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Making the Switch: Moving from Traditional to Electronic Textbooks Part 4: Creating a Team

This is the fourth of a multipart series on how the El Paso ISD in El Paso, Texas began the move from traditional paper textbooks to digital open textbooks.

In Part 3 of this series, we looked at how the El Paso Independent School District chose the CK12 Foundation’s Flexbooks as the basis for their new electronic science textbooks. The Flexbooks provided an experience that rivaled the traditional textbooks publishers texts without the publisher’s prices.

The next step was to create a team to work on the district books. Since the books were in essence, already written, the team would be more curators than writers, gathering the already complete material and putting it into the sequence that matched the district’s scope and lesson plans. They also would align the books to the state standards.

Teacher Criteria:

The teachers that we decided to work with had to have several qualities:

They had to be open to new ideas

We were not necessarily looking for “techies.” We were looking for teachers that could look at something new and not immediately dismiss it. This is harder than it sounds: many teachers are stuck in tradition, or have the “We already tried this” mindset. And while that mindset is a defensive one and at times understandable, we needed teachers that were able to get beyond that way of thinking. We also wanted them to work with the OER list that we had originated to use that material and discussed in Part 2 of this series.

They had to be respected by their peers

We knew that the teachers that we chose would have to end up becoming cheerleaders for the project. We needed teachers that had gravitas with their colleagues. This was important because we needed to have teachers (not central office administrators who are often portrayed as the enemy) leading the charge, not the central office. Teachers that were respected by their peers were more likely to be listened to by peers.

They had to be experts in content and standards

We knew that the books we were using from CK12 were good. We had no doubt that the content was okay. We needed teachers that could look at the content and find holes (if there were any) that they could fill with other content. The teachers also had to be experts in the Texas state standards because we needed to have them align the Flexbooks. The teachers also had to be well versed in our scope and sequence so that they could look at the Flexbooks and put them in the order that we wanted.

Using those criteria of openness, respectability and content knowledge, it was time to get the rest of the team in place.

Trainers up first:

Trainers were needed to teach our curators how to navigate through the CK12 Flexbooks. We chose three technology trainers that would train the teachers, in concert with the CK12 staff, on the ins-and-outs of the CK12 system. Although CK12 Flexbooks are relatively easy to navigate, they are not intuitively obvious. Three trainers would be availalble to also troubleshoot minor technical issues should they arise as well.

CK12 Jumps In:

CK12 then provided their support by providing pretty much their entire team to help with the process. We would be able to access them, and one was assigned as the lead. That person was the one that we would filter issues through.

Final Touch:

The final piece of the creation puzzle was a set of editors that were tasked with going through the created books to make sure not only the basics of grammar and spelling were observed but also the look and feel. We wanted to make sure that the books were consistent from one to another, which if we simply kept the original CK12 Flexbooks would not have been an issue. However, because we were adding materials and aligning to our standards, we were changing the basic formats to match our needs. The editors kept the formats the same throughout.

To create a OER textbook, we needed a team. Our team included:

  • Teacher Writers/Curators
  • Trainers
  • CK12 Facilitators
  • Editors

Once the team was in place, we needed to make sure everyone was on the same page. That is the topic of the Part 5: On the Same Page.

Previous Entries in this series:

Making the Switch: Moving from Traditional to Electronic Textbooks Part 3: The CK12 Flexbooks

This is the third of a multipart series on how the El Paso ISD in El Paso, Texas began the move from traditional paper textbooks to digital open textbooks.

In Part 2 of this series, we looked at how gathering a database of OER resources is crucial to starting the conversation and the process of moving to not only e-texts, but free e-texts. You cannot know what you can create if you are not aware of the resources that are available.

I think that many people are hesitant to make a move to Open Education Resources (OER) because they think that Free = Cheap. While that CAN be the case, I also think that paid textbooks are also not always the best they can be. I remember my days teaching and running across spelling errors, incorrect information in general, wrong answers in the teacher’s editions and mislabelled pictures. Expensive does not always equate to quality either.

