Online material offers a free and worthy alternative to traditional textbooks in many districts

free-resourcesTextbooks, those long-entrenched staples of classrooms, could soon be pushed from their place of prominence by a high-tech alternative: online lessons that can be downloaded, customized and updated — all at will, and all for free.

The online material offers enticing benefits as it provides more current content, appeal to students and saves schools potentially big money. San Jose Unified, for example, spends $1 million annually on textbooks.

For some time, textbook publishers and software developers have marketed digital lessons to schools. But unlike Apple’s proposition to replace books with more costly iPad lessons, the movement for “open educational resources” focuses on free material, created and curated by educators.

“We’re just at the initial stages of a revolution in education,” said Matt Chamberlain, principal of Venture School, an independent study school in the San Ramon Unified School District. Selecting and managing online material is challenging, “but to put resources in kids’ hands is very exciting.”

Added Venture biology teacher Maureen Allison, “There’s so much potential, so much rich stuff out there.”

Next page: Efforts to collect and spread free online resources