throw out the textbooks!

Provocative title, isn’t it? The New York Times has an article from last week bemoaning the “outrage” parents and college students feel about the rising costs of textbooks.

Schools and districts and college students are fed up with the unreasonable costs of books. I say unreasonable because, at least in language arts classes, most of what is printed in the text is freely available dozens of places on the web–open source materials between proprietary covers. Somebody is making huge profits, and it’s not students or schools.

Maybe it’s time for a change. Consider this classroom scenario:

You’re in the computer lab with your students reading passages from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, only there is not a book in sight; your students are reading off of their computer screens. OK, you are thinking, this does away with the books, but really you’re just replacing a cheap paperback with an expensive computer. You could do this for all of your English class readings, and then you might be saving some money, but are you and your students gaining much more than cost savings?

Education 2.0 is all about learning through interactivity with each other and the world. With that in mind, let’s read Frankenstein with the addition of Diigo, a web annotator. You might want to refresh your memory with what I’ve written before about this versatile online application.

One way to approach a new pedagogical platform is to think of extending your analog habits to digital. Look at your teacher’s copy of Frankenstein, or any other text. As you thumb through it, you’ll undoubtedly find your highlights and notes in the margins, and maybe some stickies sticking out for reminders and placeholders. You’ve probably developed a list of vocabulary words from the text that you want your students to define. You may have color-coded thematic passages.

Your own teacher’s text copy is truly a wonderful teaching tool, though perhaps a bit messy. However, it only benefits you. Of course, you will try to convey all that information to your students, but the fact remains that only you will actually use this valuable learning tool. I’d argue that the very reason you became an expert about this text is not because you studied it in some class years ago, but because over the years you have added various pieces of further understanding to your teacher’s copy.

What if you could put this resource in a place where all your students could see it and benefit from it, and even add to it? They will have at their fingertips all the layers of your learning, as well as add their own.

If you have a Diigo account and have the toolbar installed, you are welcome to take a look at a few Frankenstein pages that I’ve started in Diigo to give you an idea of what you can do. Allow the cursor to flyover the comment bubbles and highlights to see some notes from my instruction copy.

There is so much we can do with this new reading paradigm. You and your students will create beautiful monsters together.


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