Looking at some of the free resources that are now available and readily accessible to anyone, I think that many of us would be hard pressed to say that some do not have the quality of traditional texts. And being online, many of these have advantages that paper texts do not have. For instance take a look at the Big History Project, an online course that presents history from the Big Bang to the present. Totally free.

Surely no one will argue that E.O. Wilson’s free iBook “Life On Earth" and the corresponding curricula that is attached to it on the iTunes Books Store is not both at a level found in traditional textbooks but probably at a level that exceeds that created by the major publishers. And it is free.

So now the conversation shifts away from DO we want to use OER materials, to the more interesting WHAT OER materials do we want to use? The embarrassment of riches could cause a district to have a paralysis of choice: Too many choices, so we choose none.

Luckily for EPISD, we had already been familiar with the work of the CK12 Foundation, started by Neeru Khosla and Murugan Pal. The purpose of the foundation was to provide high quality no cost textbooks in the STEM fields to anyone or any organization that needed them.

I had first heard about them at the 2012 TCEA Conference when I made this little video:

CK12 just happened to have the textbooks that matched the core content area that was up for adoption (See Part 1: Understanding the Cycle): High School Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. CK12 offers something called Flexbooks, which are, as the name implies, Flexible textbooks that can be modified by the end user, whether that user is a district, a teacher or even a student.

What makes the Flexbooks “flexible?” A district can become a curator of content from any of the other Flexbooks that are offered and mash up the content into their own book. For instance, if a district has a curricular sequence that does not match the sequence of the book chapters and subchapters can be rearranged to match the district’s sequence. If the district has a scope that includes content not in a particular book, sections and even entire chapters can be copied into the district’s Flexbook. Conversely, if there are topics that are not being addressed, those can be simply cut from the book.

Non-CK12 content can also be added the flex books. For instance, information about a new planet or the topical Ebola Virus can be added into the book, or a new Youtube video can be embedded. None of that could be done with a traditional textbook. And it was free. Best price ever!

After seeing and understanding the possibilities of the Flexbooks offered by CK12, EPISD then contacted the organization in order to find out if other districts had tried what we were attempting to do. Apparently, not too many districts in Texas had attempted to do what we were proposing to do: Dump the traditional publisher-created textbook model and create our own. However , the state of Utah had done exactly that a few years previously. Over a quick series of webinars, Google hangouts and phone calls, the folks at CK12 agreed to help the district create four books: High School Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Integrated Physics and Chemistry.

We had had matched the move to the adoption cycle, we had gathered a database of information and we had now chosen a way to go with the CK12 Foundation and the textbooks.

The next thing we needed to do was gather up a team that could put all of this together.

For more information about CK12, go here.

Previous Entries in this series:

Making the Switch: Moving from Traditional to Electronic Textbooks Part 2: Finding Open Education and Creative Commons Resources

This is the second of a multipart series on how the El Paso ISD in El Paso Texas began the move from traditional paper textbooks to digital open textbooks.

In Part One of this series, we looked at the need to understand the cycle of adoption as basic in any strategy to shift from traditional textbooks to digital textbooks. At least in Texas, an optimal time to make the switch to digital textbooks would be when a major core area of textbooks are being adopted, This is because the maximum amount of funding is being given by the state to purchase instructional materials and it is a natural “break” in the textbook cycle. Decide to stay with paper text now, and you are stuck for the next eight years. Paper texts in 2023? Really? That is where you want your students to be?

After the decision was made to move our science textbooks to science digital books, the hunt began for free or low cost materials that could replace the traditional texts. We knew that there was a lot of material out there, we just didn’t have a place to start looking for it.

