Students jump around in textbooks—or whatever source for the subject they are learning. This revelation from a textbook study is stated in an article this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education and quoted at the end of this post.
Online knowledge aggregation – - the golden swamp – - is NOT linear. When subject knowledge goes openly into the internet, it settles into the network matrix that lets it link up among its internal ideas and with related webpages. In the internet knowledge cannot be forced into the usual linear ruts of textbooks. Eventually we are going to get to the place where teaching uses the natural networks of knowledge online — where students can learn by following patterns of interconnecting ideas. Professors will move beyond lining up bits of what they know in textbooks to optimizing links among their concepts online.
Meanwhile, this is progress, quoted from The Chronicle:
Edward H. Stanford, president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education, said in an interview that the new e-textbooks were developed based on an ethnographic investigation of student study habits done by the company. He said the company learned that students often do not study in a linear fashion, but instead jump around in the text, whether in print or electronic textbooks. “One kid in a biology class said, ‘I don’t read the chapter. I just look at the art. If I understand the art, I go on to the next art. If I don’t understand the art, I read,’” said Mr. Stanford. “When he said that, it made perfect sense to me, but until he said it, I had never thought about it that way.”
What our kids learn in schools is censored by the textbook selection process. They learn a standard take on knowledge as written in textbooks and selected by state governments. In recent years there has been loud clatter about how students might learn the wrong thing on the internet. In its early years, we would defend online knowledge by saying that in the open internet at least students are exposed to the spectrum of ideas on subjects.
Through methodology of the search industry, open internet knowledge now not only offers varying takes on subjects. It offers broadly vetted material. Google’s towering success is based on elevating webpages that are liked and respected in the open golden swamp of the internet. This open vetting process has become highly refined and effective under the intensive pressures for quality results from the e-commerce sector (with educators barely noticing).
Meanwhile, as Seed Magazine reports today, the textbook narrowness expensively reigns on in schools. For example, pretty much nationwide, our kids learn the science Texas thinks they should:
. . . because of the state’s enormous purchasing power for textbooks, Texas’s standards will ultimately affect textbooks nationwide. The board spent more than $200 million on K-12 textbooks last year—buying more high school science books than any other state. “Publishers typically write their textbooks to Texas standards and then sell those books to smaller states,” explains Kathy Miller of the civil liberties watchdog Texas Freedom Network. If the board rejects a textbook, it can destroy a publisher.
Ken Carroll included this illustration in a post on his blog yesterday about my recent post on how the economic crunch will speed networked learning. This picture (thanks Ken!) pretty well describes the experiences of those of us who have advocated reconfiguring education to take advantage of the internet through the past years of analog slogging.
I appreciate Ken’s agreement with me here — and his bigger vision that he draws throughout his post:
And Judy is exactly right when she suggests the power of mobile learning in this scenario. But there are, in fact, entirely new conceptions of what a university education should be that go way beyond this. This is not news, but that conversation is going to get louder.
The conclusion to the post Ken writes is a powerful call to action. Here is my suggestion for beginning individual action — how first steps can be taken right now while the economic crises loudly demands money cuts:
- If you are a teacher, abandon the printed textbook in your own classroom. Authorize/accept no new printed textbooks — ever. If your school won’t let you take this position, complain as much as you can.
- If you are a parent, ask your kids’ teachers to use online resources. Guide their college choices toward paperless schools (the kids will approve!).
- If you are an administrator, oppose buying printed textbooks. Free online textbooks will save education institutions and students billions of dollars annually.
- If you are a student demand full provision of mobile access where you attend school. Smart phones and the new generation of mini laptops like Inspiron and Acer cost under $500. Including wireless costs, these devices provide students with all the content on the internet, instead of a few expensive books to lug around.
Network laws cause big things to start from little actions. Changes spread virally in networks, with the potential — once they are affirmed by the wisdom of the crowd — to cascade! If for example, college students began individually not to buy printed textbooks there is the potential for a tipping point and cascade that would have saved college students in the USA alone $3.6 billion dollars in new printed textbooks this year. There’s some powerful networked learning economics in that !
Many thanks to Stephen Downes for spreading this conversation!
Unbundling gives us a much needed new word in the education vocabulary. Today the word is in an Opinion piece in the New York Times:” A bill pending in Congress would require publishers to sell “unbundled” versions of the books — minus the pricey add-ons.”
Nicholas Carr has a whole chapter called “The Great Unbundling” in his book The Big Switch, a top seller in the latest wave of books about the Internet. Carr, who writes for the Harvard Business Review and other financial publications, uses this word from finance that becomes wonderfully apt for what happens when many kinds of content arrive on the Net: they unbundle. He explains in The Big Switch (page 153) what happens when newspapers are put online:
The publisher’s goal [in print] is to make the entire package as attractive as possible to a broad set of readers and advertisers. The newspaper as a whole is what matters, and as a product it’s worth more than the sum of its parts. When a newspaper moves online, the bundle falls apart. Readers don’t flip through a mix of stories, advertisements, and other bits of content. They go directly to a particular story that interests them, often ignoring everything else.
The lesson for educators is that education is fighting the nature of the Net unless it allows its online resources not only to be open, but also to unbundle. When a study course or curriculum is a bundle online, having inside it several bundled lessons, each of which lessons bundles a number of related ideas, that are in turn bundles of webpages, images, and videos – with all that bundling potential users do not quickly find the particular idea or facts they want to teach or learn. Since they cannot go directly to what they want, Net users typically go someplace else where they can.
Realizing the force of the unbundling nature of the Net presents educators with an innovation challenge and opportunity. Flat World Knowledge, mentioned in the New York Times Opinion piece today, is in the vanguard of education methodology that empowers teaching and learning in the Net environment. They plan to let professors pick and choose content to bundle custom textbooks for their own courses.
Another area of innovation the unbundling realization is sparking for educational resources folks is search engine optimization (SEO. The bundled educational content can be modified so the search engines can find the parts inside and/or some of the best parts can be duplicated as findable learn nodes outside of the bundles where their clones are lodged.