Viva la (textbook) revolucion!

revolution textbooksI’ve been, like I’m sure many other have, watching the ongoing events in the Middle East with sheer fascination. The power of normal people to say – “we aren’t going to take it anymore”. The invigorating energy given by technology to inform and empower the powerless. Havel would be so proud these days – something he always talked about.

But what about ELT – English Language Teaching? Has technology, crowd sharing, social media, the internet and connective technologies been liberating?

I’d say that it has but with a caution. There is so much more that could happen (and I believe will). There are still too many “landlords” and “fiefdoms” in our part of education. Still the propertied class that doesn’t pay its share and is concerned with feeding itself and not learning. Let me talk about one small piece of the pie – textbooks.

I’ve been bantering and chirping to myself on Jason Renshaw’s always stimulating and thoughtful blog. I recently stated something there that I’ve always wondered and really grind my teeth over – the fact that we teachers/students, the underclass, purchase materials in the billions of dollars. Paying for yachts and planes (and yes, there are a few in the ELT business that can afford their own planes and boats). We pay but we have zero control.

I mean, why can’t we use technology to edit the materials we have paid for?

Imagine a publisher that would give you a textbook all ready for you to edit and change, as you will. You could do so much;

* put in students names and photos
* record students and have their voices as listening material
* delete the stuff that you don’t want and will never do!
* substitute and replace material
* throw in links that would send students to websites where they can do self directed learning and get more input.
* add photos that are culturally relevant to the students.
* allow innovation and teachers / students into the creative process
* add your own idea… I could go on forever.

Here is Richard Baraniuk describing how this is very possible. See his Connexions for what he’s built for the university / academic world.

And why isn’t this done in ELT? Well basically, it is because of control and archaic protection of copyright laws. Inertia. The money is still rolling in.

It is similar to the remix debate in the music industry. And it suggests that learning is NOT important to publishers – what is important is control and the ability to forever come out with new, “improved” variants. For them to control the curriculum – to say it in a nutshell. (please watch Larry Lessig’s lecture for an esteemed academic’s taking of the same forthright position I am. )

You see, if they allowed you (after purchase) to edit a textbook – why would you ever need to buy another one? OMG! That would just destroy their planned obsolescent model.

Let me return to the point about the possibility that edited textbooks would have. (not to mention how up to date they’d be).

Here is the first page of a unit from Interchange 2. Here are my suggestions, imaging what I’d do if I could just click on the document, change and then print for my students (and oops! forgot to mention, how would they ever make money if we could just print as we wished!).

interchange change

I think we need a revolution in the ELT publishing and textbook industry. The people (students and teachers) need power and control. Teachers know best for their students. Teachers who design and create materials for their students (or even just adapt) are strong teachers. It informs them.

We need a wikipedia, Web 2.0, read/write revolution in the textbook world. My textbook out next week – Teach | Learn will be fully editable (and edible!). Viva La (textbook) Revolucion!


Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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3 Responses

  1. my name says:

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  2. David Warr says:

    Hi David, great post, I’m with you on this, all the way. David

  3. Great idea. Open source textbooks! This kind of thing will is possible, and just like in the music industry, it will happen once people actually start doing it with ebooks and other digital texts. School districts will shy away from it to avoid lawsuits, and publishers will fight it, but as the movement grows, they will have to switch strategies and try to buy it up.

    Other issues that come up are the reliability of the information. If I can edit a textbook and add my own stuff, what’s to stop a creationist teacher from re-editing all the science out of the evolution chapter of a textbook, or a Southern racist-type from editing out the causes of the civil war…

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