Open Education Resources

For the last few years, I had been interested in open education resources (OER). I was first introduced to the idea of PER when I came across a young woman that was at the TCEA 2013 OER is a worldwide informal movement to put the information found traditionally in textbooks up online so anyone can access it. Over the years, I have had a love/hate relationship with the term “open.” I have issues with “open” software that appears to be nothing more than a freely copied look and feel of software that was developed by software companies. (Don’t tell me that GIMP is not a total rip off of Photoshop. It is. And would Moodle even exist if Blackboard wasn’t there first? Doubtful.)

I don’t however, have a problem with open CONTENT. As I said earlier in that post:

The difference in my mind about FOSS and open education resources is that OER is simply, for the most part, general knowledge. There is no copyright on knowledge. For instance, if I write an article about the 8 planets, unless I have some new insight or some unique perspective, the knowledge is general and in the public domain. Biology textbooks in the OER world are, for the most part, simply collections of generally known general information. The ones in CK12.org for instance are written by authors that understand they are simply restating general knowledge. A cell is a cell, whether it is in the US or in Botswana. Knowledge cannot be owned. Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, the human skeletal structure, the quadratic equation, what makes a verb a verb and a noun a noun are all common knowledge that cannot be copyrighted. Now I COULD copyright, if I chose, the delivery method of how I wished to present the Laws of Motion or the skeletal structure. If I had a way cool multimedia way of teaching the human skeleton, then I certainly COULD claim intellectual property and protect it from people or organizations that would want to put it into their products. But I cannot copyright the knowledge of the names of bones, the structure of bones, the layout of the skeleton, etc.

The district had to find some OER resources. We gathered a team of ed tech trainers and created a spreadsheet of all the OER materials we could find on the web. The spreadsheet was a good start, and it demonstrated that there was a lot of material out there to access. (You can see the spreadsheet here, and even add to it if you like.) We opened up the spreadsheet so that anyone could add to it. As of this writing, it had been edited over 200 times!

We learned about quite a few OER resources, public domain resources, and more. I even presented on the topic at a conference:

We also noticed that there was a lot of Creative Commons copyright materials in our list. (For those of you unfamiliar with Creative Commons, check out this website.)

So we had created the need for switching to digital texts. And we had created a large database of possible OER, public domain and creative commons materials that we thought could be the basis of creating our own textbooks.

Now we had to go through the material and see what was acceptable. Luckily, we had noticed that there was one set of links that kept popping up over and over: the textbooks created by the CK12 Foundation.

Up Next: Making the Switch: Moving from Traditional to Electronic Textbooks Part 3: The Ck12 Flexbooks

Making the Switch: Moving from Traditional to Electronic Textbooks Part 1: Understanding the Cycle

This is the first of a multipart series on how the El Paso ISD in El Paso Texas began the move from traditional paper textbooks to digital textbooks.

Understanding the textbook adoption cycle.

In Texas, textbooks for public schools are adopted statewide on a regular cycle. This cycle moves core area texts through schools at a suggested rate of once every eight years. If the state is adopting say, math textbooks this year, they will replace textbooks that have been in the schools for eight years.

The state adoption cycle also includes an inner cycle, where the state will make a “Proclamation” to textbook publishers (telling them what books will be adopted on what year), publishers will submit their books, the state will evaluate the books to see if they meet the standards (this is called “conforming to the standards”). Then a period of public input is allowed, and then the state tells districts which books met the standards and are able to be adopted. Districts then go through an “adoption process” where textbooks are vetted, and voted on, usually by a committee of teachers and administrators.

Districts can choose from the “conforming list” or not (non-conforming list).

A few years ago, district were locked into the walls of choosing only from the conforming list. The state would provide the district with funds and the district would have to purchase books from the state. (Remember the infamous “schoolbook repository” where Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK from? That was the old warehouse where all the state’s textbooks were held before shipping to districts across Texas at the time. How is that for trivia?) Districts were given money called a “textbook allotment” and could purchase textbooks from that allotment. New texts were sent to districts, and old texts were send back.

