Moving From Traditional to Electronic Textbooks – How EPISD did it. (Part 1)

January 30, 2015 | admin

This blog post is the first part of a series of post by our Guest Author: Tim Holt, Instructional Tech Director at El Paso ISD, Texas. It first appeared on Tim’s blog and been republished here with permission. Tim has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Instruction, and another in Education Leadership. Tim has been in the education field for over 27 years, first as a teacher, then an education facilitator, a researcher, and a Director of Instructional Technology.


I think that many people are hesitant to make a move to Open Education Resources (OER) because they think that Free = Cheap. While that CAN be the case, I also think that paid textbooks are also not always the best they can be. I remember my days teaching and running across spelling errors, incorrect information in general, wrong answers in the teacher’s editions and mislabelled pictures. Expensive does not always equate to quality either.

Looking at some of the free resources that are now available and readily accessible to anyone, I think that many of us would be hard pressed to say that some do not have the quality of traditional texts. And being online, many of these have advantages that paper texts do not have. For instancetake a look at the Big History Project, an online course that presents history from the Big Bang to the present. Totally free.

Surely no one will argue that E.O. Wilson’s free iBook “Life On Earth” and the corresponding curricula that is attached to it on the iTunes Books Store is not both at a level found in traditional textbooks but probably at a level that exceeds that created by the major publishers. And it is free.

So now the conversation shifts away from DO we want to use OER materials, to the more interesting WHAT OER materials do we want to use? The embarrassment of riches could cause a district to have a paralysis of choice: Too many choices, so we choose none.

Luckily for EPISD, we had already been familiar with the work of the CK12 Foundation, started by Neeru Khosla and Murugan Pal. The purpose of the foundation was to provide high quality no cost textbooks in the STEM fields to anyone or any organization that needed them.

I had first heard about them at the 2012 TCEA Conference. CK12 just happened to have the textbooks that matched the core content area that was up for adoption: High School Biology, Chemistry and Physics. CK12 offers something called Flexbooks, which are, as the name implies, Flexible textbooks that can be modified by the end user, whether that user is a district, a teacher or even a student.


What makes the Flexbooks “flexible?” A district can become a curator of content from any of the other Flexbooks that are offered and mash up the content into their own book. For instance, if a district has a curricular sequence that does not match the sequence of the book chapters and subchapters can be rearranged to match the district’s sequence. If the district has a scope that includes content not in a particular book, sections and even entire chapters can be copied into the district’s Flexbook. Conversely, if there are topics that are not being addressed, those can be simply cut from the book.

Non-CK12 content can also be added the flex books. For instance, information about a new planet or the topical Ebola Virus can be added into the book, or a new Youtube video can be embedded. None of that could be done with a traditional textbook. And it was free. Best price ever!

After seeing and understanding the possibilities of the Flexbooks offered by CK12, EPISD then contacted the organization in order to find out if other districts had tried what we were attempting to do. Apparently, not too many districts in Texas had attempted to do what we were proposing to do: Dump the traditional publisher-created textbook model and create our own. However , the state of Utah had done exactly that a few years previously. Over a quick series of webinars, Google hangouts and phone calls, the folks at CK12 agreed to help the district create four books: High School Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.

We had matched the move to the adoption cycle, we had gathered a database of information and we had now chosen a way to go with the CK12 Foundation and the textbooks. The next thing we needed to do was gather up a team that could put all of this together.

After working with CK12 and these books I believe that every district can do exactly what we did. I encourage you to explore the world of digital texts. It is the 21st century, we should at least be considering 21st century solutions. You know deep down that digital texts are the future. Why not start now? CK12 , I believe, is a great place to start.