Beyond the Textbook

Adam Bellow and Angela Maiers

Recently, Discovery Education assembled a group of 17 educators from the United States and Canada who are known in the edublogging community for being dreamers who know no boundaries, doers who are not afraid of failure, innovators who constantly push the envelope and outspoken advocates who tirelessly fight for what is best for students. This event was called the Beyond the Techbook Forum.

I was fortunate to receive an invitation to this event both last year and this year. For two days I got to brainstorm and share ideas with an amazing group of educators as well as some brilliant people from Discovery Education. Our mission was straightforward. We were to come up with ideas about what the future of textbooks should look like and work in teams to design the perfect textbook.

While I cannot speak for everyone there, I can say with certainty that the general consensus is that the ideal textbook will not look like a textbook at all. Discovery refers to their version of a textbook as a techbook. Even though it is nothing like a traditional textbook, they needed to call it something that educators were already familiar with.

Discovery Education has developed techbooks for elementary students as well as high school Biology, Chemistry, Earth & Space Science and Physics. Middle school techbooks have been created US History, World History, and World Geography  and Culture. Their next exciting project is the development of a math techbook. Districts from around the country have embraced the idea of using these product. Click here to review some of their stories.

Discovery hosted this forum to get feedback on what elements could be added to make their product even better. As a group we came up with a handful of “drivers” that we felt were essential components to include. We were divided into six groups and our mission was to develop a prototype of the perfect techbook that included as many of the drivers as possible.

We were told to dream big so we came up with some incredibly complex ideas. If Discovery Education incorporates our ideas this is what future techbooks could look like:

  • A book that does not look like a book at all, but would look more like a website. It would have tabs that would allow for easy navigation.

  • Vocabulary terms would be hyperlinked to a glossary. The book would be searchable as well.

  • A reader would be built in so that the text would be accessible to all students.

  • A variety of multimedia would be embedded. In a perfect world the students could customize their choices to fit their learning style.

  • A Help button that would instantly connect students with their teacher, peers, or content area experts to quickly answer questions and provide more indepth explanation of concepts.

  • Ability to leave “sticky notes” with comments or questions. These could provide a space for an asynchronous discussion within the book.

  • Teachers  could customize the book to provide the level of content support that is right for them. For example, new teachers might opt to include multiple layers of support that include ideas for how to frame discussions and step-by-step explanations to problems found in the book. Seasoned veterans might decide to see the bare bones version of the book because they already have their own vast library of resources.

  • A database of activities that have been created by teachers that use the techbook. These activities could be sorted by numerous categories including the standards they meet, number of time viewed, and rank given to them by the teachers who have used them.

  • Teachers could be part of a network where they could connect with other teachers who are using the techbook. They could coordinate their plans and connect their classrooms.

Traditional textbooks are static and they are outdated by the time the reach our students. They served a purpose when information was scarce. Today information is all around us. Students need to learn valuable 21st century skills such as how to curate content and how to work and communicate in digital spaces. The more we embrace the shift to digital content the more we will help our students be successful in the world that exists today.

Thank you  Steve Dembo, Director of Social Media Strategy and Online Community and Lance Rougeux, Vice President of Learning Communities and Instructional Implementation at Discovery Education for organizing this event and listening to educators. I hope that our insight and ideas were helpful.

If you are interested in joining the ongoing conversation about this topic you can follow the hashtag #beyondtextbooks on Twitter. You can also read the blogs of the educators who attended the event.

Attendee Blogs

  • Adam Bellow: @adambellow and @edutecher Founder of eduTecher / eduClipper, Educational Technologist, Public Speaker, GCT, Dad to Two Amazing Boys, and All Around Good Guy. He is also the closing keynote speaker for ISTE2013.

  • Angela Maiers: @angelamaiers  I believe these 2 words can change the world – #YouMatter – I’m an Educator, Author, Speaker passionate about literacy, learning, and power of social media.

  • Beth Still: @bethstill  Social studies teacher & online course designer. Moodler. Founder of the ISTE Newbie project. Difference maker. Super power: cat herder. #digicon12 organizer.

  • Chris Harbeck: @charbeck  Just a Grade 8 Math teacher trying out new things.

  • Darren Kuropatwa: @dkuropatwa  Curriculum Coordinator for Digital Learning at St. James-Assiniboia School Division Always in beta ∞ß.

  • Frank Noschese: @fnoschese  HS Physics Teacher • Inquiry • Modeling Instruction • Standards-Based Grading • PAEMST Awardee • TEDxNYED Speaker • NBCT • Husband • Father of 2.

  • Gordon Dahlby: @gdahlby  CoSN Project Mgr- online Community of Practice; Ed Tech Leadership Consultant/Advisor & Speaker– Policy, Planning & Practice; past ISTE Board Directors, Iowan.

  • Joanne Manaster: @sciencegoddess  Biology lecturer, video science book reviewer, @sciamblogs– PsiVid. #IRPIndia New Media Journalist Feb 16-27, former international model who LOVES science!

  • Karl Fisch: @karlfisch  I ask a lot of questions. I have taught middle and high school students math for 23 years and am currently Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School.

  • Kyle Pace: @kylepace District Instructional Technology Specialist/Google Cert. Teacher. Ed Week Leader to Learn From. Presenter. #edcampKC. I connect dots. Learn, share, repeat.

  • MaryBeth Hertz: @mbteach   K-8 Technology Teacher and Technology Integration Specialist in Philadelphia. Edcamp Foundation Board member & organizer.

2 thoughts on “Beyond the Textbook

  1. Beth,
    Thank you very much for your posting.
    What I find disconcerting about your list is the fact that it is all about the teacher. Where is the learner? Seems to be like a consumer of whatever the teacher decides to aggregate in the ‘textbook’.
    I’ll rather see the student in a more active role in the creation of a digital textbook.

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