What should schools be like?

I love getting into classrooms. Recently, I visited a couple of classrooms that made me think. Both classrooms were in the same building. This was a middle school. One was down the hall and around the corner from the other. Thus, both had a similar student population. Both classrooms had two teachers (i.e. were co-taught classes).

The first classroom was a very traditional classroom set up. The students were seated in rows. The assignment was projected onto a screen. The teacher was leading the discussion. The teacher had set up a scenario in which the students were to respond. The students responded in their journals. Each student was to made a choice over which of the three options was the best choice. After a few minutes, the students then responded as to which one they chose. A few students volunteered why they made the choice that they did. The co-teacher was seated in the back of the room working directed with two students.

The second classroom was arranged into groups of tables. Each grouping of tables had four to five students sitting around the table. The students were working very collaboratively. The students were working on solving a problem. They were encouraged to talk to each other and check their answers with others at the table. Both teachers circulated and encouraged the students. One teacher had led the set up of the problem. The other teacher led the discussion of the answer (using a document camera to project onto the screen).

It was clear that the second classroom was much more participatory. The students as a whole were seemingly more engaged, more active.

In a follow up discussion, I was asked which classroom I visited was “better”. I think that this misses the point completely. Clearly, the second classroom showed the traits that we have been pushing to see in classrooms. The students were actively doing. It was different than what we would’ve seen even a few years ago. The first classroom was much more in line with what has traditionally happened in classrooms for years. Yet…

For some students, the “old” strategies work. Rather than saying this method is better than that method, we should insure that students have a varied experience in the classroom. There is not one single strategy or method that will work for all students. We never know exactly what the future will bring. Can we sure that getting kids to be active learners is good? Absolutely. We also know that novelty is crucial in learning. If every class is structured the same way, novelty goes down. By providing a variety of experiences, we truly reach the widest range of students.

The trick is to make sure that there is variety. This is not an excuse for each and every teacher to say “Cool. I’ll keep lecturing and let the other teachers be more interactive.” But, it is also a call to administrators and teachers to make sure that not every class looks and feels the same to students. We don’t need to sanitize education into a new standard. We need true variety, true novelty, true interaction with real students. Learning is messy.

So, let’s get out there and create positive experiences for students. Let’s make them do stuff. Let’s make them create. Let’s let them learn. But let’s not think that there is only one way to do that.

Reading the Test 2

In the last post, I shared an experience of teachers using Moodle to provide an audio version of a common assessment. Well, the results are in. The teachers are happy as the process was more efficient for them than reading the test to each student. They remarked that they were able to test several students at once (about 10). More importantly, they were able to assist students that needed help while the other students were listening to the test.

Of course, this led to a discussion of how we could make this even better. This test was a paper/pencil test with the questions in a fixed order. The answers were also in a fixed order. However, our teachers love the ability of Moodle to shuffle test questions and answers within those questions. So, is it possible to record the test question within the test question itself? Would there be a reason to limit audio to certain students? Or, would it be OK for all of the students to have access to the audio version of the test questions? What about shuffling the answers?

Moodle will allow for an audio version of the question to be included within the question itself. Answers work the same way. Thus, if a teacher wants to read the question and answers, Moodle will provide an avenue for this to happen. This means that teachers could shuffle the answers within the presentation of each question.

Thus, the question would work like this for a student. The student would see the question text and an audio player right under the question text. The answers would similarly have an audio player under the response. The screenshot below shows what this looks like.

Preview question: Can Moodle Read a Question? 2016-01-31 12-12-53 The students can click on the “play” button to hear each item. Since the teacher has recorded the question, it is a familiar voice. This is not speech recognition software at work. These are audio files recorded by the teacher.

The end result is fabulous news. Assessments can leverage the power of Moodle and provide accommodations to those students who need them (or all students). Providing an audio version of the assessment can meet the needs of a wide variety of students. The audio version can help students truly identify what they know. Additionally, some of the national tests are now including audio portions.

