Ignore That White Elephant, It’s Just the Textbook Industry

Technology is changing the way students learn. Is it changing the way colleges teach?

Not enough, says George Siemens, associate director of research and development at the University of Manitoba’s Learning Technologies Centre.

While colleges and universities have been “fairly aggressive” in adapting their curricula to the changing world, Mr. Siemens told The Chronicle, “What we haven’t done very well in the last few decades is altering our pedagogy.”

To help get colleges thinking about how they might adapt their teaching styles to the new ways students absorb and process information, Mr. Siemens and Peter Tittenberger, director of the center, have created a Web-based guide, called the Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning.

The Wired Campus, March 19, 2009

I don’t want to imply in any way that I think this is a bad idea. On the contrary, I think that this kind of this project and others, such as the Writing Spaces composition textbook initiative, are fundamental to the future of education in a democratic culture. They represent yet another moment in the ongoing triumph of the collective, open knowledge process.

What fascinates me about these sorts of projects is the timidity of their rhetoric. Perhaps this is simply the natural humility of some parts of academic culture, or perhaps it’s a hesitancy born out of a kind of Utopian burn out. After all, about every six months something or other– some technology, I should say– comes along claiming to be revolutionary.

Alongside this timidity seems to be an unwillingness to directly challenge the powers-that-really-be in academia, such as the textbook publishers. Of course, these sorts of project are pretty obviously ringing the death-knell for those $300 chemistry textbooks now haunting our campuses. But these projects don’t try to justify themselves in that fashion.

I guess we shouldn’t complain too much if this anti-corporate push never quite takes on an anti-corporate rhetoric; it may well be the best way to fly under the radar, as it were. One day the textbook publishers will wake up to find that collaboratively authored, profession-wide textbooks have completely taken their place. Another major loss for the old property regime.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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