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Discussing the future of the textbook. Add your voice!

'Flat World Knowledge: Open College Textbooks' photo (c) 2010, - license: a stupid broken knee, I’ve found a way to get down to Silver Spring, MD tomorrow for Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum.

I am honored to be among a small group of teachers and thinkers I truly admire, but I am conscious of the fact that Karen (my dear generous friend and driver) and I may be the only practicing librarians in the actual room.

Happily the room doesn’t need to be so small.  Our sponsors will learn and improve their product.  We will learn too.

Discovery asks us to use our blogs and Twitter to solicit ideas from our readers, our tribes.

This is an opportunity for us to share the power of our voice in the conversation.  So, let’s all think a little bit–today and tomorrow and beyond–about what the new textbook might look like. Please share your thoughts in comments here or use Twitter combining the hashtags: #tlchat and #beyondthetextbook.

I’ve been thinking a bit about this myself.  (Here’s just one older post on building a text.)  I’ve worked with social studies teacher colleagues to help teams of students develop digital Chapter 37s to add to their US History texts.  And they were great chapters–media-rich, dynamic, and each very different in scope, approach, and point of view.

Looking back at my personal history with textbooks.  I can’t remember loving any of my high school and college texts, with two exceptions.

To those who want to blow up textbooks completely, this may seem incredibly geeky and traditional, but I LOVED my Norton Anthologies and I LOVED Janson’s History of Art.

I still do.

They are still occupy some of the limited space on our basement bookshelves despite years of weeding.

There is something authentic about those books. Real art. Real literature.  A little expert context.

But what might those beautiful books look like today?

Could I hear the voices of the poets or a theatrical reader of the drama? Could I see it performed? Could a modern painter or an exceptionally articulate docent add to my understanding of great works of art? What if the Renaissance sections of those books talked to or connected with each other?

Could I discuss my reactions (and my notes and highlighting) of these works with my teachers and fellow learners?  Could I include my own juried masterpieces?

I envision an unlimited container with unlimited potential to meet the needs of all sorts of learners.  I see a container that can be customized, made universally accessible, differentiated, locally and personally relevant.  I see these new texts as being completely portable and updatable and keepable.

At the high school and college levels, I want to be able to keep and grow with my texts and refer to them as I move forward in my learning.

I see an opportunity for these texts to be networked, interactive dialogs, allowing learners to contribute to growing content, discussion, and knowledge building.

And I see teacher librarians as major curators of these learning containers.

In my discussions with fellow SLJ blogger, Marc Aronson, I also see a huge role for the nonfiction writer community.  Why not have our best subject area experts, our best writers, contribute?

I’ll be tweeting tomorrow.

Please remember to think well outside the box/book.  And PLEASE add your voices to the conversation by commenting here or by using Twitter with the hashtags: #tlchat and #beyondthetextbook.

For more information and thoughts on tomorrow’s event, see these posts by

Thank you, Karen.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. I love your article Joyce and am so honored that I can go down to the forum with you! I am brainstorming today in order to offer quality ideas to the forum.

    I posted my ideas here:

    I would say see you bright and early – but it will be dark and early!!! Early being the keyword – keep me awake as I drive!!!

  2. Peg Gillard says:

    I love the new iBook capability of writing your own textbook with embedded media. Students could help design and decide on what to include. Forever unfolding and growing, evolving into a rich accumulation of the growth of a teacher and subject.

  3. An advantage to online textbooks is the ability to curate a collection of articles on the same topic at various reading levels. The opportunity to differentiate content learning is huge.

  4. I am all for advancement for new ideas and not sitting contently on our “traditional way of doing things” but I do not believe that textbooks need to be totally dismissed.

    I feel that there is a belief that “new textbooks” will be the savior for our students — when in fact, a new textbook will just become another source for students to quickly skim for information in order to answer the question the teacher has asked….rather than dig deeply to find out more.

    I do not believe textbook creation (whether new or paper) is the problem. I believe the issue we need to address is that many students want quick answers and many teachers are asking questions that eliminate the need to think more deeply.

    I, myself, love research…..and have kept MANY of my college papers where I spent HOURS in the library — surrounded by books, wandering often into the micro-fiche for information, and losing myself in thought and discovery. Not always to get the A — but often because I loved what I was learning.

    I hope you will bring up in the conversation that perhaps beyondthetextbook also needs to include beyondtheeasyanswer.

    Until we start engaging our students beyond just answering the question — to, instead — discovering the possibilities and much much more — anything that provides just a quick response will continue to be the norm.

    Just my thoughts

  5. The problem that I am seeing arise within the textbook publishing industry is that publishers are issuing a code to provide teachers with 12 months access to their online textbook and associated resources. This code locks students into a walled garden within the publisher’s website. While flexibility is possible, I lament at the narrow range of resources being used in this manner when the wealth of primary source material available as Open Education Resources (OER) is growing daily.

    OER are being aimed at third world countries that cannot afford $60-$70 per student for access to an online textbook. These students could potentially end up with access to a better range of resources. Furthermore, there is so much to be learnt by students assembling their own resources, or choosing from a selection according to their needs. Students are quickly becoming active learners, involved in the creation of their own learning tools. The more I see learning resources channeled into corporate products— I despair.

    Yes, we have to assemble the resources. Yes, it is more labour intensive than opting for a ready made text book. Maybe this is why I prefer homemade tomato soup rather than soup in a can!

    All the best with that knee Joyce and thanks for prompting me to comment.


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