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Texas is busy today setting standards for history to be taught for 10 years


Posted on 13th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Open Content and Schools We Have Now


For the next ten years, what kids across America will be taught about history is being set out right now by the Texas State Board of Education. Yahoo!News describes what is happening in a news story today: Texas braces for fight over social studies lessons. We learn from this report that: “Much of the conversation ahead of the hearing has turned to how much emphasis will be given to the religious beliefs of the nation’s founding fathers . . . .”

Note in the quotation below from the Yahoo! article in the sentence I have emphasized that national tests will follow these standards. So, for the next 10 years if you are a student in Ohio taking a test that will qualify you for promotion, a diploma, or college admission, you will have to know what some Texas political appointees want you to know about the religion of American’s founding fathers.

Perhaps there were some shreds of sense to this when textbooks were the basic knowledge delivery vehicle to schools. But now, the Internet provides not only a full range of views on knowledge. In the example of the religious views of the founding fathers, the Colonial Williamsburg podcast collection includes views on religion by both Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, in their own words.

How much longer are we going to let this happen, as described by Yahoo! today? :

The State Board of Education begins hearing testimony, before a tentative vote this week on new social studies curriculum standards that will serve as the framework in Texas classrooms. But, as usual in votes before the conservative-led board, the wide-reaching guidelines are full of potential ideological flashpoints. . .  .

The curriculum it chooses will be the guideposts for teaching history and social studies to some 4.8 million K-12 students for 10 years. The standards will be used to develop state tests and by textbook publishers who develop material for the nation based on Texas, one of the largest markets. . . .

Apple’s Tablet, as Imagined by Book Publishers

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Posted on 5th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobile & Ubiquitous and Mobile Learning

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This video is described on MarketWatch as “Apple’s Tablet, as Imagined by Book Publishers”:

This video created by Coursesmart, a joint venture of five textbook publishers, shows how students might use tablet-based textbooks. It is based on their own renderings, not specific applications being developed with Apple.

Terrific as the use of textbooks on the imagined device would be, Apple’s tablet will surely not be a one trick pony. In fact, a really big trick is demonstrated briefly in the video: going out to the Web to find subject matter related to a textbook topic.

As I wrote about yesterday, the new mobile devices rolling out are important heads-ups for educators. How do you imagine Apple’s Tablet from your perspective as a student or teacher, or just someone who wants to learn something?

HT: Brian

And someday text vooks


Posted on 1st October 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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The inertia of established education is stark to see in a New York Times article today: Curling Up With Hybrid Books, Videos Included. Here are some excerpts:

For more than 500 years the book has been a remarkably stable entity: a coherent string of connected words, printed on paper and bound between covers.

But in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube, the notion of the book is becoming increasingly elastic as publishers mash together text, video and Web features in a scramble to keep readers interested in an archaic form of entertainment . . . .

The new hybrids add much more. In one of the Simon & Schuster vooks, a fitness and diet title, readers can click on videos that show them how to perform the exercises. A beauty book contains videos that demonstrate how to make homemade skin-care potions.

Not just how-tos are getting the cinematic work-up. Simon & Schuster is also releasing two digital novels combining text with videos a minute or 90 seconds long that supplement — and in some cases advance — the story line.

So, what about the obvious “vook” approach to school books? A word search shows neither “school” nor “textbook” is mentioned in this hybrid book round-up article.

School vooks can — and I feel certain — will soon be a mainstay of the new handschooling that will emerge around mobiles. We are in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube. Here is an opportunity for the mobile industry to tap into the billions spent every year on textbooks — an archaic form of curricula.

The kids will love text vooks and learn from them. If vooks teach homemade skin-care potions, why not physics? What are educators waiting for?

