eTextbooks – Alternative Educational Resources

14 Mar
Alternative Education Resources

Smarthistory, Khan Academy, MIT OpenCoursware, Edmodo, Moodle, Flatworld

Aspects of Alternative Educational Resources

Instead of spending money on expensive – and often inadequate –  etextbooks, can educators use collections of web-based educational resources in their place?

No Textbooks

Why abandon the textbook?

If K-12 educators want to provide high-quality digital content for their students, many etexbooks do not meet the mark. As covered in previous posts, most ereaders are not capable of mimicking the experience of reading a printed textbook. While many publishers and software developers are creating apps that allow for enhanced etextbook-reading, the offerings are slim, focusing primarily on a more academic audience.

Open vs. Pay

For many, the issue comes down to cost. Textbooks are expensive, and if the knowledge can be found in other places, is it worth the money? At the same time, reliable information is essential. The payoffs between open resources and vetted, published material need to be weighed by educators considering using alternate educational resources.

CK12 Flexbook

CK12 Flexbook

Online Textbooks

Educators are starting to use vetted online resources to create course-specific textbooks. There are sites that allow teachers to collaborate on the creation of textbooks in a wiki-format, and others that allow teachers to create their own ebooks from existing chapters of standards-based material.

  • CK12 Flexbook – open content, web-based collaborative model of customizable, standards-aligned K-12 textbooks. Available online, or for Kindle or iPad.
  • Flatworld Knowledge – Remixable, open-licensed textbooks created by expert educators, available free online and affordable offline.
  • Wikijunior – A collection of wiki-based, age-appropriate non-fiction books for children until age 12.
  • Wikibooks – Wiki-developed textbooks available free of charge under Creative Commons.


Smarthistory website

Online Courseware

Can’t find a textbook to suit your needs? Instead, turn to online and app-based courseware. A variety of universities, academic groups and publishers are offering platforms to search and access educational resources. Students can use these resources, including instructional videos, virtual flashcards, quizzes and interactive 3D models, to learn more about their subjects.

  • MIT Open Courseware – Contains free syllabi, lectures, experiments, video and audio clips and assignments for hundreds of courses. Be sure to click on High School Highlights.
  • Connexions -An online community where you can view and share educational material. Designed to be used by both students and teachers
  • Cengage Brain – This textbook provider offers a variety of purchasing & format options. They have begun making apps to enhance the textbook experience, with free study tools such as quizzes, flashcards and crossword puzzles.
  • TCI – This site offers a subscription service for social sciences instruction, including lesson plans, programs and resources.
  • Smarthistory – is an open, virtual art history textbook that uses multimedia to deliver unscripted conversations between art historians.

Schoolology - Social-based LMS

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Learning Management Systems are great resources that teachers can use to organize and collect online resources, such as embedded videos, documents and links. Thought of another way, they could be used as a virtual textbook, created specifically by the teacher to meet educational needs.

  • Moodle – With this open source LMS, teachers can create their own course pages to add links, downloads and resources. Many schools have implemented Moodle as their primary LMS, including the National Cathedral School.
  • Blackboard – This commercial LMS has a large market share, with a variety of features.
  • Edmodo – This free and secure site combines the features of an LMS and a social networking site. It is a school learning system in the guise of Facebook, designed upon a format that already has student buy-in. Teachers can create their own accounts easily and share them with students.
  • Schoolology – Like Edmodo, this site combines the features of an LMS and a social networking site. It is a school learning system in the guise of Facebook, designed upon a format that already has student buy-in.
  • Livebinders – This free and secure site lets teachers create their own accounts and collect resources in one location for their students.
Espresso Book Machine

Espresso Book Machine

Alternative Publishing Models

New publishing models have the potential to impact the textbook market, possibly making it easier for educators to rely on preferred textbooks, but in more affordable ways.

Print on demand – New technology, such as the Espresso book machine instantaneously print books at the push of a button. The machine is marketed towards private booksellers for now, but is interesting to consider when planning for the future. It may be easier to print only portions of text for those students who prefer printed materials, or cannot afford a tablet device.

Selective content purchasing – Many vendors already allow students to purchase individual chapters. In the future, will vendors allow their chapter content to be included in other open textbook sites through licensing agreements?

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