Will Open Education Make Textbooks a Thing of the Past?


Since the days of the ancient Greeks, written texts have played a crucial role in education. Who doesn’t remember their school textbooks—carrying them home, reading them, and using them to study?

But the days of the textbook may be numbered thanks to open education programs, where educators swap out textbooks with public domain digital resources to teach their students. Today, more and more districts are experimenting with open education as a cost-effective, forward-thinking, tech-savvy way to teach in the 21st century.

Open Digital Ecosystems

The U.S. Department of Education’s open education initiative, #GoOpen, is a joint collaboration with state school districts that helps implement and support open education strategies. These strategies, StateScoop reports, “offer teachers the ability to customize educational content for their students, and develop and maintain a repository solution for openly licensed resources.”

With the help of the #GoOpen initiative, districts and educators use public digital resources whose licenses allow for free use, as well as for sharing with other classrooms and schools. Among the digital tools the Department of Education hopes will play a central role in open education are:

  • complete online courses,
  • modular digital textbooks,
  • images and videos, and
  • assessment tools.

Ultimately, this new model of learning, says Joseph South, director of the Office of Educational Technology, is the cultivation of “an open ecosystem of digital resources.”

So far, 13 states are testing out the #GoOpen initiative: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  

Platforms and Content Providers

Here’s how the architecture of the #GoOpen program works.

For-profit and nonprofit entities upload and integrate their educational content to Learning Registry, described as “a digital card catalog of metadata about openly licensed educational resources.” Educators and districts can then access these resources and build their own curriculum and lesson plans.

Who are these entities?

Current #GoOpen platforms include

But there’s also a new big name getting involved in open education: Amazon. The company’s platform, Amazon Inspire, allows users to tap into ratings and reviews to determine the best content for their classes.

The Pros…

Why replace the over $7 billion-a-year textbook industry with digital resources? Democratic in its approach, open education comes with a number of benefits that appeal to administrators, educators, students, and parents.

  • It brings students together. Principal Zack Binder of Williamsfield Community School District in Illinois says open education is the key to breaking down barriers and connecting students geographically. Students who would normally be separated from equal access by various socioeconomic constraints can learn in sync from the same materials—even if they’re not in the same classroom or district. 
  • It helps districts spend smarter. Saving money by replacing costly textbooks with open sourced educational materials means budget-conscious school districts can reallocate resources for other projects that may have been neglected. 
  • It enhances digital literacy. There’s no doubt digital literacy is essential to student success. By rooting the educational experience in digital technology, students can better learn the skills, concepts, and ethics of working with digital technology and resources. 
  • It offers greater freedom to teach. Instead of being slaves to textbooks, teachers who use open educational resources can customize and adapt their lessons to new research, new avenues of thought, breaking news, and particular class concerns. And they can do so instantly.  
…and the Cons

Of course, where there are pros, there are cons. Open education brings with it specific challenges that require districts to think about and approach education and technology in new ways.

  • Quality, not entertainment. Just because educational material is available for free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. The question becomes: How do educators separate high-quality content from pure entertainment? Think about what you watch in your own life: There’s a lot of free content, but you likely still pay to stream top-quality movies.
  • Teachers as content curators. With the wave of new content accessible to teachers comes the need for them to be smarter curators. School textbooks are created and vetted by professionals and subject matter experts, but that might not always be the case for public digital content, which may be unreliable (and even incorrect). So educators have to sharpen their eye when vetting educational content.
  • It requires 24/7 connectivity for students. The benefits of open education matter only if students have access to it. And that’s not the case for many districts around the country, where students lack safe, affordable Internet access at home. If the access to technology isn’t readily available to students who need it, then all the free content in the world won’t help them learn.  
The Key is Connectivity

With the strides in online learning made by the #GoOpen initiative, and the increasingly likely potential for textbook-free classrooms in the future, connectivity is essential to student success. School districts looking to join #GoOpen need to make sure students have continued, reliable Internet access. Preparedness, especially when it comes to digital content, is the key.

That’s where Kajeet Education Broadband can help. By providing districts with CIPA-compliant, 4G-LTE Internet access outside the classroom (including on school buses), Kajeet can give students continued access to the digital content required for out-of-class assignments and homework.

Not only are students connected with Kajeet, they’re safe. Kajeet’s education-content filters help students dodge unnecessary distractions, cyber abuse, unsafe content and other common pitfalls. So the focus is always on learning.

Open education has arrived. And whether or not it becomes the shiny new face of K-12 education across the nation, one thing’s for sure: Backpacks are about to get a whole lot lighter.

Complement your open education initiative with the Kajeet Education Broadband™ solution so your students have 24/7 access to safe, reliable Internet.

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