Online courses that require textbooks, F2F classes that don’t

If the Diigo flashback wasn’t weird enough for me, the irony I’m confronting this morning can send the cognitive dissonance needle straight into the red zone.

The Social Studies department at my school is embarking on a three year process of re-writing each of the core subjects courses.  When we are finished, World Studies, USI and USII will be taught without textbooks.  If you don’t need to have students mindlessly restate definitions and facts to prove they are learning, you can kick those brain-numbingly boring encyclo-sedatives to the curb.  With primary documents, innovative lesson plans and a curriculum that stresses developing cognitive skills and learning rather than memorization, textbooks are superfluous. And in the age of economic uncertainty, cost-prohibitive.

At the same time however, my school is becoming a member of Virtual High School, on online collaborative school.  I worked with VHS eight years ago when I was teaching in North Carolina.  They have one of the best models for online education I’ve encountered.  Because I will teach a course with them

and I can't help myself either!
and I can't help myself either!

online as part of my teaching responsibilities, 25 students at my school can take any course in the VHS catalog.  I’ve been offered the chance to write an AP European History course for VHS, and that’s where it get’s weird.  As a teacher for VHS, my school is responsible for distributing the materials used in connection with my course.  Which means this….

The face-to-face classes at my school no longer use textbooks, but the online course I teach will use a textbook.  Go figure.

Unless there is some kind soul out there who will let me know if anyone has had success passing the College Board’s audit with an AP History course based solely in online materials.

4 thoughts on “Online courses that require textbooks, F2F classes that don’t

  1. schledorn October 6, 2008 / 12:30 pm

    Hey there. As a word of warning, the AP Audit requires some kind of text so you may run into so trouble there (look near the bottom of the page, under Resource Requirements).

    In addition to that, I think I’d have a tough time covering all of the material if I didn’t have some kind of text. Using AP Euro as an example, I don’t spend a lot of time on the agricultural revolution, the enclosure movement, growth of textile industry, etc. Topics like that are tough to cover in class, especially on the block schedule. A textbook with some thoughtful questions written on some kind of online discussion group where student post replies is a good way to cover the material over a weekend.

    Are there online sources that could cover the material well enough to work with that setup? Something that covers a lot of different topics very briefly?

    If there is, I’d love to get rid of text books, providing the now freed funds came in the form of some new technology or something else equally useful 😉

  2. Steven Maher October 9, 2008 / 5:56 am

    Thanks Neil, great to hear from you. The language textbook of the description from the College Board seems pretty straightforward, though I wonder if there’s a tiny loophole big enough for me to drive my course through. Although they require the school to “ensure” that every student has access to a college-level textbook they also admit that “No textbook is “best” in all classrooms, and none is ideal”. If every book requires supplementary readings to make a course complete, wouldn’t a collection of these “gap-filling” materials amount to the same thing?

    Is it surprising that no one on the phone at CB is willing to tell me if any course has ever been approved without a text? Even though “the decision regarding the best textbook must be a personal one” apparently the decision to have a book is not.

    I know my suggestion is blasphemy, but I’ve got at least a half dozen sources in mind. I’ve used Professor Gerhard Rempel’s three to five page articles/lectures for more than ten years. Likewise, The History Guide, the hyperlinked articles of Spartacus International, the Victorian Web and the Web of English History. I also wouldn’t pass up the chance to share with students my intellectual crush on Margaret Anderson at Berkeley.

    I’ll keep you posted on my progress – to the barricades!

  3. schledorn October 9, 2008 / 10:55 am

    I’m not sure how most people would react to this decision. Haven’t “primers” of some sort been around as long as public education here in America? Weren’t people learning from books under private tutors? I think it’s a brilliant idea, but you’ll definitely be fighting a huge uphill battle.

    I was wondering how you would implement this. Would you have students read digital copies at home? Would you print class copies as necessary? Most of the sources you listed were sources from a university professor. Those would be perfect for an AP or honors class, but are there alternatives for a low level freshmen class?

    While writing those questions it occurred to me that perhaps textbooks exist to save some work for the teacher. It’s a lot easier to pay $80+ for a text than scour the internet and worry about home computer access/paper consumption. Maybe that’s why no one wants to get rid of their texts. Either way, education would be a much better institution if more people tried to think out of the box and play to the strengths of the current generation. Thanks for working so hard!

  4. Steven Maher October 9, 2008 / 2:24 pm

    I think you hit the nail right on the head. Textbook publishers’ profits are based mostly on their pre-packed, corporate, one-size fits all, right out-of-the box history courses. Buoyed by NCLB, they market their texts, along with piles of poster, map and mousepad swag as the only answer to state standards. Unimaginative administrators, justifiably concerned about their school’s performance on state exams, like the idea of holding all teachers accountable with a textbook. If there’s a section in the teacher’s copy that has section numbers from the state standard course of study right next to the Table of Contents, the teacher is guaranteed to “cover” everything that’s going to be on the test.

    Frances FitzGerald’s America Revised soured me to textbooks years ago. No one would read them unless they are forced.

    We’re already on the road to no standard texts in the core courses. But doing this in an Advanced Placement course means we are after bigger prey. Anyone want to guess the financial incentives motivating a textbook requirement?

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