Publishing Free Digital Textbooks, A School Perspective

Publishing Free Digital Textbooks, A School Perspective

A guest post from Tricia Kelleher, Principal of Stephen Perse Foundation Schools, Cambridge, UK.

Will schools in the future be publishing houses? On the face of it this assertion is preposterous.  Publishing in its traditional form is potentially a huge undertaking with a myriad of issues involved in the publication of a book.

However, times are changing.  We live in a digital age where publishing resources no longer requires printing presses and teams of people to oversee production.  We now have digital platforms which open up opportunities for educators to by-pass conventional publishers and their wares. Our strategy as a school is to harness this opportunity offering our students enriched digital resources for learning which they can access anytime, anywhere. Working in this way allows the teacher to be more versatile in their pedagogy and to do what they do best which is to ask and answer great questions.

The first step in making this happen is to identify the most effective digital platforms.  For us iTunes U and iBooks Textbooks fit the bill. As an iPad 1-to-1 school, these applications fit the flexible, instant update, model of teaching that we are looking to create.  Whilst iTunes U allows the teacher to curate digital resources easily in the form of a virtual filing cabinet – documents, hyperlinks, questions, video, and audio files all held together and sequenced helpfully for the user, iBooks Textbooks is a creative tool which the teacher can author. So, the Geography teacher examining the development of China with a Year 9 class can, with just a few taps on the iPad move a new image, a new hyperlinked video and an adjusted worksheet into the iTunes U course as a response to this morning’s news item. The iBook Textbook already has the core information but it is also interactive (Multi-Touch) so the students engage with the resource as well as reading more passively. This has also been edited by the teacher at the start of the term and republished (all for free) to the students either on the public iTunes site or simply shared privately, within the confines of the school network.

As seamless access to content is our goal, the combination of iTunes U, iBooks Textbooks and a personal device is extremely appealing. It means that the teacher is able to respond to the class discussion and to support the student learning in an even better way that was possible before. They are using current information of current relevance.

Traditional textbooks in many subjects such as sciences, geography and economics struggle to keep up with current information. And all this aside from needing to respond to the many and frequent changes in specifications that come from the examination boards. The result is that they are often out of date or certainly expensive to replace. Digital resources, published by individual teachers of a school combat this as the teacher can, with a few taps, make the edit and republish.

In order to support our staff as we begin the transition from traditional to digital resources, we have in post a Digital Curator whose job it is to work with teachers. Our teachers a brilliant at producing the core text and have great ideas but, of course, the practicalities in putting it together or making visual adjustments are not necessarily in their skillset. Our Digital Curator will also check copyright issues where we are publishing externally and also help to discover new online resources that might be integrated with the iTunes U course or the iBook. The teacher retains control of the final content.

To date our teachers have curated over 100 iTunes U courses, of which 90 are freely available to the world and have well over 20,000 subscriptions.  Now we are focussing on the challenge of authoring iBooks Textbooks and our first foray into this field is the publication of a series of Cambridge IGCSE Biology Textbooks. Although our digital resources are devised for our learners, a guiding principle for us underlying the creation of digital resources, is to share with colleagues and learners outside of our school community.

In an age when the future of conventional publishing is in the balance, we have the technology to support sharing not just nationally but globally. Indeed, the digital world makes the walls of a school invisible as its reach is exponential. In this new order teachers become part of a global staff room where they can share resources digitally, replicating what happens everyday within the walls of a real world staff room. Surely this is the logical next step given the potential for learning is so powerful?

My hope is that schools will continue to share resources, Indeed, we may see a day when colleagues in different schools, in different countries, collaborate to curate and author resources.

As digital technology removes physical barriers, we should seize the opportunities opening up to us and think differently about how we support our learners and how we support each other. The digital age is the age of sharing so let us maximise the possibilities so everyone benefits


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