My dissertation (circa 1980) took on the challenge of whether teachers should create their own software programs—programs to fit the exact needs of their students. The idea was to offer targeted digital learning in classrooms. Software in those days was rather primitive, but even then it was obvious that teachers would not have the time or resources to create software on a par with the evolving commercial software market.
Now thirty years later, teachers are taking on that challenge again—not to build software, but to build courses using the abundance of resources that can be found online. It’s targeted digital learning, but at this time, it’s possible. Some teachers have already developed their own exciting digital courses—courses without traditional texts.
Let’s explore what it would take for you (on your own) to throw out your textbooks and jump into digital learning. Ask yourself:
- Are you ready to plan 180 or so days of classwork, projects, and homework?
- Will your course meet the standards required?
- Will you and your students have the digital devices, online access, and software needed for everyday classroom and home use?
- Have you found enough teacher and student resources online for your course? Are these materials on levels appropriate for your students? Will there be any copyright issues?
- How will you help students who have difficulty with learning from multiple sources?
- Will your school or district need to purchase programs or subscribe to databases to use as part of your course?
- How will you plan for days when the Internet is down?
- Are you ready to create your own test, quiz, and review materials?
- Will you have partner teachers to help you create and plan?
- How will you introduce this course to your students’ parents?
- Do you have the time to make this change?
Sometimes it’s not an individual teacher, but school or a district administrators who decide to go with online learning rather than textbooks. Committees of curriculum developers and teachers may get together to write their own courses of study; educators in a district may work with a company that provides resources and organization for online learning; or a district may purchase online learning software to be used in place of textbooks.
A pilot program in twelve schools in the Indianapolis School District uses Discovery Education materials, curriculum alignment, and professional development services. Featuring more than 5,000 videos and 41,000 video clips, the program includes pacing guides for teachers with embedded resources such as video chapters, images, writing prompts, games and interactives. Pearson’s Middle School online curriculum, MyScienceOnline.com, features write-in texts, which integrate with online real-world content, videos, virtual labs, games, and blogs. I wonder if in the future the write-in texts will also be available online.
As we move forward to courses without traditional textbooks, I wonder if individual teacher-developed courses will survive when commercial courses have the potential to offer access to just about everything at the click of a mouse? In this tough economic time, it may depend upon the cost of commercial programs and upon how many teachers are willing and able to create their own courses without assistance.
Those master teachers who know what’s best for their students and for their methods of teaching will continue to provide excellence in the classroom, for they will adapt, individualize, and create whether they are using commercial programs, district-developed materials, their own courses, or textbooks. Isn’t that, after all, what they’ve always done?