books.
In fact, my eventual selection of Prentice Hall as a home for the project was based mainly on their eagerness to figure out together how we might transform the development process by opening it up. I started with an admission that I felt like I was straddling two worlds: one the open source, communal knowledge sphere I admire and participate with online, and two the world where I wanted to publish textbooks that challenge the state of writing but reach mainstream writing classes. We sat down and started brainstorming about how that might happen. The results will evolve over the next several years, but I wouldn’t have committed to the process if I didn’t believe it would offer opportunities for future students, for publishers, and for me to push writing.

As is implied above, Write Now will constitute a blend of the cathedral and the bazaar modes of authorship — Dan will be principal architect, but will also function as a moderator and coordinator of contributions from around the social web. Very exciting.
He also points to another fledgeling networked book project in the rhet/comp field, Rhetworks: An Introduction to the Study of Discursive Networks. I’m going to take some time to look this over.

google on mars

Apparently, this came out in March, but I ‘ve only just stumbled on it now. Google has a version of its maps program for the planet Mars, or at least the part of if explored and documented by the 2001 NASA Mars Odyssey mission. It’s quite spectacular, especially the psychedelic elevation view:
google mars.jpg
There’s also various info tied to specific coordinates on the map: location of dunes, craters, planes etc., as well as stories from the Odyssey mission, mostly descriptions of the Martian landscape. It would be fun to do an anthology of Mars-located science fiction with the table of contents mapped, or an edition of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Though I suppose there’d a fair bit of retrofitting of the atlas to tales written out of pure fancy and not much knowledge of Martian geography (Marsography?). If nothing else, there’s the seeds of a great textbook here. Does the Google Maps API extend to Mars, or is it just an earth thing?

can advertising liberate textbooks?

The aptly named Freeload Press is giving away free PDFs (free as in free beer, or free market) of over 100 textbooks titles (mostly in business and finance, though more is planned). All students have to do is fill out an online survey and then the download is theirs, to use on a computer or to print out. Where does the money come from? Ads. Ads in the pages of the textbooks.
An ad for FedEx Kinkos in a sample Freeload textbook. Hmmm, wonder where I should get this thing printed?
Ads in textbooks is undoubtedly a depressing thought. Even more depressing, though, is the outlandish cost of textbooks, and the devious, often unethical, ways that textbook publishers seek to thwart the used book market. This Washington Post story gives a quick overview of the problem, and profiles the St. Paul, Minnesota-based Freeload.
Though making textbooks free to students is an admirable aim, simply shifting the cost to advertisers is not a good long-term solution, further eroding as it does the already much-diminished borderline between business and education (I suppose, though, that ads in business ed. textbooks in some ways enact the underlying precepts being taught). There are far better ideas out there for, as Freeload promises, “liberating the textbook” (a slogan that conjures the Cheney-esque: the textbooks will greet us as liberators).
One of them comes from Adrian Lopez Denis, a PhD candidate in Latin American history at UCLA. I’m reproducing a substantial chunk of a brilliant comment he posted last month to the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Wired Campus blog in response to their coverage of our announcement of MediaCommons. We just met with Adrian while in Los Angeles and will likely be collaborating with him on a project based on the ideas below. Basically, his point is that teachers and students should collaborate on the production of textbooks.

Students are expected to produce a certain amount of pages that educators are supposed to read and grade. There is a great deal of redundancy and waste involved in this practice. Usually several students answer the same questions or write separately on the same topic, and the valuable time of the professionals that read these essays is wasted on a rather repetitive task.
As long as essay writing remains purely an academic exercise, or an evaluation tool, students would be learning a deep lesson in intellectual futility along with whatever other information the course itself is trying to convey. Assuming that each student is writing 10 pages for a given class, and each class has an average of 50 students, every course is in fact generating 500 pages of written material that would eventually find its way to the campus trashcans. In the meantime, the price of college textbooks is raising four times faster that the general inflation rate.
The solution to this conundrum is rather simple. Small teams of students should be the main producers of course material and every class should operate as a workshop for the collective assemblage of copyright-free instructional tools. Because each team would be working on a different problem, single copies of library materials placed on reserve could become the main source of raw information. Each assignment would generate a handful of multimedia modular units that could be used as building blocks to assemble larger teaching resources. Under this principle, each cohort of students would inherit some course material from their predecessors and contribute to it by adding new units or perfecting what is already there. Courses could evolve, expand, or even branch out. Although centered on the modular production of textbooks and anthologies, this concept could be extended to the creation of syllabi, handouts, slideshows, quizzes, webcasts, and much more. Educators would be involved in helping students to improve their writing rather than simply using the essays to gauge their individual performance. Students would be encouraged to collaborate rather than to compete, and could learn valuable lessons regarding the real nature and ultimate purpose of academic writing and scholarly research.
Online collaboration and electronic publishing of course materials would multiply the potential impact of this approach.

