We Don’t Need Digital Textbooks, We Just Need Digital Education

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Future education needs great graphics and interactive materials, but why wrap them up in a textbook?

We are a generation educated by reading textbooks, taught by teachers who relied on special editions of textbooks for answers, and effected by countless debates over what information should or should not be included in textbooks. For many of us, the concept of going to school without a textbook is inconceivable. How else would you learn? ...Well, no one seems interested in answering that question. The E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is on track to create one of the most brilliant and generous projects for digital education: a series of textbooks for all ages (K-12 and college) called Life on Earth. It will be full of interactive multimedia presentations and it will be provided to anyone who wants it for free. Free. The first chapters will be rolling out for download in a few weeks. You can watch a presentation about the Life on Earth textbook, as well as a preview of some of its pages in the videos below. This is a wonderful effort, but it's missing one crucial bit of understanding. The future of education doesn't depend on us digitizing and updating textbooks, it will rely on us leaving the textbook format behind entirely. Let me explain why.

Old Media To New Media

I mention the Life on Earth digital textbook project because it will probably be as good as a digital textbook could be. The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation has learned many of the right lessons from the death of old media. Every page of Life on Earth will be filled with compelling animations of biological processes, real footage of organisms, and interviews with scientists. The textbook won't be a dead piece of paper, it will be alive, constantly updated by the latest in scientific understanding. There will likely be homework servers and online forums to connect students together. Wilson's group understands that new media requires a new pay structure, and they've chosen the best one of all: free. K-12 books will be available for no charge, while college level versions will be sold at 10% of traditional costs (so $8 to $15?). These are forward thinking and exciting decisions, and they come from people who really know biology education. E.O. Wilson has been teaching in this field for decades, and the other big name behind the project, Neil Patterson, is another leading bio-educator with his own future-looking publication company (RedWing Media). Listen to their ideas, and watch their examples - this project is getting many things right.

The lessons that Life on Earth learned from the transition form old media to new media, however, are all object based. Old education had printed pages so new education needs videos, websites, and digital updates. Old education took place entirely in the classroom so new education should be on a notepad computer and in online forums. ...They are correct about that, these are the right things for the new education, but not the right approach. We do need videos, websites, updates, forums, etc. What we don't need is the textbook format.

Let's go back to that first question: How would you learn if you didn't use a textbook? Well, how do you use one now? Most of us probably skip around, look at the pictures, maybe read the sections with the best headings or the most intriguing titles. Publishers and educators give us a linear curriculum, but we tend to access it non-linearly. We pursue those things which we find most interesting or important first. Sometimes a book is good enough, or we are fascinated enough, to read a section all the way through. However, it's generally only for evaluations (tests, exams, teacher lead discussion in class) that we compel ourselves to read everything in a textbook.

Compare that to how you surf the web. You log on and check your landing pages - Facebook, your email account, Singularity Hub, whatever you deem most important. These are your home bases. From there, links point you out to the internet at large - maybe a friend sent you a funny video or you got an interesting headline from a RSS feed that you want to read in entirety. The first link leads to a cascade of others, which you pursue until they end or you get bored, then you bounce back to home base and move out again. Repeat until you've spent your entire day reading about funny, important, or random things. I'm sure you have all experienced this: you hop on the internet for just a few seconds and suddenly - POW! - hours have passed. Even when it's not thrilling, the process of moving through information online is addictive and never ending. You could stay on there for days at a time if you didn't have work or outside commitments.

Imagine if biology education had the same effect on you.

Life on Earth has all the right materials, but it's tied down to an outdated educational model. Textbooks make you walk a line from A to B, and in between you get filled with all the knowledge that the writer has gathered for you. Many publishers (digital or otherwise) hype the freedom that comes from modularity. Hey, we'll make each section stand on its own - you can read them in any order! Yet even if you read the chapters out of order, each section is still a single A to B path. There's only one route you can take. And I know what many traditional educators are going to point out: that's how we have to learn! You don't just throw a bunch of facts in a box and have students pick them out randomly, you begin a lesson, teach the lesson, finish the lesson, and then evaluate how everyone learned. That's education, it has to be! What would happen if you let everyone decide what parts of lesson they wanted to learn and where to jump from one subject to another?

