FCC and Secretary Duncan Pave the Way
On March 29th, the FCC published an article highlighting points from a discussion between its Chairman Genachowski, Secretary of Education Duncan, and technology leaders across the country as they discussed some how-to’s of getting digital textbooks into schools across the country in the next five years. There are about 425,000 public high school students in the state of North Carolina, my home state, according to the NC Department of Public Instruction Fast Facts. The state of NC pays about $600 for every one of those high school students’ textbooks, which adds up to a recurring expense every four years of 255 million taxpayer dollars. It’s an expense that breaks my heart, because if we combine bring your own technology initiatives and readily available digital resources, we can spend most of that money elsewhere or give it back to taxpayers. I went paperless and textbook free in 2007, my last year teaching face to face in Wake County, NC, and it was a pretty easy shift. I’m writing this article today as a message to teachers and school leaders across the country: Don’t wait until your district makes you go textbook free. If you’ll forgive the Burger King reference, do it your way right away.
Your Way Right Away
In my mind at the time, if the state to came up with a digital textbook process, that meant using an outdated program that would be miserable to work with like its HR program, Beacon, or its student data software, NC Wise. I always hated suffering through unnecessary hours of meetings and dealing with incredibly inefficient processes, software or otherwise. In 2007 when I went paperless, I didn’t waste any time. I just had a problem to solve and went about solving it. My at-risk students at the alternative school weren’t coming to school, and I wasn’t allowed to let them take home an expensive textbook. I addressed the problem by teaching myself rough HTML, giving each of my students who didn’t have one a free computer from the Kramden Institute (yes, you read that right), and encouraging parents to provide Internet access at home. Knowing what I know now, I would have skipped the arduous task of creating a website; I would have used a Livebinder as my textbook. So cut the time-wasters from the bureaucrats at the top who think it needs to take 5 years, and sign up for a Livebinder account tonight to get started on your shift to the digital textbook today.
To conceptualize Livebinder for a teacher who has never heard of it before, I have to access the imagination. Picture your classroom in your mind, and then swoop over to your shelf of textbooks. Right beside that shelf, picture your filing cabinet. Each drawer of your filing cabinet is probably set up for a different class or subject area. The entire cabinet is like your Livebinder, and there are tabs within the binder that are like the drawers. Then within the tabs are sub tabs and pages that are like the resources that live in the actual manila folders in your filing cabinet. I was told recently by someone at DPI that he didn’t think teachers across the state are capable of building this kind of resource, but I disagree. I think teachers across the country can do it and do it well. Check out the video link above for a 90 second overview on Livebinder, but don’t stop there. Check out this wonderful Livebinder that Mickie Mueller, Educational Technology Facilitator in Norfolk, has put together on free technology tools for teachers. Here’s another one with STEM Engineering Resources that I think is exceptional.
After you check out that Livebinder, imagine creating one for your subject area or grade level. Then imagine collaboratively creating one with your Professional Learning Community! Now, and here’s another the paradigm shift: imagine in your head, instead of having a locked filing cabinet, opening it up and giving your students access to it. The filing cabinet becomes the textbook, and it can be accessed on any device, including a smart phone! Inside the Livebinder, teachers can integrate Google Forms for formative assessment, web 2.0 assignments to process and organize assignments, and even summative assignment deliverables. The possibilities are endless, and according to the site’s authors, Livebinder intends to remain a free service indefinitely with 100mb per user account.
Take a few minutes after reading this article to check out some existing binders on the site. In the comments below, post links to some of the best binders you saw, ones you appreciate as resources. Are there teachers out there already using these binders as textbooks already? What are the barriers you see, if any, to using Livebinders as digital textbooks on a grass-roots, one-classroom at a time approach? What would you do if the site suddenly started charging for that 100mb? Post links to any digital textbooks if you see them. And remember: Don’t wait for top-down policies to get on the ball with digital textbooks. If you want to do it your way instead of being told to do it in ways that don’t make sense to you, lead the movement from wherever you are!