What’s really needed is for textbooks to liberated from textbook publishers. Let schools produce their own knowledge, and spread the wealth.

next text: new media in history teaching and scholarship

The next text project came forth from the realization that twenty-five years into the application of new media to teaching and learning, textbooks have not fully tapped the potential of new media technology. As part of this project, we have invited leading scholars and practitioners of educational technology from specific disciplines to attend meetings with their peers and the institute. Yesterday, we were fortunate to spend the day talking to a group of American History teachers and scholars, some of whom created seminal works in history and new media. Over the course of the day, we discussed their teaching, their scholarship, the creation and use of textbooks, new media, and how to encourage the birth of the next generation born digital textbook. By of the end of the day, the next text project started to take a concrete form. We began to envision the concept of accessing the vast array of digitized primary documents of American History that would allow teachers to formulate their own curricula or use guides that were created and vetted by established historians.
Attendees included:
David Jaffe, City University of New York
Gary Kornblith, Oberlin College
John McClymer, Assumption College
Chad Noyes, Pierrepont School
Jan Reiff, University of California, Los Angeles
Carl Smith, Northwestern University
Jim Sparrow, University of Chicago
Roy Rosenzweig, George Mason University
Kate Wittenberg, EPIC, Columbia University
The group contributed to influential works in the field of History and New Media, including Who Built America, The Great Chicago Fire and The Web of Memory, The Encyclopedia of Chicago, the Blackout History Project, the Visual Knowledge Project, History Matters,the Journal of American History Textbook and Teaching Section, and the American History Association Guide to Teaching and Learning with New Media.
Almost immediately, we found that their excellence in their historical scholarship was equally matched in their teaching. Often their introductions to new media came from their own research. Online and digital copies of historical documents radically changed the way they performed their scholarship. It then fueled the realization that these same tools afforded the opportunity for students to interact with primary documents in a new way which was closer to how historians work. Often, our conversations gravitated back to teaching and students, rather than purely technical concerns. Their teaching led them to the forefront of developing and promoting active learning and constructionist pedagogies, by encouraging an environment of inquiry-based learning, rather than rote memorization of facts, through the use of technology. In these new models, students are guided to multiple paths of self-discovery in their learning and understanding of history.
We spoke at length on the phrase coined by attendee John McClymer, “the pedagogy of abundance.” With access to rich archives of primary documents of American history as well as narratives, they are not faced with the problems of scarcity of assets. This led to the discussion of the spectrum of teaching in higher education. The motivations and resources of history teachers differ greatly. Many history teachers lack the resources, (particularly the adjunct history teacher) or the creativity to move away from the traditional “march” through the standard history survey course and textbook.
The discussion also included issues of resistance, which were particularly interesting to us. Many meeting participants mentioned student resistance to new methods of learning including both new forms of presentation and inquiry-based pedagogies. In that, traditional textbooks are portable and offer an established way to learn. They noted an institutional tradition of the teacher as the authoritative interpreter in lecture-based teaching, which is challenged by active learning strategies. Further, we discussed the status (or lack of) of the group’s new media endeavors in both their scholarship and teaching. Depending upon their institution, using new media in their scholarship had varying degrees of importance in their tenure and compensation reviews from none to substantial. Quality of teaching had no influence in these reviews. Therefore, these projects were often done, not in lieu of, but in addition to their traditional publishing and academic professional requirements.
The combination of an abundance of primary documents (particulary true for American history) and a range of teaching goals and skills led to the idea of adding layers on top of existing digital archives. Varying layers could be placed on top of these resources to provide structure for both teachers and students. Teachers who wanted to maintain the traditional march through the course would still be able to do so through guides created by the more creative teacher. Further, all teachers would be able to control the vast breadth of material to avoid overwhelming students and provide scaffolding for their learning experience. We are very excited by this notion, and will further refine the meeting’s groundwork to strategize how this new learning environment might get created.
We are still working through everything that was discussed, however, we left the meeting with a much clearer idea of the landscape of the higher education history teacher / scholar, as well as, possible directions that the born digital history textbook could take.