However, there are some negatives as well. There is not an audio recorded built in to Moodle. This increases the work flow since the audio is recorded in a different application and then linked. Also, some of the national tests don’t allow any accommodations. Thus, there will be the argument for “preparing” students.

Next up will be working on a system to allow students to read and record questions. I always liked to have the students write test questions. I would use some of the student created questions on the exam. Now, I’d like to think of a way to have the students write and record questions in a way that the teacher could accept the questions for use.

At the end of the day, this is a truly powerful opportunity. The ability to provide students with another means of accessing the questions to prove what they know is really cool. It helps students. It keeps the power of Moodle in place in terms of reporting, restrictions, reuse and more.

Reading the Test

Soon, our students will be taking some common assessments. The common assessment will be a paper/pencil test. (They’ll also be taking state-wide tests too, but that’s another story). Some of our students require special accommodations. One of the accommodations that is fairly frequent is to have the test read to the student. Traditionally, this has meant one of two situations:

  1. a parapro has been assigned to read the test to the student individually or
  2. a teacher (usually a special education teacher) has read the test to an individual or a small group of students.

Neither of these situations in particularly positive. The parapros work really hard. Sometimes though, they can be a little too helpful. Taking a highly trained special education teacher and having that specialists read the test, well, there are probably even better ways that their talents can be used. Either of these takes some of the control out of the classroom teachers hands. Either of those solutions come at a high cost as well.

I was approached with this situation. A teacher had planned on using Screencastify (which is a Chrome extension that allows for users to record video and audio) and recording the test. The plan was to put up a black screen and then read the test. The teacher was asking about how to share the recording.

We are also a Google Apps district, so the teacher knew that the recording could be shared via Google Drive. However, this lead to some problems. Once the link was shared, the teacher would lose control over the file. The file could be copied and disrupted. Not good.

However, Moodle allows for restrictions on users and files. The teacher already had a Moodle course set up. We set up a group for the students who need the test read (test listeners). Then we restricted a Topic (Tests Read) to just the group test listeners. This means that only the students who are part of the group test listeners will even see the Tests Read topic in the course. Within that topic, we created a page for this specific test. The teacher broke the test into sets of 10 questions. Using Audacity, a free audio recording program (but really, anything that could record audio and share the file would work), the test questions were read and recorded. Each set of questions was then uploaded onto that page within Moodle. Further restrictions on the time and date of the topic were instituted.

This allows the teacher to have control over the reading of the questions. The teacher only has to do it once. The reading can be used as many students as the teachers wants. The teacher has total control over which students have access to the files (remember, if the student signs into Moodle, that student MUST be a member of the group or they won’t even see the Topic). Once the students sign in, they can scrub through the test questions as they need to. The playing of the audio is handled directly in Moodle. For the students, it is very user friendly. For the teacher, the necessary control over access is present.

Two examples of the Random Glossary Block.

Moodle Glossary

Two examples of the Random Glossary Block.

Two examples of the Random Glossary Block.

Recently, I attended the Michigan Moodle Moot. This is an extremely well run conference. I also had an opportunity to present. My presentation was all about the Moodle Glossary. I find the Glossary to be a powerful tool. It is one of the under utilized activities.

The Glossary allows students to create a resource for the entire class. There are two broadly general types of activities in Moodle, those that are “private” between the student and teacher and those that are available for all the class to see. Assignments are generally private between a student and a teacher. The student completes the assignment and turns it in the teacher. The Glossary is very different in that the work that the students do is viewable by the entire class.

This is one of the great things about the Glossary module. It allows the class to create class resources. The Glossary Module allows the students to create a glossary of terms (pretty obvious). However, it can also be used in many more ways. The students can create a list of “dead words”, complete with synonyms, of words that shouldn’t be used in writing. Many teachers do this with a poster in the classroom. The problem with a poster in the classroom is that students don’t have access to it at home (or in another classroom). By creating a list of dead words as a Glossary, students have access whenever they are connected to the Internet (which is pretty much all the time for many students).

