About the book – and how to use it

i. Why this book?

Teachers, instructors and faculty are facing unprecedented change, with often larger classes, more diverse students, demands from government and employers who want more accountability and the development of graduates who are workforce ready, and above all, we are all having to cope with ever changing technology. To handle change of this nature, teachers and instructors need a base of theory and knowledge that will provide a solid foundation for their teaching, no matter what changes or pressures they face.

Although the book contains many practical examples, it is more than a cookbook on how to teach. It addresses the following questions:

  • is the nature of knowledge changing, and how do different views on the nature of knowledge result in different approaches to teaching?
  • what is the science and research that can best help me in my teaching?
  • how do I decide whether my courses should be face-to-face, blended or fully online?
  • what strategies work best when teaching in a technology-rich environment?
  • what methods of teaching are most effective for blended and online classes?
  • how do I make choices among all the available media, whether text, audio, video, computer, or social media, in order to benefit my students and my subject?
  • how do I maintain high quality in my teaching in a rapidly changing learning environment while managing my workload?
  • what are the real possibilities for teaching and learning using MOOCs, OERS, open textbooks?

In summary, the book examines the underlying principles that guide effective teaching in an age when everyone, and in particular the students we are teaching, are using technology.  A framework and a set of guidelines are suggested for making decisions about your teaching, while understanding that every subject is different, and every teacher and instructor has something unique and special to bring to their teaching.

In the end, though, the book isn’t really about teachers and instructors, although you are the target group. It’s about you helping your students to develop the knowledge and skills they will need in a digital age: not so much digital skills, but the thinking and knowledge that will bring them success. For that to happen, though, your students need you to be on top of your game. This book is your coach.

ii. The audience for the book

The audience I am reaching out for are primarily college and university instructors anxious to improve their teaching or facing major challenges in the classroom, such as very large numbers of students or rapidly changing curricula, and also to many school teachers, particularly in secondary or high schools anxious to ensure their students are ready for either post-secondary education or a rapidly changing and highly uncertain job market. In particular the book is aimed at teachers and instructors anxious to make the best use of technology for teaching.

I draw many of my examples from post-secondary education, but many of the principles will also apply to teachers in the school or k-12 sector, although, as a former elementary/primary school teacher, I am well aware that schools have far fewer resources and less technology support than colleges or universities.

Throughout this book, I have struggled with the term ‘instructor’, because I argue that we need to move from a transmission model of education (‘instruction’) to the facilitation of learning (‘teaching’), even or especially in post-secondary education. However, the term ‘instructor’ is often used to distinguish between post-secondary and school or k-12 systems, with ‘teachers’ being used for the latter, so throughout the book, I’ve tended to use both terms almost inter-changeably. However, my hope is that we will all eventually become teachers rather than instructors.

Lastly, although technology is a core focus of this book, I am not advocating ripping up the current human-based educational system and replacing it with a highly computerised model of teaching. I believe that although there is a great need for substantial reform, there are many enduring qualities of a well funded and publicly supported education system based on well trained and highly qualified teachers that will be hard if not impossible to replace by technology. The focus here is in making technology work for both learners and teachers.

iii. Why an ‘open’ textbook?

Although I retain the copyright through a Creative Commons CC BY license, this book is ‘open’ in all five ways described in Chapter 10:

  • re-usable: you are allowed to use all or part of the work for your own purposes (for example, you can download any part or the whole of the book, and use it in your own teaching or studies, without needing to ask for permission or to pay anything);
  • re-distributable: you can share the work with others (for example, you can e-mail a section of the book to a colleague or fellow student);
  • revisable: you can take any part of the book, and change it for your own purposes, or translate bits of it or all of it into another language, again without needing to ask for permission;
  • re-mixable: you can take parts of this book and combine them with other ‘open source’ material or resources to create a new resource (for example, take some of the podcasts from this book and combine them with text from another open textbook to create a new work);
  • retainable, which means there are no digital rights management restrictions (DRM), the content is yours to keep, whether you’re a teacher or student.

There is only one restriction on all five activities, and that is that you acknowledge me as the source (unless I am quoting someone else, or using someone else’s material, of course). Full attribution is particularly important as an example for your students, who need to acknowledge their sources! Also, if you do find the material in this book useful, I would appreciate your sending me a e-mail to tony.bates@ubc.ca with any feedback about how you are using the content, and how the book could be improved, but this is just a request, so I can improve the book and track how it is being used.

