The Textbook is Toast

The textbook is history, reads a post in the Duhblog.

Staying at a country inn in the English countryside decades ago, I found a plaque on my door that read, "Samuel Pepys slept here." In the mid-1600s, Pepys recorded his daily life in a diary written in code. Since he was heavily involved in building the British Navy and chasing skirts, his words make an interesting read. The Pepys Project has posted his diaries to the web as a blog.

The Pepys Project says:

    Samuel Pepys' diary is famous, and historically valuable, because of Pepys' eye for detail and unerring recounting of events both magnificant and mundane; from the Plague in 1665 to the Great Fire in 1666, to the coronation of Charles II; from where he ate, with whom and at what time he returned home; from chastising household help, to walloping his wife while they slept, Pepys' account of his world offers an incredible glimpse into the daily life of someone who lived 340 years ago.

    In my opinion, you can learn more about day-to-day life in post-Cromwellian times reading Pepys' vivid entries, than you could from a dozen strightforward history texts.

I'm not usually drawn to English history, having had my fill at prep school long ago, but a recent review in the New York Times ("I've Seen Fire, I've Seen Plague") piqued my curiosity. When a notice of the Pepys blog floated past in the blogstream, I took a look that turned into forty-five minutes of looking over Pepys's shoudler as he played politics and got laid.

Today I was following links to meta-learning on a Danish site when I came upon this:

    Duhblog: You need to spend all of about five minutes on to realize the textbook is history as the primary pedagogical tool. is not a demo. It is not even a prototype. It is the real thing. This is the revolution we were promised.

    I clicked on the Fleet-street annotation link toward the bottom of the January 1 1659/60 entry, and got a page of links including a map of London pointing out Fleet Street and links to other sites about Fleet Street. Or look at how easily and elegantly these now maturing tools and content base handle information about Lord Fairfax, a person mentioned in the diary. But why take my word. Go see yourself. It is all just a click away.

    Visualize the text books you used in school. Recall the careful selection of a single image (often reproduced in black and white) to illustrate a page of text and a sentence or two caption. Look at what is here! More drill down information than could ever be included in a text book. More content than could ever fit on a CD-ROM. More genuinely interesting IP than you could ever afford to clear rights. And all centered about a truly interactive experience with the original material.

    Look at example being set here, dammit, and shut-up about whether networked computers are useful educational tools. I can't read a dam paragraph without learning something.

"Situated learning" is instructional-design speak for dealing with the genuine article. Most often it refers to learning the job on the job. Reality trumps virtual reality. Why simulate a situation when you can just as well deal with the genuine article? (Which would Pepys have preferred with his maid, real sex or simulated sex?)

Unless you've got a time machine handy, you won't be visiting seventeenth-century England, but reading Pepys and using your imagination will get you closer than any lecture or history text or eLearning session.

Posted by Jay Cross at January 25, 2003 09:03 AM | TrackBack

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