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The Last Frontier of Education Independence
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The Last Frontier of Education Independence

by Tim Holt



As Texans, we love our independence. As a state, we started out as our own independent country and pretty much everywhere you drive in Texas. people will tell ya'il they're "Texans first" before any other allegiance is mentioned. As a matter of fact we love our independence so much that we call our school districts "Independent School Districts". We think so much of the way we do education we think our "standards" are better than anyone else's. Independent. It's what we are, it's in our bones.

As Texans, we are independent except when it comes to textbooks. With textbooks we're very dependent on others to select them, to write them/ to publish them and to sell them to us. (We even ignore those pesky little "Made in New York City" references on the publisher's pages.) Why are we so dependent on published text- books? The EI Paso ISD asked that exact question during the recent science textbook adoption and came up with the answer that maybe we shouldn't be so dependent anymore. Maybe we needed to be a little more "independent" when it came to science textbooks. That independent spirit led EPISD to create their own science textbooks, and in the process saved the district close to $2 million.

Using readily available free science textbooks from an organization called, the district was able to create their own online textbooks using the CK12 books as sort of a backbone. Biology, Physics, Chemistry and IPC were all created with science teachers as curators of the books. The CK12 books allow curators to draw from a wide variety of books and to essentially copy and paste content from any of their books into a single textbook. In the old days, we equated "Free" with "Bad" or substandard. However, with the information explosion that is the internet, free is now altruistic. Organizations that once made money off of information no longer do so and put the information out for everyone to use. Such is the case with many online textbooks and textbook materials such as CKl 2.

Once the textbooks were created, they were posted online where anyone, including any district in Texas, can use them free of charge. You can see the textbooks here:


Digital textbooks, rich with embedded video and audio, as well as interactives like PHET simulations and embedded quizzes are a much richer and deeper experience for students than any paper text could ever hope to be. Which would you rather use as a student? That question is almost like asking which is better experience for the user: Color or black and white TV? Stereo or mono? Digital cameras or film? What did EPISD do with the $2 million it did not spend on texts? That Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) funding was reallocated to purchase student electronic devices instead. Beginning in the Spring of 2015, all EPISD high school science students enrolled in one of these four courses will receive a laptop that can be used not only in science, but in all classes.

There are many reasons why a district might consider creating their own textbooks using the Open Education Resources that are readily avail¬able to anyone with an internet connection. Some of these include:


Textbooks are no longer the sole source of in-formation or the curriculum in a classroom, but rather another resource.

  1. In our current fast paced world, information changes more quickly than publishers can keep up with. Digital texts can be updated and correct¬ed much more rapidly than paper texts can.
  2. Freeing up IMA funds allows districts to use funds for other academic materials, such as digital devices.
  3. Being in charge of their own textbooks allows districts to adapt books to their curricula, instead of having to adapt their curricula to the book.
  4. Replacement costs drop to nothing.
  5. Teachers can modify the CK12 textbooks to meet their needs.
  6. Digital texts can be read on a variety of devices, from iPads to laptops.
  7. Teachers now become empowered with the ability to edit textbooks as they see fit.
  8. Many online OER textbooks also have related materials that embed nicely into them. It is not just all about Youtube.
  9. Students can keep all of their textbooks forever since they are stored online. And they cannot be lost!

That Texas spirit of independence is alive and well in far west Texas. EPISD is not hesitating to try a new and daring independent experiment withdigital textbooks. So far, the results look promising.

For more links on OER:

Tim Halt is the Director of Instructional Technology in the EI Paso Independent School District. He is a farmer President of STAT. You his blog at:

The Science Teachers Association of Texas



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