Then things changed.

In 2011, the state legislature, in an effort to save money, decided that the state would be getting out of the textbook warehousing business. Instead of making districts pay for pre-chosen textbooks, they allowed districts to choose any text they desired, as long as the district could show that it was meeting the state standards. The state also took the old textbook allotment funds and combined them with previously earmarked technology allotment funds to create a new “Instructional Materials Allotment” (IMA) fund, where districts could also choose to purchase technology as well as textbooks. Textbooks no longer had to be “traditional” paper texts. In fact, there was some underlying discussion that the state was actually encouraging electronic textbooks over paper ones for a variety of reasons.

Times change.

Even with the new IMA allotment of funds, districts found themselves with less money to purchase textbooks than in previous cycles. That was because the two previously individual funds of textbooks and technology actually were greater than the combined fund of IMA, and the cost of textbooks was rising not falling. Districts were left with the choice of textbooks or technology, but rarely did thy have the monies for both.

As noted on the TCEA website:

The 82nd Legislature passed SB 6 to create the Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA). This allotment is designed to provide funds for districts to purchase the instructional materials that will be used to support the teaching and learning of the curriculum established by the State Board of Education (SBOE) as outlined in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). As the delivery of information has changed over the last 10 years outside of school, from print to digital, the IMA is designed to give districts the flexibility that is needed to allow them to deliver content digitally as they deem prudent. SB 6 combined the funds that had been set aside for technology in the Technology Allotment, with the funds that had been set aside for textbooks. This requires districts to think strategically when deciding what content they should use instructionally and how technology can support the teaching of the content. In order to make the best use of the allotment, districts will want to include a variety of stakeholders when deciding how to utilize the IMA.

One interesting aside of the SB6 was that districts were now allowed to use open education resources (OER) instead of publisher-created materials if they so desired.

With a knowledge of where the money was coming from (or not coming from) and a knowledge of the textbook adoption cycle, districts could now begin to revisit exactly where they wanted to spend their money, and if the traditional textbook model was in fact the only model to follow.

If a district was contemplating a shift to using OER or self created materials, it would have to be during a time when a major adoption was taking place, in one of the core curricular areas. The reason for that was that the core areas have greater funding associated with them for the IMA because all students are required to take core areas, such as science or math. A district would need to align their shift to OER and digital with the adoption cycle.

Enter Science.

It just so happened that 2014 was the place in the state adoption cycle where the science textbooks were being adopted. That created a natural breaking spot for districts to decide to either go with traditional textbooks, digital publisher textbooks, self created textbooks, or with OER.

In the case of the El Paso Independent School District, a new superintendent , Juan Cabrera, with new ideas was looking for ways to get technology into the hands of students and also save money in a time of lessening enrollment and budget cuts asked a interesting question to the people in charge of the textbooks for the district:

"Why aren’t we just using all the free material that is already out there?"

That question changed the way the district would look at textbooks and textbook adoptions.

Up Next: Making the Switch: Moving from Traditional to Electronic Textbooks Part 2: Open Education Resources

For a nice overview of the Instructional Materials Allotment go here : http://www.tcea.org/advocacy/resources/public-policy-issues/ima

EPISD unveils the CK12 Flexbooks for high school science.
Press Conference Oct 9, 2014. El Paso Texas

Oct 9

EPISD switches to e-books for high school science - El Paso Times

Proud of my district! Making a bold move into ed tech!

El Paso Independent School District will take the first step in eliminating paper textbooks when high school science classes switch to digital textbooks today.

District officials say EPISD is the first large school district in Texas to move to all digital, teacher-edited digital textbooks.

"It’s our opinion at EPISD that this is inevitable," Superintendent Juan Cabrera said on Tuesday.

District officials say the move to digital textbooks will save money and give them more flexibility in teaching students.

