This is part 2 of my post #opened15 brain dump on the role of open textbooks in higher education, prompted by many discussions about textbooks in the wake of #opened15.

In my first post, I touched on the role that open textbooks can play in bringing new people into the open community. This one is a bit more technology focused.

There is the tension around why we are even talking textbooks? Those static, information transmission devices of yesteryear. The textbook (like Powerpoint) is becoming a flashpoint symbol for bad pedagogy. That we should be post-textbook, even post-content, and that textbooks – even open ones – are prescriptive devices that enforce existing power and authority structures endemic in our education system. Textbooks are a barrier to truly progressive pedagogies, and open textbooks set up the the illusion of being progressive when really they are regressive and represent a content-centric view of learning.

Okay, that is likely just me heaping a lot of representational baggage on the poor old textbook. But this isn’t the fault of the textbook any more than a bad lecture is the fault of  Powerpoint. Poor pedagogy is poor pedagogy, regardless of whether a textbook is involved or not.

As I stated in my last post, the real problem (at least here in North America) is that, we have embedded a culture of textbooks so deeply within our education systems that it is almost impossible for many to imagine there are other ways of doing things.

And here is where I think open textbooks (and more broadly OER) are playing a crucial role, because they create an opportunity to see one different way of doing things, enabled by the internet.

See, I have this crazy belief that this thing called the internet has changed things, and I see OER and open textbooks as beautiful examples of what the internet enables. They certainly are not the pedagogical be all and end all of living in a networked world. I drank the networked learning kool-aid long ago.

the internet

But OER and open textbooks do represent one of the ways that higher education has responded to the new affordances of living in a digital, networked world where we can create, copy and distribute stuff with relative ease. And if it takes people using OER’s and open textbooks to help people see that the internet enables new ways of doing things, then that, for me, is progress. This is what brought me to open education. Open education is something the internet made possible.

So, to the innovators – keep on innovating and please don’t pull away from the community. Push the edges, do cool stuff, bring it and share it and show people that there is an open world post-textbooks (open and closed). We are all at different open paths along the spectrum, and in order to continue growing the community we have to have spaces for those on the edges to join – the legitimate peripheral participation places that allow people to build their own bridges into both open, and the net.

CC BY 4.0 This thing called the internet: part 2 of a post #opened15 textbook brain dump by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


  1. I think that what’s going through my head on this may require a blog post of its own to do it justice, but while I would like to see less teaching directly connected to a textbook, I can’t get the reality of the digital divide out of my head. Not every learner in every part of the world – no, not every learner in every part of Canada – has reliable Internet access or consitant access to devices to engage with digital pedagogy. That’s reality. Open textbooks are many things. They are that entry point into open for some. For others they are the beginning, middle and end, all in digital format. But what about the fact that we can print out open resources (yes print) and make them available at a fraction of the cost of current commericial texts for those without that access? A key part (not the only part) for me is about expanding access and anytime some in the open community talk about us forgetting the money part and focus on the ability for learners to reuse, revise, and remix online, it reminds me that too many people have forgotten that the digital divide is real and open textbooks may just help some who need, not just want, the printed, static copies. If we’re going to make open fly, we have to open to all of the potential, not just the stuff we think is really innovative.

    1. Thanks for the comment Heather. Indeed, there are still many remote places in Canada that have very limited access to the internet. I remember reading a Globe and Mail story about internet access in Nunavet where software updates were flown into the community on USB sticks because it was cheaper to air mail the updates than to download them via the internet.

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