Smartphones will become textbooks as well as game consoles


Posted on 26th September 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning, Schools We Have Now and games

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The image above is’s display of iPodtouch features — most of which would be superb features for the sort of educational products that will soon replace paper and ink bound textbooks. The textbooks have the same fatal digital age flaws that game consoles are revealing, as reported in a New York Times story today titled, “Apple’s Shadow Hangs Over Game Console Makers.” From the article, reporting the Tokyo Game Show:

Among the questions voiced by video game executives: How can Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft keep consumers hooked on game-only consoles, like the Wii or even the PlayStation Portable, when Apple offers games on popular, everyday devices that double as cellphones and music players?

And how can game developers and the makers of big consoles persuade consumers to buy the latest shoot’em-ups for $30 or more, when Apple’s App store is full of games, created by developers around the world and approved by Apple, that cost as little as 99 cents — or even are free?

The everyday devices that now offer games can not only bring the stuff of traditional textbooks — text and printing images — into the hands of students. These devices can offer later versions of constantly updated text, moving and interactive images, live cams for subjects studied, capture of images and locations being studied, and games that teach.

In fact, it is so obvious that individual mobile devices are at least as effective a replacement for textbooks as they are for game consoles that one wonders why the changeover has not been made long ago. My guess is that schools make decisions for large groups of students instead of one individual at a time. When it comes to buying a game console, a single player or family does the shopping and decides how they want to play the game. Also, billions of dollars spent annually on textbooks are at stake. Surely we can find a better way to spend those billions than on paper (remember the trees), ink, and delivering (making a big carbon footprint) millions of heavy books for kids’ heavy (spine stressing) backpacks.

David Wiley writes about digital textbooks and new business models


Posted on 8th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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Professor David Wiley, leading innovator and advocate of open online learning, is writing terrific posts at Wired Campus as July guest blogger. His column today, “Digital Textbooks Call for New Business Models,” picks up on what I wrote earlier about the coming of free learning resources. Here is some from the Wiley vision:

In the online era, the competitive nature of educational materials has disappeared. While Selma is running calculations in the online chemistry laboratory, another million students can be using it too; while Nick is exploring genetics in the online simulator, another million students can too. It’s just like when you read the news on while a million other people do. An online educational resource is different from a physical educational resource because every student on the campus can use the same online resource at the same time. We don’t need to ask each and every student on the campus to buy a copy — though that’s what publishers of online textbooks ask students to do.

Why open knowledge is better knowledge for students


Posted on 20th May 2009 by Judy Breck in Open Content and Schools We Have Now

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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.

Newspapers [textbooks] future on Smart Phones


Posted on 14th March 2009 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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Writing for Edgelings Live from Silicon Valley, Michael S. Moore has a piece today about the death throes of newspapers that we are watching. School textbooks will one day follow this path.

Moore predicts in this detailed and interesting article, that some form of newspapers will re-emerge. Thinking ahead to when the education establishment grip loosens, this prediction by Moore gives us a look at the likely the future of textbooks:

What does that mean?  Well, surprisingly it means:  Forget computers.  Newspapers [Textbooks] have already lost that battle.  Instead, move on – and target the next platform.   My gut tells me that the future of news [lessons] delivery is to e-Books, like Kindle, and even more, Smart Phones.  So rebuild your paper [edu stuff] for those platforms – automatic downloading of the daily news [lessons] directly to e-books, and powerful new navigation and social networking (i.e., story reporting and sharing) [(i.e., teaching and learning)] tools for the phone.

These kids have a high tuition offset in their pockets


Posted on 17th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning and Schools We Have Now

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The AP picture here shows students protesting tuition hikes who, you can be confident, all have mobile phones in their pockets. The photo is from a Yahoo! News article called The Secret Reasons for Tuition Hikes.

Students pay hundreds of dollars every year for printed textbooks. The technology is well established to provide textbooks on their mobile devices. Doing so would give kids a significant offset from tuition hikes. Colleges can make administrative savings by providing access to services through the devices. If instruction continues to decline in quality while analog services are funded, it is likely students will be going to their mobiles for instruction too.

