Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Death of legitimacy? Perhaps. MACMILLAN, I'm looking at you.

So! Who's heard of Macmillan's newest and coolest thing? It's called DynamicBooks! And it may or may not be a completely horrible idea.

DynamicBooks is a software put out by publishing magnate Macmillan that allows professors and teachers to basically rewrite textbooks. It is quite brilliant to allow them to delete one chapter, add syllabi, etc, but where does it cross a line? I think I can tell you that one.

Professors can completely rewrite phrases, sentences, paragraphs, whole pages. Whatever the hell they want. Without consulting anyone about it.

Here, let me quote Brian Napack, president of Macmillan: "Basically they will go online, log on to the authoring tool, have the content right there and make whatever changes they want.... And we don’t even look at it."

Um, what?

So let me sum it up. Your children could be reading something that their teachers COMPLETELY MADE UP and pass it off as being in a textbook. Granted, most professors have integrity and would not do that, but there are definitely some that are a little off their rockers out there in the great wide world.

The publisher still has the right and ability to remove anything offensive or any plagiarism, but they completely rely on their consumers to alert them to the problems.

I will admit that there are many pros to this setup here, but I think the possibilities for failure are far too many and too dire for me to want to support something like this. I don't like it when random people can take licenses with other people's work. Write your own damn textbook if you want it to say something different.

Read the New York Times article on it here.


Gregg said...

This showed up on my buzz, did you do that intentionally, or did it just happen because google owns blogger?

MGall31087 said...

wow this is ridiculous. i definitely can think of at least 3 teachers right off the bat i had that would completely change the author's message. I agree if they don't like what the book says they can just use their own lesson plan, not pretend that it's from legitimate sources.

Molloy said...

I am actually going to weigh in on the other side. I don't think this is really that big of a deal.

Perhaps that's because I don't believe that a textbook has 'authenticity' or 'legitamacy' simply because it has been produced by a major publishing house. I mean, does MacMillan or Holt have any more of a monopoly on truth than your average college professor?

Apart from all their other noble purposes, the MAIN purpose textbooks serve is to SELL and sell well. More often than not, this means that they should be easily digestible to the largest segment of the market (in this case colleges faculty boards and their students). Being 'digestible' frequently doesn't coincide with 'quality' (or 'truth' for that matter) -- it just means they get their points across simply.

If a specific professor wants to add something she considers important to an online version of the textbook for their particular class that she feels the publisher purposely or inadvertantly left out, why shouldn't she be allowed to add it?

However, I do see an inherent danger in making these edits seamless and invisible. Such edits should be MANIFEST, and their authors KNOWN. At the very least, the book's original author only deserves credit (or blame) for what is their own work. I would suggest that any change be identified as such (maybe displayed in a different font or type size) with the addition's author's initials -- just so everyone knows where it can from.

Otherwise, why not?

Finally, why is MacMillan offering such a feature? My take is that it makes their textbooks even more digestable to more potential customers. Professors might not particularly care for MacMillan's presentation of their subject, but if they know they can tweak what they do not like about the text--why wouldn't they encourage their school administration to go with them?