This book has been published as I wrote it, a chapter at a time. I published the first draft of most sections in my blog, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources, to get feedback. This book is published as an open textbook for many reasons, but the main one being that I see open publishing as the future for education. In a way, it is a proof of concept. I could not have done this without excellent support from BC campus, which at the time of writing is leading a major open textbook project for the provincial government of British Columbia in Canada, and without additional support from Contact North, Ontario.

iv. Independent reviews of the book

Shortly after publication of the first full draft of the book, I requested three independent experts in the field to review the book. The process that was followed, and the full, unedited reviews, can be seen in Appendix 4.

v. Different ways to use the book

If you have found your way to this book web site, you can read it off the screen at any time and anywhere. Just bookmark the home page (http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/) then click on any chapter heading or any section in the content list.

The book will download in epub, pdf, and mobi versions, so you can print out or download the whole book if you wish, for straightforward reading. In general, it is best to read the book online direct from this web site, if you can, as when it exports to different versions, sometimes the illustrations get moved around to fit the page or screen layout. Also reading on the small screen of a mobile phone may be somewhat frustrating as the graphics will be very small. Reading on tablets should not be a problem, except the graphics may not always fit as intended.

The book can also be downloaded in xHTML, Pressbooks XML, or WordPress XML from the home page, so you can edit or adapt the book or parts of the book for your own use.

The book is written on the assumption (based on research) that most reading will be done in chunks of one hour or less, so each section of a chapter can be completed in one hour at the maximum (some sections will be much shorter).

Many of the sections will have suggested activities, which mainly require you to reflect on how what you have read relates to your own work or context. These activities will usually take no more than 30 minutes each. If you want to share your thoughts with others reading the book, use the comment box at the end of each section. This will also give feedback to me and other readers doing the activities as to how you approached it. Sharing your responses to the activity in the comment box will also give me a chance to respond to your comments.

Each chapter begins with a set of learning goals for the chapter, the topics covered, a list of activities for the chapter, and the key takeaways or main points made. To access this, just click the chapter heading (e.g. Chapter 1: Fundamental Change in Education). [Note that text in red indicates a live link/url – just click on it to activate it. This doesn’t always show clearly on screens under certain conditions so run your cursor – or finger on mobile devices – over the text to see where the links are.] The arrows at each side of the page will take you either to the previous page or the next page.

There are many different ways this book could be used. Here are some suggestions:

  • straight read through (over several days) for personal use: this is probably the least likely, but there is a logical sequence and a continuous, coherent argument that builds up through the book;
  • read a specific chapter or section that is useful for you, and come back later to other sections or chapters as you need them (use this preface and/or the list of contents on the home page as a guide);
  • do the activities that follow most sections;
  • use the book as the core reading for a course (or part of a course) on how to teach in a digital age. You can use the activities I have suggested, or, if you use one of the editing formats (XHTML, Pressbooks XML or WordPress XML), you can replace the activities with your own.
  • at this stage it is NOT possible to output just sections of the book, without making special arrangements.

This book – as indeed are open textbooks in general – is a work in progress, so keep checking back to see what new features are being added over time. As new developments occur, I will try to ensure that they are incorporated so that the book stays up to date (also you can follow my blog at tonybates.ca). I intend to add podcasts giving my personal spin on each chapter, a full index will be developed to supplement the search facility, and I will be looking to make changes based on feedback from readers.

vi. An overview of the content

Chapter 1 Fundamental change in Education

This sets the stage for the rest of the book. Chapter 1 looks at the key changes that are forcing teachers and instructors to reconsider their goals and methods of teaching, In particular it identifies the key knowledge and skills that students need in a digital age, and how technology is changing everything, including the context in which we teach.

Chapters 2-5: Epistemology and teaching methods

These chapters address the more theoretical and methodological aspects of teaching and learning in a digital age. Chapter 2 covers different views on the nature of knowledge and how these understandings of knowledge influence theories of learning and methods of teaching. Chapters 3 and 4 analyse the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of teaching ranging from solely campus-based through blended to fully online. Chapter 5 looks at the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs. These chapters form a theoretical foundation for what follows.

