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Posts Tagged ‘textbook

How did a major publisher of textbooks in Singapore release a blatantly racist book?

We might worry about its selection processes for authors and content. We might wonder what editing and filtering its clearing house performed. After all that failed, we might sigh at the template-based response and “apology” the company issued.

The company might look into tightening it policies and processes. But all that is administrative salve for a deeper problem. It needs to find out how and why it allowed this to happen in the first place.

I suggest three root causes. The company:

  1. focused more on content and skills, and not enough on values and attitudes
  2. did not embrace diversity of hires and thought
  3. focused on easy answers instead of difficult questions

The book was titled Who Wins?. Nobody wins if those of us in schooling and education repeat those mistakes.

This is a reflection on instructional design and teaching.

I have been working on a project for the last week or so in which I critique lesson packages. One of my comments was about not blindly following the textbook model.

I noticed that several learning packages had their content and experiences sequenced like textbooks. They were providing answers before asking questions.

Why do textbooks do this?

They are written from an expert’s point of view and try to present information efficiently. This approach seems legitimate because readers do not necessarily want to know what mistakes or life experiences that expert had. The readers demand is: Tell me what you know. Hence the providing of answers even if there are no questions.

This results in a textbook being as concise as it can be. It is also non-interactive — turning pages and wiping drool from boredom-induced sleep do not count. However, the design of textbooks should not be the model to follow when teaching.

The logical-social model of teaching is to put questions before answers. Answers devoid of questions make no sense and serve no purpose. The questions might serve as a hook for learning, activate prior knowledge, identify gaps in knowledge, or otherwise drive learning.

This is my way of saying that every lesson needs to be led by pedagogical design, not textbook design. If a lesson simply lifts from a textbook, the students might as well just read a textbook without the teacher.

Video source

You might say that the video above is a textbook case about textbooks, except it is not. Textbook publishers will not be as honest, so Cracked made a satirical video about the practice.

I wonder if they have one on academic publishing…

This tweet from author John Green highlights one major problem with university textbooks.

Like the prices of the other good and services, the cost of book production has gone down over the last 20 years. However, the cost of textbooks has steadily risen.

I did a bit of digging and found the source of the graph. The same site also had a feature a month later that focused solely on the rising cost of textbooks.

Rising cost of college textbooks (1998-2016).

Textbook publishers have a virtual monopoly and they will fend off alternatives and threats like open educational resources (OER), and paperless or e-resources. Where they also control electronic versions of textbooks, content management systems, or question banks, these publishers might also have a nasty way of holding students’ assignments for ransom.

We might not have as serious a textbook price crisis here in Singapore, but there is a far more insidious cost of textbooks — teaching to the text, the text as truth, and pedagogy based on textbooks.

Most teachers I know today do not teach solely by the textbook nor do they regard what is published as absolutely accurate. However, practically every teacher has been taught the textbook way: From general to specific, from easy to difficult. That is, they have been taught to teach in a deductive manner.

A good example of this internalisation is how teachers mistake the descriptive model of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a prescriptive one.

This is the expert’s view of how to teach. The expert thinks that this is how best to teach a novice because the expert wants to remove as much difficulty and struggle in a bid to be more efficient. However, efficiency does not make for effectiveness; it often removes context, struggle, and thinking skills.

One reason why schooling is accused of not being real-world or authentic is because content is removed from context. The what and official how to solve a problem might persist, but the why is often stripped away. Alternative tools and methods like Googling or using mobile apps to solve the problem are not encouraged, and neither are critical and independent thinking.

The oft cited reasons for the textbook approach to teaching are that the content is complex and that the learner is not mature or experienced enough to handle the problem. My response to this is that life rarely presents textbook problems and solutions. The processes we engage in are more inductive. We are presented with complexity, disorder, and specific scenarios in context. Our human response is the reduce, categorise, and conceptualise.

Teaching requires both deductive and inductive methods. However, textbooks tend to encourage the former because there is no human teacher to discuss with or consult. Teachers, and even teacher educators, unconsciously internalise this insidious method and we do this to the detriment of our learners, perhaps more so than the financial cost of textbooks.

Hot on the heels of Negroponte declaring that the book will be dead in 5 years comes an article in edutopia, Increase Student Engagement by Getting Rid of Textbooks. Here is a choice quote:

…the textbook serves the teacher quite well. Unfortunately, the textbook does not serve the students quite as well… The students do not learn “better” because my life as a teacher is “easier.” Convenience is not a form of effective pedagogy.

This echoes something I blogged about before on how textbooks kill professionalism. But the real issue is not about about whether we use textbooks or not. It’s not even about using e-books or Web 2.0 or other relevant technology or not.  The issue is about how people learn and teaching in ways so that they learn.

That might seem simplistic. Why else would anyone teach if not to get someone to learn? But we cannot assume that because we teach someone else learns, just like we cannot assume that when we speak someone else is listening.

So the very definition of “pedagogy”, the science and art of teaching, needs to be re-examined. I like how an e-book I have just started reading, Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing and Delivering E-learning, instead defines pedagogy as “an essential dialogue between teaching and learning”. Now that’s not a textbook definition of pedagogy.

I intend to explore the ideas of this book, and beyond enriching my mind, I plan on enriching my practice.

To any and all who are interested, here is our ICT book and a PDF of the table of contents [ict_book_toc].


Open Source Textbooks

I use wikis extensively in the courses and workshops I facilitate. The way I use them is a hybrid of learning management systems and collaborative writing spaces. I would like my wikis to evolve to become the latter.

That is why I love the idea of wikibooks. And I like the idea of open source textbooks.The basic idea of the latter:

“Enhancing the value of the online versions is the open source component. Students can annotate and comment in the digital margins of Flat World’s texts to share their insights, analysis and conclusions with other students. “

This makes information much more available and, more importantly, more open to sharing and critique. It’s a concrete example of social construction of knowledge!


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