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Online Textbooks Let Teachers Freely Alter Content

electronic-textbooksTechnology is changing the classroom in all sorts of questionable ways this week. This latest innovation is not nearly as nefarious as schools using webcams to check up on students at home, but it does raise some serious ethical questions.

Macmillan, one of the nation’s largest textbook publishers, is launching new software called DynamicBooks, which will allow professors to customize online textbooks. According to the New York Times, “Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations.”

That is, without consulting the textbook publisher or author–or alerting students, parents, or anyone else–professors will be able to alter historical facts and scientific principles. Students will then be able to download these customized e-textbooks to their laptops or I-phones.

No doubt the majority of professors will use their increased power for good–expanding sections that are most pertinent to their particular curriculum, for instance. But there’s also no doubt that there will be at least some professors who rewrite textbooks for personal reasons, such as to reflect, or at least hint at, a belief in Intelligent Design rather than evolution.

Regardless of potential professorial abuses, it makes me nervous to see textbooks headed so clearly in the direction of electronic media. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t think it’s the same mental experience to sit in a Starbucks with your I-phone (text message break!) as to sit in a spacious, silent library with a heavy book opened before you, pen in hand poised to take notes.

Would you be wary of sending your kid to a school that used DynamicBooks, or excited to see a college making use of the latest technological innovations?

Image: U of T Magazine

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