A New Kind of Textbook

Imagine a classroom in which content can be easily differentiated for students, in which even the complexity of the textbook can be reduced or increased to reflect the reading ability (Lexile level) or interest of the individual student.  That classroom may not be far off.  Macmillan recently introduced software that allows instructors to modify textbooks on demand.  By ‘modify’ I mean that instructors can add text, delete passages, move content around, delete pictures, upload pictures or videos, even rearrange chapters – think Wikipedia for textbooks.  This allows instructors to modify and update texts without having to wait on reissues of the same textbook.

In addition to saving on the cost of expensive reissues and new editions, these customizable textbooks also allow professors to make decisions about the way content is presented.  Based on their own experiences and preferences, the reading abilities of their students, the amount of time devoted to a given topic, or their own classroom syllabus needs, instructors now have substantive input on the structure of the text and how information is presented.

So far, Macmillan, through DynamicBooks , is only offering a limited number of textbooks in this format.  And the response has not all been positive:

Frank Lymnan, executive vice-president of CourseSmart, said he expected that some professors would embrace the opportunity to customize e-books, but that most would continue to rely on traditional textbooks.  “For many instructors, that’s very helpful to know it’s been through a process and represents a best practice in terms of a particular curriculum,” he said.

Even other publishers that allows instructors some level of customization hesitate about permitting changes at the sentence and paragraph level.

Of course, the same sort of concerns were once raised about Wikipedia.  And many argued that a collaborative, online encyclopedia could never rival the well-established, professionally authored encyclopedias.

While still in its infancy, DynamicBooks opens up a whole world of possibility.  And it’s easy to imagine a future in which teachers routinely modify the reading demands of the text to more efficiently target the reading abilities of her classroom.

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