Another potential use of the Glossary module is to have the students pick topics for research, presentations or other in class assignments. Using the Glossary means that the students will be able to see what others have chosen. A teacher could further lock this down by providing the students with a list of potential topics and then having student enter their choice. By not allowing duplicate entries, the first student to type in the topic “wins” that topic. (There are other modules that would allow students to pick from a list as well). With the Glossary module, students could provide feedback to each other about the topic as well.

The Glossary module could also be used for students to write a little bit about themselves to share with the class. This can be a great way for the class to get to know each other. Simply have the student’s enter their name as the concept and then some facts about themselves as the definition. This can also be used in conjunction with two truths and a lie. Comments can be enabled so that other students could guess the lie.

There are a couple of things to know about the Glossary module that make it very powerful.

  • The teacher can set the Random Glossary block to display for the students. This will put a block on the student page that displays, well, a random glossary term.
  • The Glossary module can allow Comments. This makes it very easy for students to provide feedback to each other.
  • The Glossary module can also allow ratings. Students can rate an entry by stars, thus providing more feedback.
  • Glossary entries can either be allowed to be duplicated or not.
  • There are several different types of Glossary entries (including an FAQ styled entry list).
  • The Glossary module can be linked so that new entries automatically are defined throughout the course. This means that when a new entry is created, that word or concept will be identified. Students can then click on the word (phrase, concept) and a pop up will show them the definition.

Here are a few more ideas on using the Glossary:

  • Student List/Introduction
  • Presenter List
  • Teaching Strategies
  • Dictionary
  • Resource Collection
  • About Me
  • Rating Feedback
  • Vocabulary (Random Glossary Block)
  • Recipes
  • Grammar Tips
  • Student Created Definitions/
  • Student Debate Topics (with feedback)
  • Media Elements
  • Math concepts
  • Dead words
  • Restaurant activity (site a restaurant and why someone should go there) Community involvement
  • Ice breakers
    • You might be surprised that…
  • Review for a quiz
  • Students Write quiz questions (export / import into Quiz)- can be private or open
  • Historical Figures
  • Science: Human Anatomy
  • Acronyms
  • Thought of the day
  • Quote of the day
  • Simple Peer Assessment

This is just a quick overview of the Glossary module in Moodle. Hopefully, you will be inspired to check it out and use it in your classroom. If you are interested in more specific instructions on using the Glossary, please let me know.

Gamification and Driving to Virginia

Generally, I’m not really big on gamification. I do try to keep an open mind though. Recently, I experienced something that reinforces my “open mind” policy. Whilst driving back from Virginia, I was reminded why.

Usually, “gamification”, at least in education, involves turning everything into a game. I still don’t believe that any one strategy or method will be the “silver bullet” of education. Rather, using a variety of strategies is what really good teachers do. Edutopia has a nice write up of gamification. Notice that one one teacher “completely gamified his sixth grade classroom”.

My youngest daughter has graduated from the University of Virginia. I’m really proud of her. She’s grown a ton in four years and is a smart, intelligent caring adult. Next up, she will be heading off to Berkeley. In the meantime, I was off to collect her and her things. This meant a road trip.

I fired up Waze. Waze is the “world’s largest community based navigation app”. I usually use this for a couple of reasons:

  1. The app provides alerts to upcoming traffic slow downs.
  2. The app provides alerts to law enforcement professions.
  3. The app gives some positive feedback to participating.

However, when I opened up the app, I was given an error message. “The routing server” couldn’t be contacted. Bummer. I fired up another service, got my route and started off. (Interestingly, I know the way to Virginia by now. The GPS service is mostly a comfort level or habit.) Yet, I kept trying Waze periodically. Eventually, Waze figured out a route and I kept Waze as the front most app.

This same set of circumstances played out again on my return from Virginia. Once again, Waze couldn’t find a route. I opened another GPS app and started off. But, I refreshed Waze every once in a while until it found a route.

For some reason, the positive feedback from the app was enough to get me to return to the app even though it failed in the beginning and another app worked perfectly fine.

