Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Why don’t Teachers Publish Their Own Textbooks ? (K12)

We would like to start this topic with this post “The Page is Dead! Long Live Curriculum“(from 2 cents worth) and share its strong perspective about “digital textbooks”, this is also what we believe as always. The transition into adoption of etextbooks is actually aiming a higher goal than just bringing cost down.

We should be facilitating a transformation from an old and obsolete way of teaching and learning to a new and more relevant way of preparing our children for their future.

As the textbook (in the form that I used it in the 20th century) declines, becoming only one optional component of an expanding and shifting array of resources and opportunities, the role of teacher will change.

This notion of  crafting learning experiences by orchestrating webs of content, tools, opportunities and connections implies a broad, partly informed, partly intuitive, and largely personal act of crafting curriculum. It happens as a result of education; experience; professional conversations; research; information resources, tools, and skills; a connection to the community; a genuine caring for children and their self-fulfilling future success; and a professional obligation to be a constant learner and model that practice.

In our older post : “It’s a Digital World, Why not Digital Textbook?” ,there was a great pondering idea : “Let’s not make students “sit and get” when it comes to digital content, but instead, make them part of the engaging content assets, so do teachers.” Looking back on year 2011, there are so many to talk about digital textbooks written by teachers and even students, these are some reviews.

digital textbook, open textbook

In Minneapolis, teachers are writing their own textbooks online. More than 3,100 sophomores in the state’s largest district are learning from online textbooks written by their teachers with free web software. Byron High School faced a crisis when the state of Minnesota issued new student achievement standards. Byron’s existing textbooks didn’t meet state standards and they couldn’t afford new books. This crisis became a driving force generated award winning curriculum designed by teachers. Seventy-six percent of Byron’s students passed the state’s math test for graduation in 2009; the number rose to 81 percent by 2011 after the new curriculum was adopted.

The book is kind of a living document.

The Anoka-Hennepin teachers also persuaded the district to spend the savings on the math department. The details haven’t been worked out, but it could include more classroom computers and more teacher training.

The district spent about $10,000 paying Engelhaupt and the other teachers to develop the material, which he said was about their regular hourly rate. Another $5,000 went toward making the material accessible to students without Internet connections either at home or in the classroom with hard copies and DVD versions.

Teachers in both Anoka-Hennepin and Byron tapped the free resources of the California-based nonprofit CK-12 Foundation, which has created an online framework to develop and distribute digital textbooks. It’s one of several groups around the country pushing technology to distribute textbook information more efficiently.

Engelhaupt, one of the Anoka teachers, said it’s already clear some of the chapters need to be tweaked over the summer. Once that’s done, the district plans to make the online curriculum available to other districts for free.

All the YouTube videos we use are original. Our teachers make them. Teathers say, “If you don’t like the way I did it, go watch another teacher in our school and see how he did it.”…A student can watch the video before they come to class….. Now, parents can watch the video with their kids and it all comes back to them. Now parents and students and teachers are all using the same language, the same vocabulary, and it helps parents help their kids….. it puts learning on their time lines.

We can track which kids are online, how many minutes they’re online, and which videos they’re watching. We can also see when they access the solution manual and what part they’re using.

Many of the resources we’re talking about aren’t costing us any money. We use an open source software program, the YouTube videos are free, the solution manuals are free…..There are great resources for free teaching materials. What we did was take the time to pull it all together while retaining a laser focus on the outcomes.

California Embraces Open Source Digital Textbooks in an attempt to save money and to make educational resources easier to access and update.

In addition to timely updating, some digital textbooks have functions their paper counterparts don’t, such as searchable text and embedded videos, audio files, quizzes, or simulations. Hyperlinked keywords can guide students to more detailed information off-site like definitions or pronunciation guides.

Open source texts can also be personalized for each classroom. James Dann, who teaches physics and applied science research at the private Menlo School in Atherton, California, was an early convert to free online textbook sharing. In 2004, he posted his own creation, The People’s Physics Book. It’s now featured in CK-12’s lineup. Dann still constantly refines it, using CK-12 to mix parts of his own book with supplements he finds helpful or adding new ideas of his own. 

“Radical Curriculum Sharing at the Open High School of Utah” talked about how Open High School of Utah(OHSU) encourages faculty to harvest, remix and reshare curriculum from multiple repositories. OHSU freely shares course shells (see OCW). You can dig out more about how they accomplish the curriculum from open source contents and tools. Feeling not sure about open educational resources(OER)? You might need to read “David Thornburg on Open-Source Textbooks”.

