by Larry Reiff
Muammar Ghaddafi. Saddam Hussain. Barak Obama. Fukishima. Sub-Prime Lending. What do these topics have in common? They are all important subjects that our students should be learning about, yet they probably don’t appear in most textbooks in our classrooms. The moment a textbook rolls off the printing press, it begins to morph into a useless paperweight. I graduated from John Glenn High School in 1990. My textbooks warned me about the evils of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I read about the struggles the people of East Germany face under Communist rule. A year later, those textbooks were woefully outdated.
A few months back Kelly Croy (Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2011) approached me with an idea that he had been pondering. Through a series of Twitter direct messages and FaceTime chats we arrived at a single question: why do we rely on giant corporate textbook publishers to provide materials for use inside our classrooms? We came to the conclusion that a truly useful textbook is not only dynamic, but it is teacher generated. We set out to create our own ePubs for use in our classrooms. We also wanted to establish a way to archive and share these ePubs so that other teachers could use them as a tool for introducing ePubs into their classrooms.
In order to reach our students, we need to think like “Digital Natives”, not “Digital Immigrants” (thank you Marc Prensky). As the world changes, so should the tools we use to teach. In my senior Humanities class we spend tremendous amount of time studying both ancient and modern philosophy. This is the perfect fit for an ePub. Most of the ancient philosophy that I teach is so old; it is in the public domain. Most of the modern philosophy is too new to appear in a traditional printed textbook. Rather than buying large, bulky, expensive philosophy anthologies, I’m providing my students with a customized interactive textbook. iTunes University provided a plethora of video and audio clips that could be included in my philosophy text. In addition to reading a passage on the Hegelian Dialectic, my students will supplement the learning experience with a video of a lecture from Iowa State University on the same topic. When I ask them to read Rawls’ Theory of Justice, they get to watch a video of Rawls himself. The video and audio clips keep the students engaged and they more easily understand some of the dense material. Most importantly, the media that I include in the ePub allows them to see that these ideas are concrete and have a place in their world.
As English Language Arts teachers, Kelly and I both found that ePubs serve as the perfect replacement for the classic short story anthology. In my experience, very few teachers go through one of these anthologies cover-to-cover. In fact, they use just a handful of stories in the 10-pound book. What if you only want to teach five short stories? And you only want European authors? And all of the stories have to address the literary element of irony? And you want to include video and audio that will help to illustrate the focus of your lesson? You will never find an anthology that meets those needs, but you can easily create your own. Better yet, maybe another teacher has already created one for you. The best part; you can always update it, change it, and edit it to suit your needs. With the new Common Core Standards on the way, we will be expected to include a lot more nonfiction in our curriculum. What better way to do than to include the most recent commentary and current events into classrooms through ePubs. As our world changes, so can our textbooks.