Friday, October 4, 2013

How Collaboratively-Written E-Textbooks Could Reshape Education

Gust Post by Brett Harris

Wikipedia is perhaps the most well-known example of a collaborative resource because the public can add to it or edit current content for clarity. However, because it can be hard to verify the validity of some material published there (particularly in the case of very specific or little-known topics that may not have a large number of resources to support information published via Wikipedia), some educators forbid students from using Wikipedia as a research source while writing papers. Despite that, the wiki style of collecting and publishing information does still have plenty of value in the world of education. In fact, one German teacher is using wiki-driven electronic textbooks to ensure his students get the most up-to-date information.

No Need to Skip Over Outdated or Irrelevant Chapters

There's no doubt teachers at all levels often have to spend nearly as much time planning what to teach as actually teaching it. Because information is constantly being acquired and new methods of learning are perpetually being explored, textbooks can almost seem as obsolete as technological gadgets. If you've ever felt frustrated after buying the latest iPhone and hearing an announcement just a week later that a more updated model will be released in a few weeks, you've shared the same frustrations teachers may wrestle with after carefully reading over a current textbook and finding some of the information within is already outdated.

Adaptable to Learning Needs

Also, as teachers find their strides while teaching, they quickly settle in and figure out how to best harness their abilities and use particular styles that help students learn best. Besides that, the time-sensitive nature of many classes means most teachers can't simply go through a textbook from start to finish. Instead, teachers must pore over the material to pick and choose what to teach, and what to bypass. Then, there's the possibility students could get confused and read the wrong chapters, and maybe even be ill-prepared for an exam as a result.

Wiki-style textbooks handle both these challenges with ease. They give the power to educators who could only include material students need to know, eliminating the need to skip over everything else.

The Brainchild of Teachers

Hans Wedenig is one of the teachers responsible for the wiki-written e-textbook used in Berlin. He teamed up with Heiko Przyhodnik, another educator, and both found they were frustrated by the fact textbooks are so expensive, and many parts of them are unnecessary for both students and teachers. An article published earlier this year in The Atlantic found the average student spends more than $650 on textbooks. It makes sense then, how even if wiki-driven textbooks came at a price to students, they might be more willing to pay the fee if they knew beforehand all material within an e-book would be taught during a particular class, or relevant to an exam. It could even reduce the amount of note-taking a student had to do during a lecture.  E-books also allow teachers to adjust their lesson plans as desired and quickly remove information that's no longer appropriate or needed.

The project headed by Wedenig and Przyhodnik allows teachers from all over Germany to add to the content. Although this textbook style is still in its infancy, there are compelling reasons why students and teachers alike may increasingly gravitate towards it in future years. Only time will tell.

Brett Harris blogs for the Top 50 online colleges of 2013
 and became an alumni last fall after completing his online degree.

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