“Creating ePubs : A Model for Multi-District Collaboration” might give answers to how educators collaborate to create their own digital textbooks for the classroom. It’s a detailed reporting about a group of Massachusetts educators got together and tried to answer some of the lingering questions. The tools they used, resources and step-by-step information are aggregated in this Google Documents : BHS iPad Launch. (The Educational Technology Site of Burlington Public Schools has great sharing about using technologies in education)

BHS students author their own digital citizenship website to promote awareness for students, by students. Mrs Smoke’s 8th grader students from Kansas built “The digital teen anti-piracy websites“, it’s a 21st century project written by teens for teens. When it comes to digital content, how to make students part of the learning content assets, please also read more examples in this post : “Digital Storytelling – Students Teaching Students”. Many teachers share that when their students are asked to do some kinds of transformation on what they are learning and to produce their creations, the learning will happen with a deeper effectiveness.

Vail School District in Tucson, Ariz., was one of the pioneers moving forward to digital classrooms in the nation, it traded textbooks in for laptops seven years ago.The district used its textbook money to buy the laptops, forcing the teachers to instruct differently because they didn’t have textbooks.” In responding to new common core standards, the worry about “Common Core Standard will be Uncommonly Expensive for School Districts” is apparently rising. So why don’t teachers publish their own textbooks ? Maybe “How to grow a “textbook” ?” can give you a head start idea. Leveraging the sharing from the above pioneers and other educators could become a collective brain power !


CK-12 Flexbook offers free text books in a wide variety of subjects. There are educators reviewing the books for accuracy and you can access the content on a variety of platforms including iPad, Kindle, and on a laptop, you can assemble a book as a .pdf, an e-book, or html and embed it in an LMS.  Currently there are more than 4500 titles which can be fully customized by the teacher.  They can mix and match chapters and books to create a fully customized textbook.  Since they support the ePub format iOS users can get the textbooks in iBooks and gain all the note taking and highlighting functions of that app. The contents are Creative Commons licensed.

Wikibooks is the wikimedia community for creating free education textbooks that anyone can edit or add to; Wikijunior is for elementary level; there are 2,342 books with 35,708 pages as Jan.31,2011. Some examples of particular interest to K-12 include: High School Mathematics Extensions, Geometry of Elementary School, and basic Spanish and Physics classes.

More open educational resources for digital curriculum, check here.

Image credit : By opensourceway, licensed under creative common, Some rights reserved


Comments copied from our old site are pasted below, thanks for the contributions.


“Curriculum is a process, not a ready made document.” Irmeli Halinen, Head of Curriculum in Finland

Posted @ Friday, December 09, 2011 9:21 AM by John Medici

This is a wonderful blog post. Teachers really should be developing the content whether textbook or full curriculum modules. I would love to see more tools like the former Google App Inventor so that teachers could develop their own tools for everyday use and for teaching students. I developed an app over the summer for my own use in the classroom: use it to track behavior and other things that I would otherwise be tallying on a clipboard. I wanted to be able to export and use the data and couldn’t find a good app with that feature so took a crash course in making my own and it ended up working out and I started sharing it.It really would be great to have educators, students, and other end users to be involved in the development of technologies that they will ultimately use. I think state governments should also get involved and put together teams to plan for technology implementation on large scales instead of all the disconnected initiatives I have often seen.

I envision a day when there is a dynamic system for use in public school, private facilities, homes, etc. where content is submitted in many ways, reviewed (some by official public employees) others just by popular recommendation.

There would be built in assessment and progress tracking software and people could pretty much customize their education as individuals or institutes with a huge amount of flexibility that would completely transform the way we learn.

Posted @ Saturday, December 10, 2011 10:00 AM by futureclassroomtech

Great vision !
Looking forward to more sharing from real teachers, no matter you are the users or builders of the education resources, just give us your stories, we will post the stories here.