This reminds me of being in the classroom. At one point, I taught in a lock up facility. The kids were locked up for a variety of reasons. Most of them were between 14 and 18 years old. These were mostly kids from the streets. Kids that had a hard life. One of the other teachers had a whole passel of stickers. Cheap, cartoonish, elementary style stickers. I kind of laughed. I asked what the stickers were for. The teacher responded “the kids”. Really, cartoonish stickers for kids from the streets? Stickers for kids who were older than 14 and had committed crimes? Yep. A few days later, I bought my first bunch of stickers.

I’ve written about badges in Moodle. How sometimes I found myself doing something extra to get a badge. This is how I think that gamification can actually work. It may not work for everyone, but creating positive feedback can be powerful.

For some students, gamification can truly make a difference. For some, they just won’t care much. It’s not a silver bullet, but it may be an extremely useful strategy.

Being Quoted

Every year, I give an update on technology in our district. The update is presented at the district Board meeting. Board meetings are public and broadcast. One of my favorite sections is the question and answer after the presentation. That is when I find out just how successful I’ve been at the presentation. I look for the questions that the Boards asks. On point follow up questions to what I presented provide feedback that I was clear and engaging.

I also look forward to the write up in the local paper. It’s also of interest to read what the reporter thought was the most important (or interesting) points. Sometimes these line up nicely. I’m pleased with the way that the latest presentation lined up in the news story.

Katie Hetrick captured my hope that YouTube filters will eventually progress so that we can have multiple levels of approval. Currently, all videos are either approved or not. There is no way of approving a video for high school students but not elementary students.

Ms. Hetrick also quoted me when I said, “Our goal is to use technology to leverage learning for students”. I’m please that they quoted this because this is a core belief for me. Technology use shouldn’t be about using technology, but about student learning.

Additionally, I was quoted as saying that “we are not about doing cool stuff just to do cool stuff”. Again, this is a core belief for me. I’m really pleased that that stood out. Also captured was the concept that technology should do one of two things: solve a problem or provide new opportunities (which was written as “improve instruction” but that’s close enough).

The one part that I’m afraid may not have come across too clearly was my dry comment of “I don’t know if you know this, but there is some inappropriate stuff on YouTube”. I’m afraid that written out this way it loses the context that it was a intended to be a joke. Our Board is very bright. It was intended (and taken) as a dry, inside joke.

All in all, I’m happy with the write up – even if the restorative practice presentation got top billing.

If I can get out the message that technology needs to have a reason, that we will pursue technology where it makes sense, and that we will always keep student learning in mind first and foremost, well, I’ll take that.

The $500 pencil

In my last post, I made reference to a “$500 pencil”. I was recently asked about exactly what that meant.

Technology is filtering into more and more classrooms. Some teachers are told by principals that they must use “technology”. Frequently, this happens when Chrome books or iPads are brought into the classroom. The teacher may not have been consulted on which technology to purchase. The teacher may not have been given any training. The mandate is to “use” technology.

While listening to Andy Ihnatko, I believe that is was on the Ihnatko Almanac – Episode 162, he mentioned that technology shouldn’t just make things easier, it should do one of two things. Those two things are to solve a problem or create an opportunity. That is a much more elegantly way to express what I usually try to say. It’s not enough to do “something” using technology, there should be a reason.

This helps explain the concept of the $500 pencil. The $500 pencil is when one uses a piece of technology (most recently and stereotypically an iPad) to accomplish something that could be easier, more efficient, and more effectively done with a pencil.

This puts me in conflict with the very widely known SAMR Model. Essentially, the SAMR Model has teachers starting by using technology as a substitution for established practices. The definition of substitution is “tech acts as a direct tool substitute, with no functional change” (i.e. a $500 pencil).

The idea is that the teacher will then move on to Augmentation, Modification and then Redefinition. Far too often, I’ve seen education stopping at Substitution. Moving beyond Substitution takes time and professional development.

