Transition from Traditional to Virtual: Textbooks

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EdTech will be hosting a second Teaching and Learning Technology Conference in April 2009. Our theme is the Transition from Traditional to Virtual. In other words, we want presentations on how the classroom/learning environment is transitioning away from the “traditional” model between students and teachers.

Along these lines, there is a movement in some academic circles to move away from horrendously expensive textbooks produced by mammoth publishing houses that dominate the college textbook arena to the more focused, locally developed texts put out by professors at very low cost to themselves. The New York Times had an article recently about how some instructors use electronic publishing to get their works out there for the students. The cost of an electronic textbook can be, in many instances, much, much lower than a standard printed textbook.

Both MIT and a company called Connexions are starting to embrace a more open environment of knowledge sharing. MIT has created a repository of knowledge called OpenCourseWare while Connexions has its own repository.

The content for OpenCourseWare “reflects almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT”. From what I’ve seen, the content is organized much like a traditional course, although all of the material is delivered electronically. It also is not a substitute for an actual MIT education and you cannot get course credit for using their materials.

Connexions, on the other hand, takes a different approach in that the content is created by a much broader base of users. It is “open source” content, using a Creative Commons license. That means instructors can use material legally (and reuse it) as long as the content is attributed appropriately to the original creator. They also emphasize a modular approach to learning such that the material can be re-arranged in usable chunks to fit a particular style of learning.

In any case, the New York Time article points out that textbook publishers have begun to notice this trend of students going online for their course materials and have jumped onto the bandwagon, so to speak, by creating their own electronic repositories.