Friday, 26 February 2010

Turning textbooks into wikis

From an article in The New York Times recently, "Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers of trade books and textbooks, is introducing software called DynamicBooks, which will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes."

Although the article describes it as "a kind of Wikipedia of textbooks", it seems like it's more like turning each textbook into a wiki itself, with the publisher and/or author as moderator, allowing good suggestions to improve the work much faster than through the current print publication process, while easily avoiding unwanted alterations.

One comment about this article is that the author explains that textbook prices are so high usually because "students usually resell them in the used market for several years before a new edition is released." That is probably true but part of the reason why students don't see the price as being worth paying for is that too often textbooks are not read by the student. Textbooks are purchased on the off chance that they are needed in class, not because the student honestly believes that the content is valuable. Why spend more money on something you don't want inherently in the first place? Hopefully, making the textbooks and their changes more "dynamic", content will improve, or rather student-perceived content will improve and buyers will see them as investments instead of necessary but "rentable" evils.

But do you think this will really improve textbooks? And how many instructors/professors will take or even have the time to make the needed and/or suggested improvements. Some will, yes. But will there be enough?

[ From "Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally" by Motoko Rich from The New York Times Media & Advertising section. Discovered via "The new new textbook?" from Against-the-Grain.com ]

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