Our Technology Advisory Committee recently reviewed two online textbooks as part of our study of electronic course materials. We are seeking opportunities to save money, reduce backpack weight, and reach a greater variety of learners. The the two online textbooks were so far apart in quality and instructional features! I find it problematic to recommend that all teachers give the online textbooks in their subject areas a closer look.
Discovering Algebra and Discovering Geometry (Key Curriculum Press) were extremely limited. The website presents an online version of the book that is reasonably easy to navigate. You can page through the document or jump to a specific chapter or page. Interactive features are limited to highlighting glossary terms and looking up answers to practice problems. It is little more than the textbook in online form. That saves backpack weight but otherwise offers little additional value. At the time of writing, both online texts were not available due to “technical issues.”
Imagina, from Vista Higher Learning, was completely the opposite. Less of an online text and more of an online learning environment, their website offers quizzes, videos, voice recording, synchronized audio readings of texts, PowerPoint teacher presentations, lesson plans, differentiated exams, a basic learning management system, assignments calendar, gradebook, and for an additional fee, electronic conferencing features. My goodness! Students get all of this at half the price of the textbook (which our students don’t buy). The teacher builds course instruction around the many resources available through their website. You can try out the demo on their website.
If Imagina represents the future of the online textbook, then we are heading somewhere wonderful. How many companies will produce website resources of this sophistication and usefulness?