The coursebook I want

I and a lot of ELT teachers I admire spend a lot of time dissing, cutting down, criticising, mocking, disparaging and complaining about coursebooks. So I’d like to look at the other side for a moment: what kind of coursebook would I want? Well, glad you asked:

A platform

My ideal coursebook wouldn’t be a book at all, but a platform. I love opening books, but when it comes to a collaborative learning experience the one thing a book is is closed. In terms of platforms, I want something simple, accessible, sharable and open. Something like Google Drive. Wait, not just like Google Drive, but maybe Google Drive itself, because there’s nothing I hate more than proprietary platforms that want to gobble up your time, energy and resources and then collapse, or not get updated, or just plain suck. Google’s not going anywhere, it gets updated, and lots of people like myself already use it for a lot of other stuff. So, if not Google, my coursebook would work within a popular, easy and ubiquitous platform (not simply try to imitate one).

Curated

The pro-coursebook argument that’s hard to beat is that it saves the busy teacher (or the one keenly aware of how much her out-of-class time is really worth) time. So I imagine a sort of expert teacher working in each country as content curator, finding and publishing a curated selection of 5 or so new texts a day. But of course you’re not bound to use the curated texts: you could do it too.

Connected

This daily list would continue to grow until it contained hundreds or thousands of texts. Or rather, it wouldn’t contain them, but link to them, because I want my students seeing the contexts in which these texts ― academic articles, opinion pieces, blog posts, film scripts, poems etc. ― were really published.

Customizable

At any point in the term you set a number of filters based on your location, student preferences, or favorite sites, and the coursebook would indicate texts and sources that might be of interest (and show you fewer or no texts outside your areas of interest).

Automated to help text selection

Any text “imported” (linked) into the coursebook would be cataloged and automatically tagged with an estimated CEFR level, word-count, estimated reading time per CEFR level (how long would it take a C1 student to read vs a C2 student), as well as a number of useful searchable tags relating to topic, variety of English, register, occurrence of grammar and lexis. This would all make the task of finding texts within the system much, much easier for the busy teacher.

Automated to help task creation

In one click, you switch from the text at its original source to a bare-bones, text-only “workshop” version that you could manipulate at will. The platform would also come with a series of tools that allow you to instantly create a variety of different activities, including gap fills based on various parameters (e.g. removing prepositions, auxiliary verbs or all function words). A variety of exam formats would also be supported, like the Cambridge Use of English tasks.

You could work with these text-activities online, in class, if your students use tablets/computers, or you could print them out. Or could link them as homework tasks on the evolving syllabus.

Flexible

Of course the coursebook would have no chapters, or order, but teachers could make intelligent decisions about what texts to use based on class interest or language issues that need addressing. From one week to the next the teacher could share the texts with the students to create an evolving syllabus.

Simple interface for students

This evolving syllabus would be the user interface i.e. what students see ― basically a formatted document with links, texts, etc. the teacher has placed for each lesson. Layout would be basic ― you don’t want to spend your time worrying about pagination. And you don’t want to just replicate the jam-packed tiny-font landscape of a typical coursebook spread. Just a single-column format, like a blog. But you could also give students “creator” status so they could do the same operations on a text by using the same tools that you do.

Emergent

Because the search functions work so well, when something comes up in class, like a student sees examples of inversion, and asks about, or you realize that students don’t have much vocabulary for topic X, you could easily search and find a text that would offer a context for addressing the gap.

Repetitious

You could create and share word lists from texts you’ve read. And the platform would have a series of reminders that would encourage you to recycle vocabulary/texts at set intervals. You might work on a text in class, and then 3 weeks later the platform reminds you to either recycle the vocabulary, or create a new recall activity based on that text.

Productive

The platform would also have a catalogue of communicative task types like debates, roleplays, etc. Rather than fixed any activity to that particular text, the teacher could choose an activity type and the platform would prompt her with suggestions for how to create that particular activity, including a framework for various stages. And templates would make actually writing up activities for distribution (either in paper or electronically) to students faster and easier.