They would love it. Just like they love the internet. They would become addicted to learning.

I'm proposing a new approach to education, or rather I'm pointing to the new approach that is already here. Let people trace their own path. Completely. Halfway through a sentence on microscopic worms, a student should be able to tap on the scientific name c. elegans and jump to a web page dedicated to it. From there they should be able to follow links to videos, forums, whatever. Link, link, link - the student follows their whims and interests. They return to home base, the sentence on worms, when they feel like it, and they jump out again. The Life on Earth textbook, or any other textbook, can never fulfill this kind of branching of the educational path, because it can only be accomplished on the infinitely complex web that is the internet.

At the risk of sounding trivial: this is how we learn about movies, gossip among our friends online, and humorous events around the world. This is how we intake information on the internet. Right now that data is all pretty useless - it's not exactly educational. But if we put all the right materials online, if we found a way to link between them, then we might learn about cell membranes as well as we learn about celebrity nip slips.

Gathering the Good, Relinquishing the Remains

Has anyone done something as simple as gather good education materials on the web and linked between them? Sure, tons of people do this all the time. The truly well-maintained Wikipedia pages follow this concept very well. The Khan Academy does this, to some degree, with math education. For those who didn't read our earlier coverage of the Academy, it's basically just a well indexed list of hundreds of videos about math on YouTube. A single developer, Khan, makes the videos that cover topics from addition to calculus. Users watch, pause, rewind, and jump between lessons as they see fit. The Khan Academy can teach you K-12 math really well...and there's not a textbook in sight.

The digital education of the future really only needs two things: well made materials, and connections between them. Life on Earth is creating some amazing content. Their animations look great, the video footage is wonderful, and the interview with scientists explaining topics in their field - c'mon, that's freakin' awesome! But the only connections between these materials are the ones they provide. We need more than that.

First, we need Life on Earth to access materials that the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation didn't create. The future can't rely on a single textbook, no matter how well it is made. We need to move freely between material generated by one person to another. Is a student having a hard time understanding your video on meiosis? Then she should be able to jump to lessons created by someone else, and continue to leap back and forth in case comparing the two helps.

Second, we need to learn from social media and wikis. We need to let students draw their own connections between materials and share them among peers. In the same way you up and down vote comments you can up and down vote connections between educational materials. The good connections survive, the bad ones are abandoned. Or better still, have a program that records how you vote and find other people who vote the same. Then the program can suggest the connections that fit your learning profile. Students aren't simply going to share thoughts and concerns on forums, they are going to shape the very way that their education is put together.

Have you ever seen a grassy lawn on a college campus with a multitude of little dirt paths criss crossing it? Each trail is worn by students making the same decision, branching where someone thought to head somewhere new and others followed. That's the right model for how we should let students teach themselves.

Of course, that same college lawn probably has sidewalks - the paved paths created by its builders. So too will the people who generate educational materials need to provide some promoted connections between them. Think of a traditional print textbook, it has one such sidewalk to follow: start at the beginning and go to the end. But these books also have an index, and I think that's the real tool for connectivity that needs to be preserved for the 21st century. Instead of taking all your great materials and placing them in a textbook, just throw them online and index them. Cross reference them. Students will fill that broad web in with the detailed trails they need.

This approach to education won't simply give students unparalleled freedom and interest in teaching themselves, it will also save money. The Life on Earth project is likely to require $10 million, of which they have only secured $1 million in funding (half from the Life Technologies Foundation). Part of this enormous expense is due to the creation of materials: top rated videos, text, homework, etc. The rest, however, is going to be used to tie it all together, to format it into a textbook, to design the software and operating shell needed to run a digital textbook on a computer. A lot of money is going to be spent on structure, not just content. Yet we already have all the file types, the programs, and the formats we need already - we use them all online everyday. If we threw out the textbook structure, and just placed the materials in an indexed heap online, we could save a good deal of money.