I’m not so big on Substitution. Rather, like Andy Inhatko, I’d rather see technology used because it solves a problem or creates a new opportunity. For example, I’ve written about using Moodle to grade students doing presentations in class. This solved the problem of feedback being too delayed for students. It also solved the problem of going back to grade presentations and entering them into a gradebook.

Technology can also provide us with opportunities to change the construct of the classroom. It can make it possible for teachers to truly differentiate opportunities for students.

Technology really should fit into the bigger landscape of education and educational change. It should be part of a well designed, well thought out, well conceived educational plan. There should be ample professional development and well defined professional learning communities established.

Under these conditions, technology could be a crucial foundation of educational advancement. Technology is already part of a change, our very culture has changed because of it. But, can it be leveraged by educators to change the way that we are constructing and delivering education?

Technology in Education

In my position, one of my responsibilities is purchasing technology. Not only do I purchase technology, but I talk to others about purchasing “stuff”. I work with administrators who are in like positions in other districts. I know many principals (partially the result of previously being a principal). I, and many others, deal with the issue of “cool”. What follows is not about my district, but education in general.

I frequently am asked “what type of computer should I buy?”. People are sometimes taken aback when I respond, “I don’t know. What do you plan on using it for? What are you comfortable with? Why do you want a computer?” See, for me, the Why is more important than the just the What. There is no perfect computer. It really depends on what one wants to do.

These questions are even more important for a school district. When it comes to buying technology, schools are very different than individuals. Schools use technology in different ways than individuals do.

Buying on the sales pitch.

This is a pretty popular issue. This happens a lot. Someone goes to a sales pitch and decides “we’ve got to have this new wonderful widget”. Sales people are generally really good. (It’s kind of their job). However, in the sales pitch, they don’t emphasize the problems that exist. They don’t explain how it will work with your specific network. They may be really well intentioned.

One of my favorite examples of buying the dream, is the purchasing of iPads in schools. Let’s start with this, I’m an avid iPad user. I’m on my third iPad (all of which I’ve purchased with my own money). I think that it is a terrific device. It is an extremely personal device. iPads are not made to be used by multiple people in a classroom. I would even argue that they are not positioned to be the best choice in general in education. With the proper training, iPads could be an extremely valuable tool in education. Let me repeat that. With the proper training, iPads could be an extremely valuable tool in education. Used properly, iPads could be combined with Project Based Learning and other strategies and schemas to lead to real student empowerment. Student could create and consume so much with iPads. In reality, few teachers have the available time and attention to devote to that kind of change. This would not be a just, “oh, well do something different” kind of thing. This would demand a complete re-think of what education is and how it is delivered. All the details and day to day procedures would need to be examined. It’s not just wish. It takes ton of real work. If you don’t believe me, ask the LA school district about their iPad project. Here is some more information: Refund, NPR, MacObserver. LA bought into the promise, the idea of iPads in the school without asking some really hard questions. They never contemplated or planned for the real work (hard work) of actual change.

There has been lots of research on whether technology makes a difference in school or not. One can easily find research that supports either that it is not effective or that is truly makes a difference. That question is a huge question. There are lots of things to look at it and consider for that.

Back to the point. Technology in education is different than what we purchase for home. It is different than what we use on a personal level. Technology needs in education are pretty specific. We should be asking how something is going to be used. We should be asking what problem are we trying to solve. We should be asking how this technology will transform learning in the classroom (we don’t need any more $500 pencils). (The idea of a $500 pencil is when we use a piece of technology to accomplish something that would be more easily and better accomplished using a pencil).

So, sometimes people head out to conferences or salesman come in and “pitch” a product. The sales pitch is convincing and some get really excited about the product. However, the sales pitch is designed to get you to buy. Sometimes asking pointed questions and thinking about the real world use of the product can help determine if that product is right for your school or not. It is best to include a range of users/decision makers in the process.

Buying on the presentation

This is related to the above. Apple seems to be really good at this. Apple puts on a Keynote and suddenly lots of people want to include them into the classroom. There is something great about this. Educators are dreaming and thinking. However, before hitting that purchase button, one should go back to real world questions.

