Online multimedia textbooks: A strategic investment
Honorable Margaret Spellings
United States Department of
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202-7100
Dear Secretary Spellings,
The United States Department of Education currently administers a budget of
approximately $56 billion per year in discretionary monies. I am sending this
letter to encourage the Department to make a relatively small, but extremely
strategic, investment that would pay enormous dividends for our nation's
elementary and secondary students.
For $200 million per year, the Department could create phenomenal,
mind-blowing online multimedia textbooks that could be used by students all
across the country. Imagine 50 teams, each made up of individuals who took a
paid sabbatical for one year, working to create rigorous, standards-based,
online textbooks that included text, graphics, electronic presentations, audio,
video, simulations, learning games, interactive problem-solving and review
activities, etc. The teams could be comprised as follows:
- 16 expert teachers * $100,000 each = $1,600,000
Four teachers plus a professor plus two programmers equals a workgroup; four
workgroups per team. Each team receives ongoing feedback from a representative
from an appropriate national organization (e.g., National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics, National Council for Social Studies), has an assistive technology
expert to ensure content accessibility by students with disabilities, and has a
project manager to keep the workgroups moving along. The workgroups create
content; post that content online as they go along for review, comment, and
input from others; and, over the course of a year, create several units each
that add up to a complete, amazing, deep, rich online multimedia textbook.
Each year would see the completion of 50 textbooks. Over three or four years,
these Department-sponsored teams would create 150 to 200 textbooks for common,
key courses (e.g., Algebra I, Physics I, AP English, United States History, 5th
grade reading) that are present in nearly every school district nationwide.
Textbook content would be refreshed every three or four years to ensure content
relevance and usage of the latest digital technologies. If the textbooks were
wiki-based, much of the content could be revised and updated even before their
refresh cycle came due.
Once created, these textbooks then could be hosted by the Department, state
departments of education, and other entities or could be downloaded for hosting
on local school district servers. Federal provision of these textbooks would
free states and school districts to spend funds on laptops, classroom-level
high-speed wireless connectivity, and other technologies necessary to ensure the
global competitiveness of our students in the decades to come. All textbook
material would be free and openly accessible to our nation's K-12 students and
I hope that you can see the instructional power of teachers and students
tapping into expert-created content delivered via the latest interactive,
engaging digital technologies. Although a few organizations (e.g., Wikibooks or
Curriki) are attempting to create free online textbooks or learning materials,
their reliance on volunteers has resulted in relatively little progress. A
strategic investment by the Department could make an extremely powerful
contribution to the K-12 educational landscape and would be a powerful lever
toward ensuring that all students had access to top-quality, engaging learning
Please consider instituting a national online textbook initiative. I believe
that this is an idea whose time has come and would welcome the opportunity to
discuss this further with you.
Dr. Scott McLeod
Assistant Professor, Department of Educational
Policy and Administration
Director, UCEA Center for the Advanced Study
Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE)
Affiliate Faculty, Law
University of Minnesota
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