Chapters 6-8: Media and technology

The focus in these three chapters is on how to choose and use different media and technologies in teaching, with a particular focus on the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media. Chapter 8 ends with a set of criteria and a model for making decisions about different media and technologies for teaching.

Chapters 9-10: Modes of delivery and open education

Chapter 9 addresses the question of how to determine what mode of delivery should be used: campus-based; blended or fully online. Chapter 10 examines the potentially disruptive implications of recent developments in open content, open publishing, open data and open research. This chapter above all is a messenger of the radical changes to come to education.

Chapter 11 and Appendix 1: Ensuring quality in teaching in a digital age

These take two different but complementary approaches to the issue of ensuring high quality teaching in a digital age. Chapter 11 suggests nine pragmatic steps for designing and delivering quality teaching in a highly digital teaching context. Appendix 1 looks at all the necessary components of a high quality learning environment.

Chapter 12: Institutional support

This chapter very briefly examines the policy and operational support needed from schools, colleges and universities to ensure relevant and high quality teaching in a digital age.


There are ten ‘what if’ scenarios scattered throughout the book. These are semi-fictional, semi-, because in almost every case, the scenario is based on an actual example. However, I have sometimes combined one or more cases, or extended or broadened the original case. The purpose of the scenarios is to stimulate imagination and thinking about both our current ‘blocks’ or barriers to change, and the real and exciting possibilities of teaching in the future.

Other features

Each chapter ends with a set of key ‘takeaways’ from the chapter, and a complete set of references. There is also a comprehensive bibliography that collects together all the references from the chapters. Most chapter sections end with an activity.

There are also several appendices providing more detailed information to support each chapter, and some sample answers to the questions posed in the activities.

For my comments on the scenario, click on the podcast below

For my comments on the structure of the book, click on the podcast below

vii. Acknowledgments and thanks

This book could not have been done without tremendous support from a number of people and institutions. First of all, I am truly indebted to BC campus. BCcampus hosts the site and has allowed me to use their own version of Pressbooks. In particular Clint Lalonde, assisted by Brad Payne, and with the support of Mary Burgess, has provided wonderful help and support. I was completely new to the technology of open publishing, and Clint and Brad held my hand through all my struggles. I could not have done this without them.

Open textbooks may be free to end users but they do not become a reality without professional technical support. As part of its mandate to support innovation in education and learning, Contact North | Contact Nord, Ontario’s Distance Education & Training Network, provided essential support and help with instructional design/editing, graphics, copyright clearance and is assisting with marketing and promotion.  Contact North | Contact Nord has also made it possible to  make the textbook available in French.

I also received unexpected but very welcome assistance from Leonora Zefi and her instructional design team at the Digital Education Strategies, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto, who volunteered to read the drafts of each chapter and provided incredibly valuable feedback. Katherine McManus provided instructional design and copy editing advice, and Elise Gowen did all the dirty work in checking copyright and getting permissions.

I also want to acknowledge the huge influence of my colleagues from the Open University, the Open Learning Agency, and the University of British Columbia, who did much of the research and innovation from which I have drawn. Throughout my career, I have been immensely supported by two overlapping communities of practice: distance educators; and educational technologists/instructional designers. This is really their book; I’m merely a spokesperson for all their ideas and work. I just hope I have represented their knowledge accurately and clearly.

Lastly, there was all the valuable feedback I received from my blog readers.  I published the first draft of most sections of the book in my blog as I wrote them. Instead of a peer review team of two or three, I had a review team of many hundreds – indeed thousands – of readers of my blog. The advice I received from everyone was really helpful and much appreciated. However, I didn’t always follow all the advice I got, and I take full responsibility for any errors or misjudgements you may come across.

viii. Over to you

The great thing about an open textbook is that is is a dynamic, living project. Changes can be made immediately. I would really like to hear from you, either by e-mail to tony.bates@ubc.ca, or in the comment boxes following each section. Constructive criticisms and feedback will be very welcome, and I hope to be able to respond to any comments you may make as your read the book.

Above all, I hope you find this book interesting and helpful and that it inspires you and/or your colleagues to develop the knowledge and skills our students need in this challenging age.