How Teachers Are Hacking Their Own Digital Textbooks

Added by  on 2013-03-28


ipad-in-bookMarch’s issue of Wired Magazine included a fascinating interview* with Clayton Christensen, Business professor at Harvard University and author of several books, including The Innovator’s Dilemma and Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovations Will Change the Way th....

Since these books were published, the world of education has seen an influx of technology with tablets leading the way. While it’s difficult to know exactly how many schools have deployed 1 to 1 initiatives, one thing remains certain: there were will be more schools with 1 to 1 technology disrupting the classroom tomorrow than there are today.

The disruptive device of choice these days seems to be the iPad. Perhaps you’ve seen one of the gazillion articles written about how iPads are disrupting the learning environment. The gist of the conversation usually highlights both positive and negative benefits to learning and inevitably reaches the question “when will iPads replace textbooks?”

The way I see it, there are three camps you can subscribe to when it comes to answering this question.

Which Camp Are You?

The first camp is of the mindset that textbooks are a thing of the past. With access to the internet, there is no need to package and deliver prescribed content to your students. To a certain degree, this is true. However, teachers need efficient ways for students to access knowledge and be certain of what they can hold them accountable for knowing.

The second camp is of the mindset that digital textbooks from the publishing companies are our only option. While these eBooks have come a long way since their first version of static PDFs of the books’ pages, most of these eBooks are not viable and sustainable solutions. They are too costly, too large in size, not personalized, and would most likely still require teachers to tailor content to their classroom needs.

The third camp is one I like to call the ‘hackcamp.’ This is a group of innovative educators that are taking textbook creation into their own hands and hacking together quality, interactive content personalized for their students.

You The Disruptor

In the interview, Christensen states, “[E]ducation is vulnerable to the ‘disruptive innovations’ emerging in the murky, low-margin bottom of the market. And this is where true revolutions occur.”

It’s not a stretch to see how these passionate and creative teachers authoring their own interactive books can be a classroom disruptor. Content that is personalized and packaged in a creative and beautiful fashion opens up infinite possibilities for the teacher, the learner, and the learning environment.

Middle school math teacher Tara Maynard (@tmaynard5) has been using iBooks Author to create media-rich, interactive books for her algebra and geometry students for the better part of this year. Her books contain guiding questions for students to focus on as they explore the pages filled with short video tutorials, student-friendly text, formative assessments that give immediate feedback, and interactive widgets for determining patterns and relationships. She will tell you this has been an incredible tool for student learning and is increasing student achievement.

But that’s not the best part.

Maynard points to the fact that her face-to-face time with students is much more meaningful, and it’s not just focused on content. Class time is freed up for collaborative work time, one-on-one support, and small group projects—all of which now occur more regularly, thanks to delivering content this way.

iBooks Author Hackathon

ibooks-author-previewDream with me for a moment and imagine your students’ eBook supporting multiple modes of learning, from student friendly text and high quality images, to interactive widgets built for the kinesthetic learner to explore concepts. Imagine your students’ eBooks containing their own teacher-featured videos that are viewable offline to support anytime/anywhere learning. Imagine it containing a live RSS feed to your class blog or class Twitter hashtag. Imagine it containing images of students themselves, video story problems from the business down the road, links to web resources, and online assessments that give teachers immediate feedback on student comprehension.

Now imagine if you could work together with a team of passionate educators creating and curating quality, interactive modules to remix, update, compile, and distribute to your students. This is exactly the goal of this summer’s project, affectionately named “iBooks Author Hackathon.”

What started off as an idea by myself and Steve Dickie, Divine Child High School science teacher, has now turned into multiple 2-day events taking place over the summer. The objective of this initiative is to collaborate in content area teams to create small modules of interactive content for others to download, further personalize, and share with their students.

‘Hacking’ eBooks is not as geeky as it sounds. With the advent of iBooks Author, creating a smashing, interactive book is almost as easy as creating a Keynote presentation. Hackathon events are meant for anyone who desires to join a passionate group of educators eager to innovate the teaching and learning experience. In addition, we are encouraging practicing teachers to participate in hopes that they will see the changing roles of their future occupation. While colleges of education teach the necessary theory, this project will expose them to collaboration, creation, and curation of quality content.

Whether you are participating in a state-wide initiative such as this, or just authoring interactive content for your own students, my guess is that you, too, will find the disruptive nature of delivering content in this manner.

*Howe, Jeff. “The Disruptor.” Wired Mar. 2013: 74+. Print.

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