Macmillan to allow professors to change textbooks online, on the fly

Writers can edit textbooks on the fly with new softwareMacmillan, one of the largest textbook publishers in the world, is introducing a new software for instructors that will allow them to change the online versions of textbooks that their students use.

According to the New York Times, with DynamicBooks, "Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations."

Dynamic indeed.

Used responsibly, it seems innocuous enough. A professor could delete a few paragraphs of excessive detail to shorten a reading assignment and allow students to focus on the more important points -- that is, the handful of students who actually do the assigned reading for their classes.

On the other hand, a Holocaust-denying professor (like Northwestern University's Arthur Butz) could also, in theory, delete the Holocaust from the textbook for a class on World War II. A conservative professor could cut and paste sections of Sarah Palin's memoir into a class on American politics.

The danger with the software is that, in an era where students, parents, and other observers are increasingly concerned about professors using their classes to indoctrinate rather than educate, textbooks offered an alternative view. Textbooks have historically been fact-checked, peer-reviewed, and line-edited prior to publication. Now, that can all be undone by a renegade adjunct faculty member who wants to teach his version of reality.

Now, professors have been given the ability to bowdlerize (so-named for a Victorian editor who re-published the works of Shakespeare to eliminate sexual content) textbooks at will so that course materials correspond with the views they propagate during lectures.
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