Democratization with Digital Textbooks

Garth HolmanGarth Holman is a Middle School Social Studies teacher in Northeast Ohio and an University of Akron Professor. He and colleague Mike Pennington share ideas on at on implementing 21st century skills: collaboration, risk-taking, and reflection. Follow Garth at @garthholman on Twitter and Mike at @professormike1 to continue the conversation.


Garth Holman teaches in Beachwood City Schools outside of Cleveland, Ohio while his partner in crime, Mike Pennington, teaches about 45 miles away. His goal is for all of his students to publish their work to the web, and his Digital Textbook , which he started 8 years ago, strives to do just that. 1,600 students at 2 schools working together to create a living, student-created textbook!

How Do Kids Build Legacy and the Capacity to Do Great Things?

Garth shares his digital textbook on Wikispaces, which he describes as a “kid’s playground,” and further explains that, “through the democratization of everyone involved, we come up with the best possible answers we can get” and you can tell that by the rich media embedded in the wiki. If you want to read more about digital textbooks and the students who create them, you can check out Alan November’s “Who Owns the Learning,” and
“The Global School” created by Ohio’s own, William Kist.

How can you get started? Garth and his students began by simply discussing the standards and the topics they were required to address by the end of the year. The first iteration was just text but soon enough the class began to brainstorm about how to make the experience more interactive. Students began adding new kinds of media to round out their digital textbooks. Pages not only contained text and images that you mind find in a regular textbook, but also YouTube videos, ThingLinks, and other interactive media elements embedded right into the wiki.

Students kept a digital record of what they edited, and the Mr. Holman, was also able to view the History of any page to see its transformation over time. All of the images are Creative Commons and the text is kid-created in kid languages, for kids! Amazingly, students would even jump online during the summer simply because they were interested in seeing what was new. Nothing has been graded on this Digital Textbook- it’s all for the intrinsic motivation of having a real audience view their work. As he quotes Dan Pink, “We’re preparing our kids for the future and not the past.” The ultimate goal? Garth says it is to make an identical copy of the book from the European perspective from a European school and showcase the different perspectives– Americans learning about European history vs. those walking by castles every day!

Wiki tips for your own textbook

The potential for new projects is just amazing– students can make music video parodies inspired by History Teacher Amy Burvall from Hawaii,Skype with an actual historian about the Decameron, share an original political cartoon, or create embeddable Thinglinks and truly build all of the content themselves. Anything you can create on the internet can be embedded or tied into your Wikispaces digital textbook, and the content your students create and curate may surprise you.

Garth also has a unique and easy way of adding students to the textbook– before he sets the wiki’s permissions to Protected (public viewing rights, but only Members can make edits) he holds an “open enrollment” period at the beginning of class where he actually takes Membership requests so that his students can quickly add themselves. Then he switches off this option, but turning it on again if he gets new students during the year. We loved this idea for taking your wiki from a place where you put content as a teacher to a place where students are contributing.

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Check out more of Garth sharing this work along with our other Educator Bloggers Jessica Sullivan and Timothy King from last week’s Google Plus Hangout on Air Panel: Rockstars of the Digital Classroom! Stay tuned for more panels and webinars at 

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