Social

Each of the texts would come with an “access community” feature, and you could share what you did or see what other teachers have done with a specific text, as well as what texts were used before and after it. Teachers could comment and share opinions, difficulties, and classroom reactions to texts. Texts that generate a lot of interest might get more visibility on the platform, while others, that generate no interest or uptake, could get phased out.

Supportive of teacher development

To start with, the platform would offer tips and suggestions to teachers about how to set up activities, prompts for writing comprehension questions, what texts to pair together, and even offer reminders to try other activity types. But, with the teacher’s consent, the platform’s “voice” would gradually get muted as the teacher grows in experience and internalizes frameworks or task types.

But even with the training wheels off, formatting options would still be accessible so you could create e.g. exam task activities that look like the real thing.

Conclusion

Yes, there’s a learning curve with any platform (or any new coursebook series), but the idea would be to help teachers save time sourcing texts and creating tasks, so that they could have more energy to devote to being in the class itself (discussing, debating, revising). And the tags, reminders and search functions would help teachers build internal consistency and repetition into a course that’s not fixed in advance but evolves as it goes.

 

Well, what about it? Is that the kind of coursebook you’d use? Or have you got something better?

 

 

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Author: Kyle Dugan

EFL teacher based in Italy. I blog on ELT at dynamiteelt.wordpress.com and tweet @kyletdugan

7 thoughts on “The coursebook I want”

  1. Ambitious ideas, Kyle­, though it`s not altogether unlike certain in-house produced curricula that I`ve seen, particularly within EAP streams. Your ideas do, in fact, take such a set of texts and lessons and adds a number of features that would be awesome, particularly within one platform rather than spread across several (e.g. we use Gdrive for housing assignment sheets and texts, meeting notes, etc.; but Facebook and/or Slack for teacher collaboration and social discussion, etc.). I’d like to see a space also where students from many contexts could annotated shared texts, which could be turned on or off by teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tyson — in fact I was wondering if there already is something like this. I’ve never used some of the big edutech platforms. And in fact like you I do use Google Drive for a lot of this stuff — that is, all except the automated and interactive stuff. But I know that listening tools like TubeQuizzard can produce instant gapfills. And I know there are social media apps like Crowdfire that can source and share content for you based on your interests and those of your followers/friends. Like you said, the trick is getting it all in one place — and keep it a semi-open place — that everyone could plug in to.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Was only thinking about this very Q over the weekend. Seeing tweets from IH bcn conference about CBs, listening skills etc got me dreaming! Lots of cracking ideas in yr post & the evolving nature of your suggested format makes it very appealing. What would it take for this to actually happen? Crowd-funding anybody?!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. SLB Coop are working on something very similar to this. It does take time because, due to the poor quality of AI, it needs human intelligence. There is no automatic cut and paste but there are ideas about online practice and teacher assisted text work. Keep your eyes open!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Kyle,

    I read this a few days ago; meant to comment, but got distracted.

    There’s lots of really good stuff in here and there are just so many different things to discuss. I admire your attempt to actually DO it – as Marc’s been saying, we have to try to present real alternatives. Marc also mentions that we’re working on something similar in SLB, but very early days, which is why I’d rather not say too much yet.

    I guess my main worry is that I’m not happy with trying to get ANY coursebook together – even one that tries so hard to tackle the weaknesses of the main stream ones as yours does. But anyway, I’m sure we can all work our way through these doubts and differences and build on each others’ ideas.

    So well done you; I repeat there’s some great stuff in here and great potential for further work. Thanks a lot.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for commenting, Geoff! I don’t know if I’m actually doing anything, though — just imagining (but not creating) what I think might be an alternative. You all, on the other hand, sound like you’ve got something in the works and I look forward to hearing more about it.

      I suspect that if somebody foisted even my ideal coursebook/platform on me I’d be resistant, too, especially it came stamped with a logo from one of the usual suspects. But putting heads and resources together with likeminded teachers and a half-way decent, if limited, platform seems like it would be a great first step.

      Like

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