I was on a panel discussion on open content in K-12 education and was asked “What advice would you give to a superintendent, principal, or curriculum director who would like to stop buying textbooks? ” Here is a response to that question. First, you need to ask yourself some questions to evaluate your readiness for this endeavor. Here are some issues to consider:

  1. How useful are your textbooks currently?

    In many successful learning environments I visit, textbooks are absent or unused on a shelf somewhere. If textbooks are not useful to your teachers and students, this is a good reason to abandon them.

  2. Is your current vision and direction in curriculum and instruction well-aligned for this kind of shift?

    The use of open resources involves not only free and shareable materials but also an “open pedagogy.” (Future post to come on this.) Think about where your current practices fit in on this continuum:


    The closer you are to the right side currently, the more feasible a shift toward open resources is likely to be.

  3. Are your staff, parents, and community ready for this shift?
  4. This is related to the above question, but a shift to open pedagogy and open resources requires a teaching staff that is open and willing to use a variety of resources and instructional practices. Staffs that rely on tight pacing plans, scripted lessons, lots of direct instruction, and textbook readings may not thrive in an open education environment.

    Also, to be successful, this kind of staff needs to be driven by the curriculum and instruction staff. While driving this from the technology side (where most open initiatives start) is laudable, it is not enough.

    It is also important to make sure that parents and the community (not to mention your school board) understands the rationale behind abandoning of textbooks and what the new approach offers. While I personally think this is an easy case to make, it does need to be planned and presented thoughtfully. To many, school and traditional textbooks are integrally linked.

  5. Are you prepared to provide the support needed to effect this change?

    Any major change like this requires a great deal of planning, professional development, and support. This is likely to be a multi-year project and will only be successful if a long-term commitment is made. (Schools are notorious for their inability to stick with projects like this, resulting in millions of wasted dollars and classically low morale.)

    In a project like this, you are likely to need support in terms of curriculum research and planning, curriculum development, and software development. (More on this below.) Don’t undertake this project if you can’t devote resources to this.

    You should also think about how the curriculum will be delivered and facilitated. Because most OERs are electronic, for most, the answer will be electronically. Make sure you have or plan for the infrastructure to support this. (The new sub-$300 mini-laptops are a good solution for this.)

If your answers to the above questions lead you to think that a move to getting rid of textbooks in favor of open resources is a good idea, here are some recommendations I’d make:

  • Formulate a guiding vision.

    It is important to write down your vision for the project, including specific goals and objectives, and to get stakeholder buy-in on this. After this vision is developed, make sure to do periodic checks against it as you move forward.

  • Plan a phased approach.

    This is not a project that should be implemented in all grades and subject areas at once. Identify which areas are most appropriate instructionally and which have the most opportunity to profit from this gain.

  • Develop a budget and schedule.

    This is an obvious part of any project, but an important one. While there may be significant savings in terms of savings on textbook expenditures, there will also be additional expenses, which might include professional development, curriculum development, software development, and technology infrastructure. Ways to fund these costs include state textbooks funds, cross-district or – state collaborations, and grants.

  • Identify where high quality resources currently exist (both at your school and in the world at large), where holes are, and how you’ll fill them.

    This work can be done by school staff, by expert consultants, or, most likely, by a combination thereof. Make sure to include a legal review of copyright issues to make sure the resources you adopt are all appropriately licensed to do so. Also, make sure all the tools, content, formats, etc. are truly open.

  • Develop a support plan.

    Make sure you include adequate staffing and funding for professional development (on open pedagogy, copyright issues, curriculum implementation, technology skills, etc.). This is critically important.Make sure you also include on-going support to develop and refine curriculum resources as needed. Don’t expect your teaching staff to become curriculum publishers without additional time or compensation.

  • Be bold, and GO FOR IT!

If anyone has comments, I’d love to hear them. If this is an idea you think fits your organization and you’d like help thinking it through and/or executing it, please get in touch with me.

Want to stop buying textbooks?

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