After a day and half of great conversation hosted by Discovery Education with a group of educators for whom I have the utmost respect, I’m not sure if I am able to walk away with any solutions or magic bullets.

What I am able to walk away with is a better idea of what I envision and what I don’t want to see.

When we broke out into small discussion groups it occurred to me that all of the features we were discussing already existed. It seemed that all of the tools, like bookmarking, a ‘share’ feature, access to databases, were existing technologies, and it seemed silly to overlay them on a new device or ‘textbook.’

What if, we pondered, a ‘textbook’ was really a portal to a repository of varied media resources? One that teachers could search and curate according to their needs? What if students could also log into this portal and see the resources pooled by the teacher, add their own resources and connect with classmates? Teachers could differentiate content on a student-by-student basis through the portal.

Here are some of our thoughts from the half hour discussion. We separated our thoughts into three categories, Delivery, Content, and Interactivity (hat tip to Wes Fryer for the categories).


The conundrum that I find hard to wrap my head around is how any company can embrace openness and sharing of information and still make a profit. When resources are behind a paywall, how do we make authentic learning, content and collaboration work in the most effective ways for kids?

I suggested that Discovery create a community for students similar to their DEN Network, but even then, it will be behind a paywall.

Another worry that I have is that, since many teachers will still feel lost without a book, guide or physical text, that the culture of worksheets and printing out ‘activities’ will be sustained rather than sussed. This shift will require strong and fearless leadership in order to move the culture of a school or district forward.

What is vital for the next steps of any discussion around what a learning text (or ‘resource collection,’ as I may begin calling it) looks like is to hold a student forum similar to the adult forum. Even an 8 year old can tell you what he or she does and doesn’t like about the books they use in their classroom. For some insight into what a high school student sees in a textbook, I love this video by a student at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

Overall, the day was very inspiring, and through discussion, I was able to form, re-form and question my own perceptions, beliefs and visions for the future of the textbook. I hope the conversation continues and that whatever comes of it is modular, learner-centered and pushes the envelope for not just pushing out content but for guiding the learning process.


  1. Reply

    I think I left with a better understanding of what I’d put in a digital “textbook” as well. I walked away with still more questions about not only what could be built, but what should be built. We all have ideas on what should be a part of this resource collection, as you put it, but while those grand ideas are out there, I wonder how long it will actually take until one is put together by a company or someone else that is widely accepted and used in schools. I think we’re probably a few years away.

  2. Reply

    Take a software package like MicroWords, a text based graphical programming language, and let the students build.

    It’s been “beyond the Textbook” for years. see LCSI for details.

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