Oct 7

El Paso Independent School District Goes Digital with CK12 Flexbooks

I love when an entire school district tries something that they have never done before. Such is the case with these electronic textbooks from Ck12.org. This is a project that I have been intimately involved with. It is exciting to see it come to fruition.
It is also exciting because of the implications. Instead of spending money on books, students will receive devices to read the books and also use in other classes.

Here is the press release about the unveiling event:


***For Immediate Release***

Media Contact: Vanessa Monsisvais 915-727-3894 vsmonsis@episd.org
What: Unveiling of EPISD’s groundbreaking digital textbooks
Where: EPISD Education Center Board Room, 6531 Boeing Dr.
When: 11 a.m. MT Oct. 9, 2014 
Watch live at episd.org/live at 11 a.m. MT on Oct.9 


EPISD partners with CK-12 Foundation to adopt digital FlexBooks in Texas,
begins transition from traditional textbooks to e-books

Twenty-First Century Learning is a commitment to prepare the El Paso Independent School District student body for the future by using the best technology and strategies. We are the first large school district in Texas to take the bold and innovative step into the world of teacher-generated electronic books.

EPISD and CK-12 Foundation collaborated to understand the district teachers’ needs and how technology can help meet those challenges. Starting in October of this year, the district is beginning the process of eliminating paper textbooks and replacing them with digital textbooks called FlexBooks. These are standards-aligned fully customized digital FlexBooks built using the CK-12 platform, especially for EPISD.

FlexBook content is free. The information gathered in the electronic books is of no cost to the district.

The change will start with select high school science classes, with more school subjects to follow. A committee of teachers created FlexBooks for biology, chemistry and physics over the summer.

“We are talking about user-generated content. A panel of our science teachers handpicked the information in the electronic text to custom fit the curriculum. It is a huge step. The days of outdated information are over,” EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera said.

This collaboration allows teachers to meet students’ needs by customizing the curriculum for them in the digital FlexBook they create.

“Teachers should have a choice in designing their own curriculum to meet students at their own learning pace and in the modality choice of their learning. Partnering with EPISD on science books to start, and gradually to more subjects, we feel we can give teachers the flexibility they need and want from a content creation perspective,” Neeru Khosla, Executive Director of CK-12, said.

(915) 230-2550 • 6531 Boeing Drive • El Paso, Texas 79925-1086 
###

Vanessa Monsisvais
assistant director
public relations
915-727-3894

Sep 7

To Kill a Textbook

Okay, so it is close to an ad, but the points it makes are pretty good. Etexts are the future. Period.

Aug 8

My school district is making the move to digital textbooks, starting with high School science classes this year. Here is a little video that a local news channel did on it.

Bye Bye Textbooks

bye-bye-textbook-how-digital-devices-are-reshaping-education-infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics The Bye-Bye Textbooks! How Digital Devices Are Reshaping Education Infographic reveals shocking information about how digital devices have changed the traditional education landscape. As students become more dependent on technology, will the textbook become a thing of past? 38% of students say they cannot go more than 10 minutes without checking in with their laptop, smartphone, tablet or e-reader. 85% of students say that technology saves them time when studying. The average time saved is 2 hours per day, that’s 30 days per year! 48% of students who own digital devices say they frequently use eTEXTBOOKS. 63% say they have used an eTEXTBOOK at least once. Of the 91% of students who said they failed to complete required reading before classes, about half (46%) reported they would be more likely to complete their reading if it was in a digital format. Via: www.schools.com

Kepler 10C and the need for Digital Textbooks

We are starting to do something interesting in our school district: Create our own digital textbooks. (More on that process later!) I thought I would share something that we used to highlight the need to a digital text, one that can be upgraded at a moment’s notice over the “traditional” textbooks that we have all grown to love but have grown stale over the course of years.

When we were explaining to a group the need for digital texts, we had them take out their cell phones and look up information about Kepler 10C. Go ahead, you can do it right now.