Here is one example. I heard of a teacher who wanted to have an iPad Pro (and Apple Pencil and keyboard) purchased for that teacher’s classroom. This was immediately after the big Keynote. Now, no one had really reviewed the device. No one had considered the pros and cons of such a device. The teacher, though, wants one. (In truth, I kind of want one too. But not enough to have someone else buy one for me when we could use other things in the classroom). The early reviews are out and it doesn’t seem as though the iPad Pro is a great choice for the classroom right now. On one hand, I applaud the teacher wanting to stretch the limits of what is happening in the classroom. On the other, teachers need to really consider what will make the biggest impact in the class. The teacher is an elementary teacher. I’ve reached out to the teacher to request what the intended use would be, but haven’t received a response.

So, I’ll keep asking the question of Why. I hope others will consider the Why as well. I truly believe that technology can make a difference in education. But we need to be thoughtful about what, why and how to get there.

Moodle Theme

Although Moodle is extremely powerful, by default, it still looks caught up in the past. Sad, but true. The default lay out is a three column layout that is informative, but not pretty. Moodle leadership has recognized this design issue. As a result, they have reduced the number of default themes down to two (More and Clean). Both of these are responsive (which means that they adjust well to different size screens). They are a great improvement over what was in place just a little while ago. However, when it comes to being beautiful, well, they provide the user a lot of information.

Moodle Standard Theme

Moodle has encouraged the community to develop themes to improve the look of Moodle. This is one of the strengths of an open source community. Many themes are available with different looks. After all, what works and look beautiful to me, may be unworkable and ugly to you.

One truly popular theme is Essential. Here is the blurb from their webpage:

The idea of this theme is to make the site look as little like Moodle as possible. In this specific instance, it would be used on sites where Moodle would potentially serve as a company homepage rather than just a course list.

Cool things to know about the theme.

  • It attempts to load as many as possible icons from a font
  • Most of what you think are “graphics” are actually the Awesome font
  • The slider on the frontpage of the demo site is completely customisable through theme settings
  • I am really trying to push what Bootstrap Grids can do. As such the theme is fully responsive.
  • The footer is all custom Moodle regions. This means blocks can be added. The footer of the demo site is full of HTML blocks in this instance
  • The Theme uses Google web fonts to give it that extra bit of shazam!
  • Social Network icons appear at the top of the page dynamically based on theme settings
  • The entire colour scheme can be modified with theme settings
  • The homepage main area is just a label. The theme will ship with custom classes that you can set for tables and links to modify their formatting. No knowledge of code is needed as you can use the text editor to do this. Documentation will be provided outlining what the additional classes are.

Notice their intent: to make the site look as little like Moodle as possible. That is why many people have installed and used the Essential theme. I’ve used it as well. By default, Essential still uses a three column layout. One of the great features is the ability to reduce a Moodle instance down to two columns. I greatly prefer the two column layout.

Fortunately, I get to work with a really great guy. He has brought into the Moodle community a theme called evolve-D. This theme is based upon a two column layout.

A quick word about the layout. I’m a really, really big believer in a two column layout. I truly believe that it offers the best user experience. It allows the learner to focus on the content first and foremost. I also believe that the two columns need to be arranged with the content column first, and then the information/navigational/administrative block on the right. This lets the brain focus on content. Content should be the focus. Users should be able to get right to work and not have to think about structure or navigation.

The evolve-D theme is a great choice. It provides a customized homepage, a two column layout with blocks on the right, visual separation of Topics, and more. It even supports the Social Wall format – another project led by Chris Kenniburg.


Here you can see the nice visual separation of topics. Notice that the content (though there isn’t much content in this example) is front and center. The student knows exactly where to start. The navigation blocks are on the right and distinctively different. Fundamentally, the student knows where to start and what to do. The blocks on the side shouldn’t need to be used very often. The evolve-D theme focuses the student on the work to be done. The content is the first thing that the student will see. Thus, the focus is in the correct place. Note that all of the colors are customizable as well. The blocks on the right could have a different color scheme. The blocks could be more muted.

