Tuesday, October 21, 2008

eTextbook Google 10 to the 100th Application

This is my second proposal for Google's 10 to the 100th project. Thank you everyone for the corrections and comments on the first one. This one is likely to be a bit rougher, but it isn't nearly as complicated so hopefully it will be almost as good.

8. Your idea's name (maximum 50 characters):

eTextbook – The evolving textbook

10. What one sentence best describes your idea? (maximum 150 characters)

eTextbook is a collaborative digital textbook that provides explanations for all different learning styles for K-12 and beyond.

11. Describe your idea in more depth. (maximum 300 words)

Print textbooks are obsolete in the information age. Schools spend millions of dollars every year buying textbooks that serve the learning styles of only a few groups of students. This makes them either too challenging for some or not challenging enough for others. Each school district uses different versions and publishers, making education inconsistent and inefficient.

While many textbooks come with supplemental materials, they are mostly inadequate and underdeveloped. My wife is a high school math teacher and constantly needs to create her own problems and projects to ensure that students are appropriately challenged. Not every teacher has the time or expertise to do this. Some materials are shared online, but it isn’t consistent and doesn’t always tie to curriculum.

The eTextbook will solve all these issues because materials can be shared by teachers and primary sections can be continually updated by experts. It will cover all subjects, providing links between history, science, math, language, and art. Digital ink is now a reality with readers already available for under $400, given economies of scale and advances, new versions will soon cost the same as a single textbook. Instead of lugging around multiple textbooks, students will have a durable reader that lasts all throughout their schooling. eTextbook won’t be limited by size either. If students need different explanations of concepts, it will be right at their fingertips.

Given success in developed countries, extremely high quality educational materials can be provided to developing countries at a very low cost. The OLPC is a nice idea, but its approach was backwards. Building the technology before the curriculum has left it disconnected from the day to day needs of a classroom. eTextbook will start with developing the curriculum first and will be available in a wide variety of formats, even perhaps helping the OLPC.

12. What problem or issue does your idea address? (maximum 150 words)

eTextbook will be a key to advancing education throughout the world. Static print caters to only a few learning styles, leaving many students struggling. eTextbook will provide learning approaches for all groups of students. Students and teachers will be able to provide corrections, share supplemental materials, and suggest alternative explanations.

eTextbook will be dynamic, unfolding individual steps to solutions of a problem, allowing students to move past where they get stuck without jumping straight to the answer.

eTextbook will link our knowledge back together as it was actually discovered in the real world. Science, math, art, and literature all occurred within the context of our history. The segmentation of our knowledge is not only inaccurate, but leaves the living connection behind.

Education is a fundamental human right. Since eTextbook will be freely available online, anyone that can be given access will able to access the entire world’s knowledge.

13. If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how? (maximum 150 words)

eTextbook would most benefit children all over the world. It will also help educators by allowing them to focus more on the classroom and student progress instead of having to spend valuable time creating new materials. eTextbook will also help adults that need to learn or relearn materials so that they can help their children with homework or to return to formal education in the quest for better jobs.

14. What are the initial steps required to get this idea off the ground? (maximum 150 words)

Much of what is needed is already available, but there needs to be an organized consortium to create the eTextbook. Wiki’s already provide a collaborative medium. Electronic ink readers provide a portable interface for students. The main challenge will be creating and organizing the content. It will need to be organized by the grade levels, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the content has to be the same as it is today. eTextbook will give educators the freedom to rearrange the curriculum allowing them to introduce simplified versions of more advanced concepts earlier in education. There will likely need to be funding to support the consortium and for purchasing readers for pilot studies. If the efficacy of the program can be proven within the first couple years, government funding should also be able to help with development.

15. Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure it? (maximum 150 words)

The first year will primarily be about creating the consortium, and researching the organizational structure of eTextbook. I would like to see hundreds of educators and tens of institutions involved in these first stages. Curriculum should start with grade school materials that can be used in classrooms and evaluated and advanced with each year. Within 5 years there should be materials for all of K-12 education, with higher education rapidly expanding.

17. You may also submit 1 YouTube video (max 30 seconds long) explaining your project.

Coming if YouTube ever comes back online! - Well it didn't come back online in time, but here is is anyway:

18. If you'd like to recommend a specific organization, or the ideal type of organization, to execute your plan, please do so here. (maximum 50 words)

No time obviously, but I'd still be interesting in hearing from those interested in case this makes it to the second round in January.

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