Teaching without Textbooks?

image, new york times
Sat 8 2009

In Arizona and California, among other school systems across the globe, open-source materials and digital resources are supplementing or supplanting standard textbooks. Why?

According to In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History in the August 8 New York Times, today's kids are "digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. . . .Students don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote."

The move is particularly critical in California which, with Texas, dominates the national textbook market.

In California, the move to digital textbooks is spurred, in part, by the expense of textbooks and the current state financial crisis, yet the move is not without consequences. Some school districts are asking whether dependency on digital resources will widen the digital divide between those with access to computers and other electronic equipment and low-income students and school districts for whom technology is still out of reach.

Students come to most historical topics without enough knowledge to question the textbook account
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Here in the Clearinghouse, we're exploring ways to help students think critically about textbooks in our Best Practices section, Teaching with Textbooks. In Questioning Textbook Authority, high school history teacher Robert Bain points out, "Students come to most historical topics without enough knowledge to question the textbook account, and they have long been taught to treat their books with deference." He offers a teaching technique to raise students ability to read critically—and to increase their own sense of intellectual authority.

In Teaching Materials, we answer the question, Do you know of any good online U.S. history textbooks?, pointing to several useful resources.

In his blog, Dan Cohen, Director of the Center for History and New Media, asks Where are the Open Humanities Textbooks? and compares the costs of creating textbooks with the development of free and open source materials. Also available for download: By the Book: Assessing the Place of Textbooks in U.S. Survey Courses, published in the Journal of American History in March 2005. In this article, Cohen examines the role of textbooks in teaching an undergraduate U.S. history survey course.

About the Author

Lee Ann Ghajar is a digital history associate in Public Projects at CHNM and a PhD candidate in American history at George Mason University.