This bleak outlet described by Yahoo! will be replaced by cost savings and richer instruction in the mobile future for learning:

Why has college tuition been rising so high and fast? Will college costs ever drop back to more affordable levels?

Those questions have been frustrating parents and students for years. A new report provides some surprising answers that will, unfortunately, probably only frustrate and anger them even more. At public colleges, tuition has generally been driven up by rising spending on administrators, student support services, and the need to make up for reductions in government subsidies, according to a report issued by the Delta Cost Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

In some cases, such as at community colleges (which educate about half of the nation’s college students), tuition has risen while spending on classroom instruction has actually fallen. At public colleges especially, the current economic troubles will likely only accelerate the trend of rising prices and classroom cutbacks, says Jane Wellman, the author of the report. After analyzing income and spending statistics that nearly 2,000 colleges reported to the federal government, Wellman concludes: “Students are paying more and, arguably, getting less in the classroom.”

The money crisis spread quickly by network rules, so can education change


Posted on 10th October 2008 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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  Xf9Cfbcnke0 Rdyyhpsikoi Aaaaaaaaasg Rx1Iuzrrrag S400 FalstaffKen 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!

The economic crunch will speed networked learning


Posted on 8th October 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Golden Age of Learning, Mobile Learning, Networks and Open Content

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When network laws are followed, learning and teaching are far less costly than in cash-devouring 20th century schools. Just for overall starters:

  • One virtual textbook can serve essentially unlimited students while costing almost nothing — instead of costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, euros, yen, etc. only to be worn out and become obsolete very quickly.
  • Talented, knowledgeable teachers can reach students far and wide who are seeking to benefit from their expertise — serving many more students than they can in a 20th century type classroom, and at no cost increase.
  • Mobile devices that students own are multiples cheaper in device cost and maintenance than school based PCs — and the connectivity is both spreading and getting cheaper, FAST!

Education needs re-tooling to engage the virtual world of knowledge. There are at least these pieces of very good news about that:

  • The knowledge students will learn is already online, and more accurate and up-to-date there than in older school resources like textbooks and overworked subject teachers.
  • Connected learning will save billions in current education spending — some of which can redirected to setting up open knowledge network access for all students, and to providing them with mobile computers. For starters, we could freeze any further spending on printed textbooks, which would save school systems and students billions.

Science online and open begins to replace crazy old model


Posted on 21st August 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Open Content

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A Boston Globe article today by Carolyn Y. Johnson is headlined Out in the open: Some scientists sharing results. This is the unbundling of publishing down a path that ignores peer review. Once again, network laws that energize emergence are impelling this remarkably revolutionary trend. Like textbook print publishers, the peer review priests can do little but watch as their old model — now perceived as crazy (see below) — becomes obsolete.

[The young MIT biological engineer Barry] Canton is part of a peaceful insurgency in science that is beginning to pry open an endeavor that still communicates its cutting-edge discoveries in much the same way it has since Ben Franklin was experimenting with lightning. Papers are published in research journals after being reviewed by specialists to ensure that the methods and conclusions are sound, a process that can take many months.

“We’re a generation who expects all information is a Google search away,” Canton said. “Not only is it a Google search away, but it’s also released immediately. As soon as it happens, the video is up on YouTube and on all the blogs. The old model feels kind of crazy when you’re used to this instant information.”

Openness has always been an integral part of science, with scientists presenting findings in journals or at conferences. But the open-science movement, with many of its leaders in the Boston area, encourages scientists to share techniques and even their work long before they are ready to present results, when they are devising research questions, running experiments, and analyzing data. In such open forums, the wisdom of the crowd could offer the ultimate form of peer review. And scientific information, they say, should be available without the hefty subscription fees charged by most journals.

It is an attempt to bring the kind of revolutionary and disruptive change to the laboratory that the Internet has already wrought on the music and print media industries. The idea is that opening up science could speed discoveries, increase collaboration, and transform the field in unforeseen ways.