Again, the Khan Academy is a good comparison. It works basically on just enough money to pay one person's salary (by donation). It produces videos, it puts them on YouTube, and it adds them to its table of contents. That's about it. With a recent $2 million prize from Google, Khan should be able to amplify this process considerably. Just hire more people to do the same. Say at a very respectable $200k each. That's 10 people generating great math videos for a year. Khan Academy scales up quickly - double the money, double the results.

Now, I'm being a little unfair making this comparison. Biology is presented with intense computer graphics and wildlife filming that math doesn't need. But even accounting for the differences in price for creating materials, Khan still comes out ahead because each video is very simple to publish: you just post it on YouTube. Textbooks can provide well written content but they bring with them the burden of the formating, marketing, and management of traditional publication. Free flowing education does not. Kill the textbook format and with the money you save you'll be able to make even more great content.

A World Without Publishers

We've seen some interesting projects aimed at transitioning textbooks from print to digital copies, but I've come to a realization: the only reason why we keep pursuing 'textbooks' is because it makes us believe that we still need publishers. We don't.

We need writers, and filmmakers, and animators, and everyone else who generates educational content. We need editors and watchdogs to evaluate the content and make sure it is good. We need teachers who can hold students hands as they walk their educational path, and who can inspire them to explore areas they may find boring at first. We need supervisors and tests to evaluate how well this system is working. We need parents and communities to decide our expectations for that system. We need all those things.

Publishers used to sell us a shortcut, a package that put many of these needs in a single space and tied it up with a pretty bow. We paid a lot for that short cut, and we were sold on increasingly shinier and more expensive bows. It's time for that to end.

The internet allows us to place content in one place, and to link it together in infinite combinations. If we rely on publishers, they will draw walls between content, how else can they make sure you pay for the materials in their textbooks? Instead, we need to focus on creating quality educational materials and putting them out there for everyone to use. We don't need textbooks, we don't really need chapters. Each student can build their own curriculum, or if that's simply too scary, we can create an (several?) official table of contents and encourage students to follow it. That's fine as long as we allow them to explore and create links on their own as well.

E. O. Wilson's foundation is doing some great work, as are many others around the world. We need experts in the fields to create the mind-blowing lessons that will pull in students and inspire them to learn. Still, I will be terribly disappointed if they box that content up in a textbook. Let the material be free not just in price but in format. Let it run wild on the internet. That's the real future of education - not digital textbooks... just digital.

[image and video credits: E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation]
[sources: Wired, E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation]

Discussion — 21 Responses

  • Graham Storrs October 30, 2010 on 10:21 pm

    Thanks for alerting me to the Life on Earth project. It sounds great. Your thoughts on textbooks, however, might need a bit of work. I’m sure the kind of thing you describe would be fun – we all love the Web after all – but it might not be especially educational.
    To learn something, you need to know what it is you’re learning, the material has to be circumscribed, you need a curriculum. You also need to know what level you are learning at. Tensor calculus is fascinating but maybe not the right place to go on a basic maths course. Related to this idea, you need to be able to structure the learning so that the student has mastered all the prerequisite knowledge they need before moving on to the next bit – if you don’t put this organisation in place, students flounder around and get dispirited by how hard it all is. And related to this is the idea of testing at one level before passing the student to the next.
    Textbooks aren’t perfect, but they do allow the teacher to structure their material with these (and other) pedagogical goals in mind – to make learning easier, nore efficient, and more enjoyable.
    I also worry that you’re missing another essential point that makes textbooks a good idea and flitting around a hypertext not so good: many lessons take the form of an argument. All of the steps of the argument need to be laid out in order and the student needs to grasp each of them before the conclusion will make sense. If you want to really understand Newton’s First Law of Motion, a good place to start is with balls on inclined planes. Jumping straight to the conclusion is fine but what the student gets that way is an impoverished understanding campared to following the whole argument from the beginning. If you want to see a perfect example of this, read The Origin of Species. It is one, large, beautifully constructed argument running the length of the entire book. Skip bits and you miss a lot.