However, Chris isn’t satisfied. We’ve had some conversations and he is developing a new theme – Pioneer. This theme is still being developed. Here are the major points:

  • Use any Google Font with simple copy/paste. Pick a font for Headers and one for Body. Also control Font Size for body.
  • Custom Icon Navigation at top of each page for quickly getting around which includes the Custom Moodle Menu, Language Menu, and Course Search box.
  • Course Summary Images from Course Settings are now utilized by the theme Header in each course! Thank you Richard Oelmann. This allows teachers to customize the header image in their course by uploading a photo in Course Settings.
  • Socialwall Course Format Integration and customization. Allows you to control the look and feel of the Socialwall Course Format from the admin panel.
  • Block Titles have special styling brought to Moodle by Mary Evans in which the Block Title appears on the side of the block. This creates visual separation from the rest of the page and is a nice visual cue for the learner.
  • Single Page look and feel
  • Two Columns
  • Right aligned blocks

The Pioneer theme is clean, updated and graphically focused. It still presents the content as the most important feature. One of key features is the ability to add images as a header to the course. Images matter. Making Moodle even more visually appealing ultimately helps the learner engage with the site.

Moodle is still extremely powerful. Chris is helping bring some beauty to that power.

Open Textbooks


The promise of open textbooks has been around for a while now. The promise includes textbooks that are written specifically for the needs of K-12. These books would also be available at either no cost or a very low cost (if printed). These books would leverage the contributions of great teachers around the country (or world). By everyone doing a little, great work would be available. These resources are frequently referred to as OER (Open Educational Resources).

There has been some work done. College seems to be ahead of K-12 so far. (Though given what my daughters paid for textbooks over the past five years, open textbooks are definitely not the norm). In 2013, the Affordable College Textbook Act was introduced in Congress (the last action was referred to committee in November of 2013). Even though that bill hasn’t been passed into law, there are at least some options available for colleges to use. Below are some examples of college focused open textbooks resources:


There really is basically one big player in the K-12 arena:

California and Utah did both start initiatives around 2012-2013 to bring open textbooks to their students. The Utah Open Textbook Project seems to have fizzled out around 2013 ( the latest post on the web site). Utah also has an Utah Education Network with some references to open textbooks, but these seem to all be dated 2013 as well. California was working on an open textbook initiative in the 2013 year as well. However, there doesn’t seem to be any real movement since 2013. The California Open Source Textbook Project doesn’t really have any dates on the web site, but seems to have last been updated in 2013. There are no downloads available on their site. (California does seem to have continued to work on open textbooks at the college level. MERLOTx has links to open textbooks and was last updated in 2014. California has established the California Learning Resource Network, but this seems to have a different function. A quick search provided links to resources that required a subscription.

I’ve been following open textbooks for several years now. I really did believe that we were on the right track around 2013. I was waiting and hoping that we’d see some real movement. I was hoping that we’d see some people in power take the reins and truly provide some leadership to change things up.

David Johnson over at The Michigan Open Book Project has seen much more success. He has worked through the 22i TRIG program to garner the funding to create open source textbooks. So far, they have written and published four textbooks:

  • Fourth Grade
  • Fifth Grade
  • Sixth Grade
  • Economics

These have been paid for using State grant money. There is a plan and some funding in place to continue developing additional books. This is a great start.

So, what is the future? How can we restart these initiatives? I still believe that this could be very powerful. Open source textbooks could provide even better resources at a much cheaper price. Note that open source textbooks don’t have to be all digital. Utah was able to print their open source textbooks at under $5 each.

We need some leaders to make this a priority. This would work best at a state or county level. We need some economy of scale. If a county would get together and charge each district one dollar per student, then that money could be leveraged to provide open source textbooks at a reduced cost. Recently retired teachers could be employed using that money to produce the textbooks. Or, districts could utilize teachers who are released for one hour a day to work on textbooks. This is not an unsolvable problem. The economics can work out to save districts money immediately and long term.

We just need some leadership. A couple of states started. Let’s get back on track.