As various folks are talking about open ed and open textbooks, there are often discussions of whether textbooks are an effective instructional tools at all.

To me, that isn’t really the point. The effectiveness of instruction and the degree to which students learn has everything to do with the teacher, the classroom, and the process, and little to do with the materials. I have seen awful textbooks used by talented teachers who are fostering magnificent learning environments. I have also seen brilliant electronic resources used by ineffective teachers in classrooms where students are tuned out and no learning is taking place.

What matters is how the teacher uses the resources. What is most important about open resources is that they can be remixed and used in the ways that are best for different learners. (Unique features of open resources, textbooks or otherwise, that allow for this are legal licenses and open formats. This is why the distinction between merely digital and open is so important.)

My own interest in open education comes from my work in differentiating instruction. Proprietary resources make this extremely difficult. And whether we like it or not, textbooks are the center of instruction in the vast majority of all classrooms. Further, large amounts of money flow into schools through textbooks funding. The opportunity to use open textbooks to redirect that funding from paper and ink to differentiating instruction and providing professional development is tremendous.

If they are open, textbooks can be easily transformed into other forms of instructional resources — wikis, multimedia presentations, hands-on projects, etc. That’s the whole point of differentiating instruction. And in the hands of great teachers, the potential is limitless.

The effectiveness of textbooks

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