    • Book Burner Graham Storrs October 30, 2010 on 11:54 pm

      I would disagree with your position. To think that we will be using textbooks to teach the subject of biology in 5-10 is not something I could imagine. I believe the web based offerings described above address biology and not mathematics.
      Learning the Kreb Cycle from a static image is a challenge in memorizing the mundane. After adding animation, it becomes quite a different experience.
      With regards to your thoughts on prerequisite knowledge, that is current problem and isn’t exclusive to the media being used. What do you teach first, chemistry or biology. That is a conundrum for high school students, which class do you take first. Hard to understand electron transport in biology if you haven’t had chemistry.
      Textbooks are a $5B+ industry. Many of the textbook materials (K-12) get changed very little year-to-year, but the costs only rise.
      I am not sure how many biological lessons transition into argument but maybe I missed something along the way with my education. The Origin of Species as an example of argument seems anachronistic. I think most people see The Origin of Species as foundational scientific literature. Hopefully, we no longer need to make the argument for evolution, but I guess that depends upon your audience and certainly scientific method and natural selection are now accepted concepts.

    • Jeremy Graham Storrs October 31, 2010 on 1:02 am

      “To learn something, you need to know what it is you’re learning, the material has to be circumscribed, you need a curriculum. You also need to know what level you are learning at. Tensor calculus is fascinating but maybe not the right place to go on a basic maths course. Related to this idea, you need to be able to structure the learning so that the student has mastered all the prerequisite knowledge they need before moving on to the next bit – if you don’t put this organisation in place, students flounder around and get dispirited by how hard it all is. And related to this is the idea of testing at one level before passing the student to the next.”

      This is the entire reason of going digital! Go to Khan Academy- for their math they have a tree, once you pass a certain test, it suggests other subjects you are now qualified to understand. Now apply to this all human knowledge- and, the kicker, let it work in reverse. Lets say I happen to hear about quantum tunneling, but I know nothing about quantum mechanics and have never taken advanced math. If I grab a textbook, I’m going to be completely confused and dispirited. But a digital version could look at what I already know, what I want to know, and bridge the gap. It can let me worth from both ways, giving me simplified information on quantum tunneling, having it become increasingly complex as I’m filled in on the prereqs. Then, if I enjoy it, it can suggest other topics I’d enjoy.

      Honestly, I came to a similar conclusion as Aaron awhile ago. The only thing I’d disagree about it is the use mainly of static/social linkage, whereas I’d make them intuitive linkage too- knowledge packages that alter themselves based on my learning style, previous knowledge, interests, disinterests, time allocation, goals, etc.

      I’ll know the tech is here when I log on to look at “chemistry” and the software knows to add information on engineering and automation of chemical processes (because I’d find it interesting), and to gloss over the history aspects (because I could care less), to constantly keep even simpler math formulas readily available (because I have horrible memory) but to go quickly with new formulas (because I learn fast, but get bored wading through long descriptions that others made need).

      • Graham Storrs Jeremy October 31, 2010 on 10:35 am

        Jeremy, you’re talking about a fairly sophisticated CAL program here, not the kind of free-form hypertext that Aaron is advocating. I absolutely agree that this kind of tutoring system, done well, could be better than a textbook. I used to work for a major software house doing R&D in this field and the reason we don’t have great systems like this is that they are difficult to create. The level of semantics required in the tutoring system creates a major maintenance problem when content changes (and the AI needed to handle it with any kind of sophistication is very hard to build.) I have no doubt such systems will eventually replace textbooks, but we might still be some way off from that.

