The Digital Curriculum Part 1… Textbook To Flexbook… Free, Open Source, Engaging!

Everyone is talking about a digital curriculum free of those hard copy textbooks that have been a part of schooling since the advent of the one room schoolhouse. This is the first  post in a series devoted to investigating resources that can open up a world of digital curricula. In the next post I will bring seven more amazing digital resources that just might replace what we know as the textbook. Before exploring further,  please take a moment to subscribe by RSS or email. Your subscriptions mean a lot to me! You can also follow me on twitter (mjgormans) and please take a moment to share and retweet this post. Now, enjoy a visit designed to help you put some flexibility in your textbook  as you bring learning into the digital world. In fact you will also discover 12 points to ponder before using a Flexbook in school. Have a great week – Mike

With so many schools beginning the journey towards a 1 to 1 initiative, it really is time to investigate how a digital device in every child’s hand can transform learning… even down to what a student carries in a book bag!  In fact, could it be that the book bag may just have to find a new name? After all, why carry around an encyclopedia of books when that same print can be stored in a digital manner?  Additionally, why limit it to print? One group providing a free and open source alternative is the CK-12 Foundation,  a non-profit organization whose  mission is  to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market both in the U.S. and worldwide. C-K12 is building an open-content, web-based collaborative model termed the “FlexBook”,  In fact, CK-12 intends to pioneer the generation and distribution of high quality educational content that can serve as both a core text and at the same time provide an adaptive environment for learning.  The people at CK12 state that, “content generated by CK-12 and the CK-12 community will serve both as source material for a student’s learning and provide an adaptive environment that scaffolds the learner’s journey as he or she masters a standards-based body of knowledge, while allowing for passion-based learning.”

So… what is a FlexBook?  They may be best described as customizable, standards-aligned, free digital textbooks for K-12 education. FlexBooks are customizable textbooks that teachers can use online,via  flash drives, CD’s, or as printed books. Teachers can even share FlexBooks with other educators and they can also customize them to fit their students, locality, standards, and current events. They contain high-quality online materials that are aligned with national and state textbook standards. Since FlexBooks are online  they are kept  up to date much more easily than printed textbooks. Teachers can use the books as they are provided by C-K12, use only parts of them, or add their own materials along with other content from the web. By now I am sure you understand the word “flex” in Flexbook. This unique flexibility made possible by digital technology allows for adding or deleting of  material (including graphics and videos), adjusting the difficulty of the language, and making any other changes students may need. Imagine teachers providing the valuable handouts, readings, videos, pictures, and sound bites they have always used and including these pieces in the textbook, or should I say Flexbook!.  Best of all FlexBooks are free, so  teachers can modify the FlexBook each time they find something that works better in their classrooms.

Currently, the Flexbook Library  contains 50 books with many more soon to be added.  Flexbooks at this time are almost exclusively focused on math and science for middle-school and high-school students. In fact, be sure to check out these Flexbooks in the area of Science,  TechnologyEngineering, and Mathematics.  You can be certain  this library will grow, as it is the  goal of CK-12 to ultimately encompass all subjects for K-12,  as teachers and authors create books and donate them to the FlexBooks Library.

By now you maybe wondering how to get started. First, take a moment and be sure to sign up and register. Next, you may wish to look at the step by step web page devoted to helping educators learn more. Have a question? Be sure to take  time to read over the list of Frequently Asked Questions. There is also a wonderful three minute quick-start overview video, along with a page filled with helpful step by step tutorial videos. Topics of these basic  tutorials include Book Assembly,  Basic Chapter Editing, and  Creating Chapters from Scratch. More advanced tutorials include  Advanced Chapter Editing – Images,  Advanced Chapter Editing – Multimedia,  Advanced Chapter Editing – LinksAdvanced Chapter Editing – Equations EditorAdvanced Chapter Editing – Paste from Word, and a video that allows you to learn how to  Print and Share. Want to learn about a topic that isn’t covered  on the website or in a video tutorial? Sign up for a free online webinar to have your specific questions answered. You will find more information about up-coming webinars at this link. It may also be interesting to see what states Flexbook has already aligned with specific state standards. For those interested in saving money, try this calculator that compares the cost of traditional textbooks with digital Flexbooks.  Apple iPad users may discover more by reading about the ePub format and Flexbooks. These books are also available for download directly from Apple’s iBookstore.  CK-12′s FlexBooks are also  available as Amazon Kindle eBooks. Learn more at this page dedicated to Flexbook and the Kindle, or view all the books on Amazon.