Via Joho the Blog

Pluto is a dwarf online


Posted on 4th October 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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On August 24, 2006 the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto is a dwarf stripping it of its status as a planet that it had for 76 years. One of the things this declaration did was make incorrect every printed school book that had listed nine planets. Fixing the change on planetary information websites took no more than a few minutes, providing the correct listing of eight planets. Bill Arnet provides The Nine Planets which is the most popular online source for the subject. And yes, of course, Pluto is now a dwarf there, with information about the change plus an in-depth resource on the demoted planet.

OK, so we do not lose a planet very often, but there are a lot of things that change faster and take too much time to change in textbooks. Why is it we still have printed textbooks . . . ?

Pluto image from Astronomy Picture of the Day via The Nine Planets.

Trajectories of revisionism and openness are intersecting


Posted on 3rd September 2006 by Judy Breck in Open Content


Two events that received some news coverage last week give us a look at how behind the times revisionist writing for youngsters will soon be. As described here, in Turkey, some classic Western stories have been published in which the characters have become Moslems. Tom Sawyer and Pinocchio, among others, are doing and saying proper Islamic stuff in the stories. This same week, there is a dust-up among historians in China about the removal of Mao from most of the material in new textbooks, as discussed here.

With nearly 3 billion mobile phones already in the hands of the Earth’s residentsand a dominate percentage of those in the hands of younger peoplethe day is almost here when materials students are given at school can be independently verified by kids with a few thumb clicks.

If one wants to check what Mark Twain wrote to find out if Tom Sawyer was a Moslem, billions will soon be able to do what I did this morning on my Sidekick 3. I googled “tom sawyer,” clicked on the first link on the list that popped up on my screen, found myself in the etext at the University of Virginia, and with two more clicks I was reading the original. The trajectories of revisionism and openness in cyberspace are colliding and invalid revisionism is being vaporized by ever fuller access. That is a beautiful thing.

Laptops and textbooks: do the math


Posted on 13th July 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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An article here in today’s New York Times discussions the investigations by reporters of duplications in text among competitive school textbooks. As we know from our own schooldays, when a student takes a course, a textbook has been selected for that course. The result is that what you are assigned learn as a student is essentially what is in that one selected textbook. Delivering study stuff that way made a lot of sense when I was in school back in the 1940s-50s. But today, if a student has access to the Internet, he or she has multiple sources for virtually any study topic.

Although the Times essay is about other questionable aspects of limiting 21st century kids to learning from textbooks at school, I think the math is the thundering flaw that roars out of the article:

Just how similar passages showed up in two books is a tale of how the largely obscure $4 billion a year world of elementary and high school textbook publishing often works, for these passages were not written by the named authors but by one or more uncredited writers.

$4 billion a year! Let’s do some math. There are upwards of 40 million students in elementary and high school in the United States (if you include homeschoolers). At $4 billion a year, every one of those kids could have a new $100 laptop every year! When the day comes that the mobile phone fully accesses the Internet, spending billions on textbooks will not add up at all.

Mastering media strokes

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Posted on 4th April 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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Masters website
The home website here of this year’s Masters golf tournament is a modern classic in Web design aimed at conveying ideas. In a five-minute visit to the webpage you can virtually master the pertinent information about the tournament: current facts, history, tradition, physical set-up and more. A main 2006 theme of the Masters website is that the Augusta course has been lengthened because technology has stretched the length of the golfers’ drives.

Education should stretch with the times! Why does the education industry persist in absorbing billions of dollars in loading down kids’ backpacks with textbooks from the Bobby Jones era instead conveying knowledge to students through subject websites like How about copying the Masters website set-up to interface the week when William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel, or doing the same for Marco Polo’s travels, or for the discovery of the cure for polio? Those would be aces for learning. Textbooks are bogies in the era when 300 yard plus golf drives are becoming routine.