        • Jeremy Graham Storrs October 31, 2010 on 2:17 pm

          You need to be more specific about what is difficult about it. I’m not seeing it.

          First, build a dependency hierarchy. Take mini-subjects and define which other mini-subjects they require knowledge. Time consuming maybe, but easy. Then from their its trivial to trace back from the mini-subject to my previous knowledge, as you just need to go through dependencies-of-dependencies until you hit it.

          Then, allow the upload of knowledge in small objects – a video, an article, a diagram, etc. Allow tagging of these objects, then link to things with the same tags as what I enjoy, along with what other people with similar tagged useage view.

          While it would take a lot of effort, its not “difficult”. And I really don’t understand how content change is a problem- unless you were thinking of a normal textbook setup just chapter order varied or something (Not accusing, I’m just having trouble understanding you, please elaborate).

        • Book Burner Graham Storrs October 31, 2010 on 7:30 pm

          Glad we can all agree that it is just a matter of time. It might be “way off” or it might be sooner. Maybe those who have the skills/resources will see articles like this as a call to action.

  • Anonymous October 31, 2010 on 5:17 am

    Excellent article. Since I read “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”, I wanted this worse than a jet-pack. Someone needs to split all learning in to parts or modules, with an exam or similar for each module, so that you can go to an employer & say “This is what I know”. The modules should be small, with links to the modules you need to have taken previously and to where you can go afterwards.
    A common critique of this idea of on-line/de-centralized learning is that some essential knowledge might be overlooked, but if you have some kind of test or feedback system (ala Stephenson’s Diamond Age perhaps) this could be alleviated. Add in some SuperMemo-style repetition and students might actually retain more knowledge than in a traditional teaching scenario.
    The most important thing though, is to figure out how to parcel knowledge, both theoretical & practical. It’s easy for math, but a lot harder for plumbing or sociology.
    Let’s say you wanted to be a nuclear physicist and take a phd in a certain area. You would then be able to look up which modules where mandatory (with a variety of different modules in each area), which were recommended and which might tickle your fancy. If your chosen field of study requires practical knowledge, there would be workshops available.
    In a way we already have this, with ECT’s in Europe, it’s just too rigid and dependent on physical schools.
    This would of course be good for primary & secondary education, but where it really would shine, would be in the area of continuing education. I have high school plus vocational and there is so much I would like to learn, without having to go to night-school.
    Here’s what I would like:
    I would like to learn about electronics, programming (Arduino, Android), nutrition, phys ed, Spanish, etc. So instead of trying to piecemeal that knowledge together from websites & books, I would just pick up my phone whenever I had a moment and it would suggest a module. Later there would be a feedback section, to make sure the knowledge was retained. If practical knowledge was needed, it would direct me to the nearest lab/workshop. As technology progresses, there would be new modules available, both from amateurs and learning centers, making sure that my knowledge is always up to date.
    Not sure the above makes sense, but basically just imagine “A young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” for grown-ups (without the voice-actors & nano-tech).
    Why do schools have a monopoly on learning (or rather exams, which is what you need for jobs)? Schools & universities would still be needed, but the world moves fast these days and 5 years out, your education is outdated. A system like this would make it possible to have an education that’s always fresh & relevant, to erase the line between education & “real life”.
    Imagine how much more agile our brains would be in our old age, if we never stopped our education. It could be done and cheaply too.

  • Barnaby Dawson October 31, 2010 on 9:46 am

    Interesting article. I generally agree with your stance here but I’d like to make a couple of points:

    1) Studying a topic online can be as much about avoiding distractions as finding the study material and using it.

    What you can’t do (or what you can’t do easily) is as important as what you can do. When studying I find that I am best off walling myself off from unwanted distractions. So it might make sense to create dedicated intranets of information on particular topics by limiting the ease with which one can leave the intranet. With some clever programming one could overlay editorial control (on which links to block or de-emphasize) on existing content (for example using a firefox extension such as grease monkey).

