Is Ease of Publishing a Game-Changer in Higher Ed?

Decreases in campus book shelves, resources in the cloud, tablets all around; textbook publishing has certainly changed, hasn’t it? Open up any web browser and the options seem limitless. One can find almost anything and anyone may have put it there. But, is this new ease in publishing online really a game-changer for higher ed?

1. See this book? At the first tab, a paper copy of this book can be purchased. At the second tab, the full text can be downloaded as a PDF for FREE! The user can then access it from any device or print it out or both. The editors, who are also professors at Athabasca, wanted this information to be open and they say so right in the introduction! I think we have hit a point where multiple delivery options will soon become the norm AND THE MAJOR PUBLISHING HOUSES ARE COMING LATE TO THE GAME (because they are profit driven, of course).

It used to be that the major publishing houses were the only way to get content out there into the world. They drove the entire process of authors, content, editing, marketing, distribution, EVERYTHING; and consumers had to find a library or a book store to get the contents of that book for themselves. Not anymore. That game has already changed.

So, ease of publishing is increasing the availability of content (both open and at a cost) while opening up options for delivery, because the consumer can still decide how to interact with the contents. It is just that if they prefer paper, they now have to use their own equipment and supplies to produce the copy. If the content is not open, the questions will then become – do we, as consumers, pay for all options as a package or do we have to choose how to interact with the content in order to control our costs?

2. One of my current courses has no text, yet we are reading relevant content every week. Content that is free. Content that people put online with the intention of sharing, teaching, learning, building, changing. If you doubt me on some of those intentions, read the intro in the above book. Now, the content is relevent because someone – I am assuming our instructor – has taken the time to review and select appropriate resources on our behalf.

So, the heavy lifting of filtering through the muck to find the tiny bits of gold has already been done for us and that’s a really big deal. Due to that effort, we are not tied to a text with potentially outdated content and organization and additional resources that don’t match the instructional goals and learning objectives of the course (just because some other entity decided the text is appropriate for learning about Web 2.0 tools).

Now, this works particularly well because our subject matter is quickly evolving. However, at the current accelerated rate of knowledge production, reevaluation, and revision, even the hard sciences are updating information. Think of all those school kids who are still using science textbooks that say Pluto is a planet…

So, my point here is that teachers are seeing the benefits – beyond cost reduction – of using online resources and the potential for online resources to replace a text and they are willing to put in the effort to find those resources and integrate them into their instruction (and continually reevaluate and potentially update them, too).

Now, as a learner, I have a choice for how I interact with those resources and I happen to take advantage of both electronic and paper copies. Yes, I print out everything for every course and I organize it in a binder. Having both options allows me to access the material however, whenever, and from wherever it happens to suit me AND I LOVE THAT!

3. OK, so when I learned about instructional design, I created a 72-page workshop for teaching suicide prevention strategies to teens. It’s in the cloud now, but not because I really thought it was good enough for someone to use it as it is. After all, that was the first instructional design that I ever did in my life!

But, maybe it will give someone else an idea. Or maybe someday I will have cause to return to it and improve it or repurpose it. If so, I’ll head on over to Scribd and find it there. Anyone can publish anything they want to into the cloud, but just because it is there does not mean that it is of any particular use, value, or quality. Only the reader can really decide that.

So, in closing, we are no longer limited to consuming whatever a publishing company decides to feed us. We don’t even have to stick our noses in a paper book if we don’t want to. Now we have more options – more freedom – to choose our content and how to view it. But, what comes with freedom? It’s responsibility. We need to become critical consumers. We need to make educated decisions about the information available in order to filter it. After all, you can’t just believe everything that you read! ;-)

Kittens and puppies make everything cuter, don't you think?

What do you think? Is ease of publishing a game-changer in higher education?

Believe it or not, when I started this argument I did not believe that ease of publishing is a game-changer for higher education. I even said so, in no uncertain terms, in an online course discussion. Now, somewhere amid the review of this blog post, I have reevaluated my position and convinced myself otherwise. Reflection is a gift that comes along with blogging. That is why blogging can be such a great learning tool!

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