We then asked these questions:

When was the news about Kepler 10C’s size announced?

If you had a traditional textbook, what would be the chances of there being any kind of mention of something like Kepler 10 C in it?

If you wanted your students to know about Kepler 10C and that information was not in a textbook, where would you send them to find it?

How long would it take for a textbook company to catch up with information like Kepler 10C and get that info INTO a textbook?

The point of that exercise was to demonstrate that the model of the old paper textbook is, if not dead, on extreme life support. Every single person we asked would have sent their students to the internet to get the information.

Of course, you can use any recent event as an example, but since we were working in science, we thought that Kepler 10C was an appropriate example.

In Texas, we have the opportunity to use textbook funds to purchase digital devices for instruction, such as iPads and Chromebooks, or even laptops.

OER and Creative Commons materials make buying textbooks even less of a value proposition.

20 Ways to Bring Your Textbook to Life! : Teacher Reboot Camp

Nice set of tools and ideas to make traditional paper textbooks more interactive.

Of course, iBooks Author does most of these things…

From the article:

Your textbook is just another tool in your teacher’s instructional kit. The problem is that for many of us it becomes a crutch when we first begin lesson planning. The textbook can be very useful for planning curriculums and lessons. It is a framework and guide that provides us a general overview of what should be covered within our classes. However, for our learners the textbook is often boring and tedious. No learner wants to spend hours sitting down reading or answering questions from a textbook for an entire year.

Open Education Resource List: Possible Textbook Replacements

Many districts are thinking of replacing the old paper text (and the associated costs) with digital versions. Here is a list our district is generating. Feel free to share. Feel free to add to it.

The more we get the better!

Apr 2

Out of Print: Reimaging the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age

From the SETDA website:

The benefits of digital content for student learning are many. Digital content can easily be kept up to date and relevant to students’ lives without the cost of reprinting or redistributing print materials. It can be made available anytime and anywhere, both online and offline, accessible when the student, teacher or parent needs it, whether from home, school, or another location. And digital content can be far richer and engaging, including not only text, but also high-definition graphics, video clips, animations, simulations, interactive lessons, virtual labs and online assessments.

Out of Print makes the case for the digital difference and how digital content can positively affect student learning and engagement, make accommodations for special learning needs, provide unbundled search and discovery, and provide support for personalized learning. It also provides profiles of four states – Indiana, Texas, Utah, and Virginia – and summarizes actions of policymakers from nearly half the states to encourage digital content. Research behind to the paper revealed seven success factors for making the shift to digital content: sustainable funding for devices, robust internet connectivity, up-to-date policies, prepared educators, intellectual property and reuse rights, quality control and alignment to standards, and state and local leadership buy-in. This research led to three recommendations:

Complete the shift from print-centric textbook adoption practices to digital resources no later than the 2017-18 school year.
Develop a vision and roadmap for completing this shift that includes eliminating unnecessary regulations and enacting supportive policies, investing in infrastructure and devices to support the shift, and ensuring effective implementation of digital policies.
Ensure a vibrant marketplace for digital and open content.

Click here to download the report

"We went to digital because it makes for better learning," says Frank Portanova, vice principal at Stepinac. "This is the way kids learn today. And the online content is a lot richer. You’ve got assessments, you’ve got virtual labs, you’ve got blogging." The online history books, for example, include videos on subjects ranging from Woodrow Wilson to Malcolm X. The science books show scientific processes in motion. The English books grade an essay and offer a student a worksheet on the proper use of commas if it’s needed. Students can highlight passages or leave notes to themselves in the margins, without ruining the book for anyone else. All the books are available to all the students, so a junior can look back at the freshman algebra book to review a concept. Students can click to find every reference to "osmosis," say, in all the books. The school’s technology director, Patricia Murphy, says the textbooks have been updated three times this semester alone.

- NY school goes all-in on digital textbooks - NBC News.com (via infoneer-pulse)