    2) The degree of emphasis that are placed on different links will be important.

    Links allow people to choose what to investigate but there’s no reason that the choice of links and their emphasis couldn’t be used to steer students towards the salient points and along important paths of learning.

  • Vicmagna October 31, 2010 on 3:30 pm

    Math should be visually intense graphically as the other subjects. Flash/java or html5 or different tech. But all the subjects should come alive and be very interactive. In the future I hope the teacher is an A.I. That understands you in depth

  • Kevin Bjorke October 31, 2010 on 4:21 pm

    A huge challenge for a completely-open approach is that it may be profitable to distract students. Even today, clicking “Quadratic” will lead you to both mathematics and advertising for jeep parts. Advertisers would love to know that every student from ages 4 to 17 are likely to click on specific keywords. Similarly, clicking on contentious or poorly-understood-by-the-public topics often lead to bunk information (classic example: “autism”). Social topics pre-Google are often grossly under-represented (try looking quickly for anything tagged “tea party” that refers to events before 2008).

    While those divergent paths across the campus lawn show individual choices for destinations, they are still destinations ON CAMPUS. The web, as currently implemented, is excessively noisy. Simple searches won’t cut it, and leads to “knowledge” that’s superficial or just plain wrong.

  • Diego November 1, 2010 on 7:16 pm

    When you are larning by yourself on the Internet, using tutorials or going to forums, after a while you start to understand that some matters need to be learned first.

    Is the value of discovering the order of steps to learn something more important or significant than somebody telling you what to study because they already know that order?
    Does that leave something additional in your learning process? and at the end what advantages does it have?

    I think its also important to say that this wouldn’t be the ONLY way to learn. We’d still have it mixed with traditional charasteristics of education like being in a classroom and having a debate or making live experiments, and of course, having people with great knowledge (masters) leading your way.

    Greetings from southamerica,

  • Anonymous November 1, 2010 on 8:07 pm

    This is a good next step. What we really need, though, is a way to get said information directly into people’s brains, Matrix-style. Rote learning, even elegantly presented like this, is kind of barbaric.

  • Anonymous November 3, 2010 on 2:46 pm

    I definitely agree with you with that the future of education is modular, but I think structure is going to still be essential. Leaving the student to explore by themselves is probably not going to cut it.

    Also, I have read ( http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/05/ff_nicholas_carr/all/1 ) that hyperlinks are very bad for concentration and attention. In the experiment described in this article, people given to read the same content showed with hyperlinks and without. The group without the hyperlinks showed an order of magnitude better memory and understanding. Simply put — hyperlinks, even simply considering whether to click or not — flush out the “context” from your mind and it is much more difficult to continue reading after that.

    I am working on a math textbook myself, which consists of individual self contained modules. I also define a fine grained prerequisite structure and for any given topic that is of interest to the student I build a single page that contains the concept AND all the prerequisites. No hyperlinks, just a custom lesson which contains all the material necessary. The ideas is that students will not need to go elsewhere to search for material. The said topic+prerequisites document could also be printed and enjoyed on the move.

    Think of it as a linux package manager for knowledge.
    apt-get derivatives 😉

    I think customization is also going to play a big role in the future of textbooks. Different people, different needs, different backgrounds — it is unlikely that the //same// textbook will fit all their needs. Here are some very inspirational quotes by Marshall McLuhan:

    It is about time we disrupted the education sector!

    • Jeremy November 3, 2010 on 5:42 pm

      “Think of it as a linux package manager for knowledge.
      apt-get derivatives ;)”

      E: Invalid operation derivatives

      I think you meant:
      apt-get learn derivatives

      (Assuming you don’t require superuser privileges to learn)

  • Doug November 8, 2010 on 6:52 am

    I think the biggest problem with innovation in education is the accreditation system. Unless you’re a cookie cutter copy of existing universities, you’d have almost no change of getting accreditation, which means no federal grant money for your students and uninformed employers will likely not accept any degrees you grant.

