Evolution of the textbook… module… project.

Date March 20, 2010

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Thomas Hawk

Here at the Conference on College Composition and Communication I’ve been talking to various publishing companies and the publishers are beginning to rethink their text book and learning management system models. I’ve used different text books for both high school and college over the last decade and come to realize a few things. Some of which I envision has come from my discussion with others, but the first thing we need to do is stop thinking in terms of pages and chapters. Books… (erg, I don’t think we can even call it that anymore. What do we call it? Modules? Ok, modules for now…) modules now need to be not only more organic but also more parsable. For example, I’ve never used an entire researcher/textbook/guide for any class I have taught. The current researcher I use, The Wadsworth Guide to Research by Miller-Cochran and Rodrigo, includes sections on APA or CSE but I don’t teach those styles (now I realize if the student owns the entire researcher and eventually takes a social science course, then that chapter on APA is really important to them). I am required to “use” a reader in my AP courses albeit do you think we use the entire thing? Straight through? No.

For years there’s been discussion of an la carte model for television so why not for modules, too. The argument is always money. We sell what they do need with what they do not need.

I’ve talked to two different publisher’s sales people in the last 24 hours about tagging. Why can’t we move to an electronic model where the instructor chooses which modules they will use in their classes? The whole (paper) book version will be an optional purchase for the student while the electronic modules will be available via laptop, ereader, etc… Rather than simply a taxonomical index, the student will use a tagging system (folksonomy) that includes a predictive text and suggestions to other sections or modules. (This could include suggesting modules the students probably really need, rather than where the end up.)

The next most important notion in terms of tags is self-tagging, or the ability for the student user to be able to add their own tags. I’ve seen this in Google where they let users play “games” by tagging images, which they then include for all users. By making that a game, it encourages people to add to the collective intelligence of the product. Now, if we can do this through publishers with the self-tagging system and then also include those tags back in the main server (student and faculty users can them moderate the tags for nefarious additions, much like Wikipedia does) then the publishers module databases become more robust without anymore money spent by the publishers.

Some publishers will tell you that they like the idea of self-tagging but only through a collection of module elements in a “personal student notebook space”. But doesn’t this defeat the purpose? The users can (and will), much like Wikipedia, manage the folksonomy themselves. My colleague calls this new module based system “project” rather than “book”. We first need to remove the idea of starting with the book and then parsing it out. We need to think away from the formalized, traditional book. We need to think of the module system of a system, but we also need to continue the discussions we’ve started with the publishing reps to help them envision this new learning paradigm.