Please explore my  twelve points to consider when investigating the implementation of Flexbooks.

1. Provide sustainable in-service for teachers. This is a big shift and teachers must be provided with successful professional development to transform from hard copy to digital.

2. Allow time for teachers to collaborate, create, and plan their digital curriculum; you might be an adoption cycle away from full implementation.

3. Gather resources to facilitate the entire curriculum. Just as the regular textbook is only one resource, so is a Flexbook even though it may provide more opportunities to engage students.  Additional resources beyond a Flexbook must still be available and accessible.

4. Provide proper  technology and include necessary maintenance.. This also includes  internet connectivity that is capable of supporting 1 to 1. Plan for possible and probable network disruptions.

5. Consider the wide diversity of students’ needs in their home environment and have plans to facilitate for this wide spectrum.

6. Spend more time discovering resources and less time writing standards… after all most standards are already provided by national and state agencies. Teachers need to have time! Notice the continued emphasis on time for teachers to develop and customize.

7. Consider the local community when seeking material for a Flexbook as this will allow relevance and meaning for students. It will also allow for community connections and field trip possibilities. Best of all, it will gather support of community stakeholders.

8. Remember that transformation from hard copy to digital must be done in small measurable  steps. Start planning  and preparing now and you could see big gains in several years. Encourage teacher collaboration and sharing while providing time to do so!

9. Keep in  mind that the flexibility in a Flexbook means that content should go beyond text and allow for a wide array of learning styles. It also allows for topics to stay current and be updated as needed.

10. While there may be cost savings, keep in mind that these savings could be spent in ways to further support students and teachers.  This may include additional  engaging materials for students, and professional development for teachers. It will be money well spent,  placing even the Flexbook at  the periphery of the curriculum… and  students more at the center.

11. Realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch. There will, of course, be costs for infrastructure, professional development, and planning/implementation time.

12. A great amount of quality digital curriculum resources are currently available by  publishing companies for a fee. These types of sources still must be investigated and should be purchased and implemented where applicable.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that a digital curriculum will provide access to a virtual and flexible textbook that will facilitate  necessary understanding of content by all students. It will be available in a variety of formats to be read on tablet, iPod, Droid, laptop, desktop, or possibly a  piece of real paper! As the virtual and flexible textbook matures it will become interactive, filled with engaging media, and will provide a  nonlinear experience. It will allow for a curriculum that facilitates both convergent and divergent thinking.  Most of all, it will be flexible as it meets the needs of all learning styles.  So you can see, the textbook will remain a good friend  as it transforms BIT by BIT.  As it moves from the center, the  new digital curriculum will put kids in the middle! As you continue your journey in the world of the 21st century you just may find that the Flexbook may be the start of a new and different way of looking at our old friend!

Join me in this continuing series devoted to ” Going Digital”. In fact Part 2 promises to bring you seven more digital resources.  But that’s not all… future posts will also contain resources on evaluating web resources, Project Based Learning, STEM, Web 2.0, and so much more on 21st Century Learning. I even have a post coming your way that describes over 100 ways to use Wordle in the classroom. Please take a moment to subscribe by RSS or email! Your subscription means a lot to me and I thank you in advance. In fact, you can also give this article a retweet if you scroll to the bottom! It’s a great way to spread the word and I appreciate your support. Thanks, until next time… start thinking of ways you can go flex your digital curriculum.  Have a great week! – Mike


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2 responses to “The Digital Curriculum Part 1… Textbook To Flexbook… Free, Open Source, Engaging!

  1. One of the challenge is how to leverage the new technologies to bring the textbooks / learning experiences to a new level. While evaluate the apps for kids, I found some really take advantage of new techniques, such as Skyview and StarWalk, some just put plain old textbook online, which is not that exciting at all.

    • I think you bring about a great thought. We cannot put digital textbooks and digital curriculum in the same category. I really believe that even the digital textbook is just one piece and that one piece must eventually go beyond the hard copy version. Thanks for the great insight! Apps such as the ones you describe provide engagement and provide an opportunity to integrate with traditional reading in order to facilitate the students’ need to know. Thanks so much for sharing! – Mike

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