  • Pierre B November 9, 2010 on 9:56 pm

    Very interesting read. We would agree with a significant amount of what is written here.

    Our company is working right in the middle of the intersection of the digital textbook and enhanced authoring tools. Our Active Textbook was developed to address the need of providing digital content – preserving author intent and layout and allowing for inclusion of rich media or authoring of additional digital content.


    The educational landscape is changing as we speak and while I would agree with some of the commenters who have raised questions about the effectiveness of digital learning vs traditional textbooks, overtime we feel the benefits will outweigh the obstacles and the interfaces and usability of these new applications will iterate past these challenges.

  • Anonymous November 13, 2010 on 8:20 pm

    TL;DR: using wiki walks ( http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WikiWalk ) instead of textbooks.

    In addition to the problems cited in other comments, two problems occur to me:

    1) Wiki walks are self-directed, and in this case the reader is specifically not already a master of the topic. How can the user tell which links are most relevant to the subject being learned? Even voting (likewise by naive users) might not help.

    Possible solution: for any such links, have someone who is a recognized master rate them – i.e., limit voting to those who have passed the subject.

    This requires someone to put together a standard (which means tests) people can meet to be recognized as having passed, which others can deride as “cookie-cutter”. (Yes, it’s someone else’s standard, as opposed to being completely free to do whatever you want. Complete freedom, without direction that can reject someone’s best efforts if they have become misguided enough, doesn’t result in actually learning, though.)

    2) How to weed out misinformation? In this case, talking about bio, and advocating linking to material the main authors did not create – so how do you make sure that a creationist doesn’t get in there to poison it, with information presented in a hip and appealing way despite happening to be wrong? (See, for example, the “Inner Life of a Cell” video, made to illustrate cell mechanics – which was then ripped off by the Discovery Institute and given a new sound track arguing how the intricate nature of each step was obvious proof of God, and giving incorrect descriptions for quite a few parts of the video.)

    Critical thinking skills can help students weed out such misinformation, although those are best taught by asking questions – which, until we get radical advances in AI, requires having another human being available to answer them. And even then, this is not a perfect solution.

    The preferred solution is to simply not link to the unevaluated outside world – in other words, the textbook model, digital or otherwise. Sure, that leaves out a lot of new and useful third party material. It also excludes the known junk.

    This problem must be solved by any solution that aspires to completely replace the textbook model, or said alternate solution will be rejected by most educators. Argue and complain all you want, but that’s the simple truth. No set of advantages, no benefits, no supposed inevitability – nothing but actually solving this problem will suffice. Solve this problem, or this alternate solution fails.

  • Diybritain December 9, 2010 on 9:15 pm

    the world is full of bs
    shame really

  • Prasad N R May 13, 2015 on 10:00 am

    Perhaps in countries like India we just need an education! Atleast currently, the engineering system makes people understand things which are understood by 4th graders of US (Just have a look at the person who created the flash animation of the scales of the universe). But how does evaluation happen- simple- complicate things.

    In 4th grade, 2+2=4.
    In engineering, 2+2=4 in spatial domain or time domain. Take frequency transforms (Marks are also allotted for the steps). Then, apply chebyshev or butterworth filters or any filter as mentioned in the ‘syllabus’. Then take the inverse. You will end up getting 3.1. Now, ‘approximate’ it to get 4. How about projects or entrepreneurship? Well, totally ‘forgotten’ if marks are not scored.

    • Prasad N R Prasad N R May 13, 2015 on 10:10 am

      If the 2 line or 3 line equations of the ‘filters’ or any vague approximation isn’t remembered, the ‘first’ step is wrong. Unfortunately, even SSLC (10th grade) and 12th grade are being badly hit (recently) in such countries.