Once upon a time in universities around Australia, students would purchase the prescribed list of textbooks. For some it was an expensive practice: over $800 a semester.   Others would turn to textbook piracy. Some students would just go without the text at all.

The golden book period for textbooks is over.  It’s time for higher education and publishers to shift focus away from the single tome-like text for curriculum and embrace excellent content creation and aggregation for blended and online learning.

At its simplest, content can be in the form of rent or buy etextbooks. Features like easy search, flashcards, review questions and disaggregated content is a step-up but hardly progressive and isn’t a solution to the cost problem.

Another option is Open Educational Resources, not just solving cost issues but providing other benefits too.  For years, an army of dedicated believers have been crusading for freely accessible and openly licensed teaching and learning materials to reuse, share, revise or remix.  See this lovely example of Business Ethics or tap into resources like Lumen Learning, MITOpenCourseware, TUDelft OpenCourseWare or the Open Textbook Library.

Content is also increasingly taking the form of digital learning assets, both interactive and adaptive.  This goes beyond simply text-based resources and embraces the principles of active learning.

Examples include interactive digital development platforms such as Smart Sparrow, personalised learning such as Knewton, gamification such as this example by Associate Professor Gillian Vesty and Viktor Arity, and the multitude of learning asset creation tools in LMSs such as Canvas.  The extension of this concept involves students creating or co-creating their own content.

The last chapter of the textbook is approaching.  As new forms of content creation and aggregation emerge, a few questions arise.  Are academics expected (or capable) of creating this type of content?  What does the publishing company of the future look like? and how can we ensure that student-content interactions are designed for student learning?


Professor Claire Macken is  Associate DVC (Learning and Teaching) in the College of Business and Law at RMIT University.


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