Book Limitations

I have been following Dave Cormier’s xED Book blog as he writes his book about MOOCs. His latest entry about textbooks hit a real chord with me.In it, he writes about books, and here is what he says:

public doman, published in 1895 (see http://ww...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The physical book and the logistical and practical constraints that it imposes on knowledge and learning are key to understanding the shift that the internet imposes on education. Among other things the book

  1. Imposes a need to ‘finalize’ a version of knowledge
  2. Requires that the content of a course be decided before the students arrive
  3. Is not easily added to – it does not allow contribution by the learner
  4. cannot argue back

If I was to accuse the book of one crime, it would be that it tends to encourage passivity. As it cannot change, it does not encourage change in others.

The textbook has a set of implicit literacies that go along with it. It encourages linearity. It is a single source. Many of them speak as a single point of authority.

To me, this sums up the problems with traditional teaching methods. As brilliant as books are (and they are brilliant – I love them), they represent a different time and a different age. They are, as Dave points out, a finished product.

I downloaded a visual a few weeks ago about what happens in an internet minute. I know that much of what is posted, uploaded, blogged and tweeted is of limited (very limited, in my view) interest to most of the world, however, some of it represents the explosion of useful information in the world. If I were to disregard 99.9% of it, that still leaves me with over 40 hours of YouTube a day, over 4000 photos, nine new wikipedia articles, 2400 tweets, and over 500 blog articles and 400 comments (on WordPress alone). The point is, how can anyone produce a definitive work? That is what a book is. How can a lecturer teach you the content – that is what a lecture is.

Internet Minute Infographic
Internet Minute Infographic (Photo credit: IntelFreePress)

That is why I feel that higher education needs to change. We are still largely using a book model of knowledge.

Classroom scene, student as teacher
Student as teacher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I teach, I ask my students to wade through these hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of bits of new information every day to find the pearls that apply to what we are learning and present them to the group for evaluation. I am the final arbiter and have to pass judgement on how well they have done (always about the grade), but I can tell you, they generally do well.

For me, this represents the shift from information scarcity to information abundance. And, for my students’ sake I have to resist the constant pressure from University management to conform to real teaching (a mid-term, essay, and a final exam with a question from each section).


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