Education’s perfect storm step one
December 21st, 2007

Some months ago, the coming perfect storm in education was written about in this space. The core of the prediction was that DIY media and participatory culture will cause upheaval in education similar to what the music industry has experienced. That means for one main thing that educational resources will become openly available on the Internet. For the music industry, step one before the storm had been putting its products online and charging money for them. The rest for the music folks is history.

This week there is a report in USA Today of a contract a textbook publisher (Pearson) has made to supply 45% of California school districts with history textbooks. The article contains these points that are germane to the expectation of education’s perfect storm:

“These textbooks have no paper — they’re online. By entering a password on the Internet, teachers, students and parents can access a digital textbook, which combines traditional print content with interactive audio features, animation, tutorials, games and videos.”

“Textbooks for kindergarten through 12th grade were a $6.2 billion industry in 2006.”

“Pearson would not release the price range of the digital textbooks, but they cost about the same as a print textbook, Myers said. The price differs from state to state, depending on how the product is customized.”

The USA Today headline of the article underlines that the online textbooks are not open: “Log in, enter password, read a textbook”

These forces now at play for the education industry are the same powerful turbulence that transformed the music industry when it put its products online. Two of the big ones are:

COST. If put openly online, the cost of providing students with textbooks would be a tiny, tiny fraction of $6.9 billion. After the perfect storm clears that air, the remainder of all that money could be spent on, for example, teachers.

LEARNING LIMITATIONS. More telling, closed online textbooks are not participatory in the emerging networking of minds and resources; that limitation is the deepest failure of “log in, enter password, read a textbook” educational resources. The online textbooks being sold to California have some internal multi-media features, but without being open these features and the children who use them are not participatory in the learning culture of theirs and future generations.

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