Home > Uncategorized > Teaching History Differently and E-Textbooks Won’t Save Us

Teaching History Differently and E-Textbooks Won’t Save Us

As a history teacher, I have major beef with textbooks.  They are boring, long, watered down, and for the most part useless.

Some people say they give narrative for the class, but whose narrative.  It would be impossible to include everything.  What do you include and exclude? We should be including a variety of views and cultures in our history textbooks because that is the make up of our country.

We should drop the traditional textbook that has been ubiquitous in history classrooms.

If these textbooks were really important than all we would do is have teacher read textbooks.The reason why we don’t do this is because we know that learning is more than just banking facts into our brains.  Facts are important to know, but they are not and should not be the main goal of our educational system.  Critical thinking and knowledge production should be our goal.

Over at SchlaerBlog, he talks about the new issues with e-textbooks.  He has issues with regular textbooks, but believes that e-textbooks can be useful because of,

 For my part, I think that the Web offers the most powerful and flexible platform for future classroom materials, because it so can so easily connect students to a wealth of primary sources, analysis, and even real-time news, with pedagogical and workflow tools built in.

I agree with him on most of these points.  The ability to use the internet to connect students with different resources is a really great thing.  How we use these resources are what needs to change in our history classrooms and I don’t necessarily think that we need e-textbooks to use the web to access these

At Fredrik deBor’s blog he talks about his recent interactions with e-textbooks,

The publisher had asked the authors to get creative with brainstorming; they feel, as do the authors, that e-textbooks have not really begun to explore the possibilities of the form.

He talks about Apple’s recent foray into interactive e-textbooks and concludes that most e-textbooks are not going to be able to match this model. Textbooks could include videos and 3-d charts, but does this mean that students will learn more?

My problem with all the e-textbook talk is that I don’t believe that it is going to change education.  Technology and the internet are impressive.  As an educated person, I do a lot of reading and learning by myself with both of these things.  The problem is that kids just don’t read. Schlager points out,

More than 40% of students don’t see value in their assigned text. What are they doing instead? They’re renting (but only 11%), buying old editions, or illegally downloading or photocopying. Or they’re doing their best to pass the course without getting any version of the assigned text whatsoever.

Kids just aren’t reading. The internet allows for so much possibility, but are students making use of this resource? No, they twitter and facebook.

When I’m subbing and a teacher has left a reading for the students, the first thing they ask is, “How many pages?” For the most part, anything over three pages is earth shattering, “How does she expect me to read this???” We need to push for more serious and deep reading in our schools and in our kids lives in general.  It is something that I wish I had done more of as a high schooler. I always feel inadequate around better read people.  Would a fancy device have made me read more in high school? I doubt it. The bells and whistles they are trying to add to textbooks will probably be nothing more than that.

Still my problems is how we generally try to teach history in the first place.

I believe that our problem in history classes is that too often we go for breadth rather than depth.  I would love to teach a class that units were based on different issues throughout history rather than starting with the American Revolution and then working forward.

So then what should we do?

We should move away from the whole textbook as the center of a class idea.

We should teach history classes that focus on issues in depth rather than trying to cover an entire book and speeding through it chronologically.

In our issues in depth type of classroom, we can bring a variety of more accessible and relevant sources for those topics.

We need to get our students reading more and with purpose. This will make them better students and prepare them to be confronted with challenging texts in our classrooms.

E-textbooks won’t save education, just like online education won’t either.  Our goal should be learning as a community to develop critically engaged citizens who are capable in creating and understanding knowledge for themselves and are able to debate and analyze different information from different points of views.

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