Posted @ Saturday, December 10, 2011 11:28 AM by Jessie Chuang

Absolutely. We are beginning. Moodle and Web 2.0 make it possible. It is a big shift and will take time for teachers to embrace.
It’s that guiding part that brings it right back to the teacher. It’s the teacher who finds or sparks the fire in the students. It’s the teacher who guides the students to new innovations and levels of excellence. Teaching students to become lifelong learners is much more difficult that teaching them facts and figures. Collaboration is essential.Focusing on the negative accomplishes nothing. The best way to improve education is to focus on improving the system. For example, High Tech High opened in 2000 in San Diego County, California. As a result of its amazing success there are now 11 High Tech schools, elementary through high school, in San Diego County. Another California school, New Technology High, opened in 1996 in Napa County. It is now the model for 86 public schools in 16 states.I have visited these founding schools. The faculty and administration in both are amazing. These are two of the more publicized success stories in California. There are many others. With a track record of over a decade, these schools are no flash in the pan.I attend CUE (Computer Using Educator) conferences regularly. Over 2000 dedicated California teachers and administrators are members of CUE. Every conference is attended by hundreds of educators. Every conference I attend leaves me energized and full of new ideas.

Find the good. Spread the word. Show how education is done well. Complaining will get us nowhere.

Reading, writing, arithmetic are important skills. But education should be much more than that. Jessie wrote that education “should be a process in which teachers and students join together to find its meaning and develop a relevant experience.” Doing this necessitates critical thinking. These high level skills should be taught in all grades. Students are never too young to begin. My daughter has been teaching critical thinking skills in kindergarten for many years. Meaning and relevancy cannot be overstated when it comes to engaging students in the learning process. Successful schools understand this.

Posted @ Sunday, December 18, 2011 8:11 PM by Mitch Ward

I am not sure you really answered the question posed in the title of this blog.I was pleased to see that in the case of the district in Minnesota actually paid teachers to develop the new e-text, but how many districts actually are willing to do this. And $15,000 for the project was probably pretty cost effective(i.e., cheap). But one does have to beg the question about the quality of the production. While I will not insult anyone by suggesting that commercially-produced textbooks are free from flaws, there is a process in publishing that at least seeks to ensure quality. An equal level of quality assurance can also be achieve with locally-developed materials, but only if the developers and the people paying for it demand quality and assess it.One of the big issues in OER is exactly this. The philosophy of “crowdsourcing” to ensure quality is great, but who has time to experiment and see if the materials are any good? And, do you want to experiment with my kids?I am intrigued by this topic and will continue to follow it closely. Thank you for the topic and the comments.

Posted @ Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:18 PM by John Brandt

When textbooks go digital, let’s make teachers and students part of the content asset.
The traditional idea is there should be a content source of best quality as the curriculum. But there is not. When you deliver education in this way, your students are only passive receivers, so do teachers! Not to say the best curriculum won’t be possible from a limited number of editors. Not to say different learners need different paths to learn. That’s why digital learning can open more possibility for learners.
You already use traditional textbooks for long. Will it innovate faster than “crowdsourcing” can do ??
I also found a good work from here : “OER as a catalyst for faculty development” :
OER as a catalyst for faculty development

Posted @ Saturday, December 24, 2011 9:42 AM by Jessie C.

Utah Open Textbook Project – Demonstrating the Cost Effectiveness and Educational Effectiveness of Open Textbooks, made possible by support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Brigham Young University Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling, and the Brigham Young University Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology.

Posted @ Monday, December 26, 2011 11:31 AM by Jessie C.

With Khan Academy, students watch videos, passively. CoreDogs has all those exercises, built into the textbooks. CoreDogs has a smooth interface for grading. A living textbook support flipped teaching and engage students all the way in their learning. “Textbook Writer” is the software to create textbooks with feedback and reporting features. Students can build their ePortfolios with “eMe”.

Posted @ Monday, December 26, 2011 11:43 AM by Jessie C.

Teachers must be empowered to a play a more active role (read proactive role) in the creation of knowledge because of their expertise in a specific subject, their pedagogical experience in delivering a specific curriculum to diverse students, and their established role as learning facilitators. We must empower teachers to create learning material themselves with the help of well-supported easy-to-use tools with a high degree of educational flexibility. To nurture teachers to become authors we must start by giving them resources like that allow them to personalize the content to foster individually paced learning for students of all intelligence- levels. This power to create content will give rise to a progressive creative culture with all teachers working to create better content.

Posted @ Wednesday, January 04, 2012 12:30 AM by jeck smith

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4 Responses »

  1. To design a new textbook series we need to know what is in the present textbooks (both paper and OER textbooks). Take a couple hundred key ideas or terms and create a bibliographic system that can be used to help in the development of new materials. Which book contains which term, for what grade level, what page and a how is the term used. After several series have been cataloged it will be apparent that there are patterns in content distribution. This basic information should be enough to start developing a new textbook series.


  1. Growing Your Textbooks by Thinking Outside The Box | Classroom Aid
  2. Growing Your Textbooks by Thinking Outside The Box | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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