Guest blog: Is Macmillan's new textbook software progressive – or dangerous?

Dynamic Books software from Macmillan will allow professors to reorganize, update, revise, and even delete sections from online textbooks.

It seems like a good thing for professors to argue points in a textbook, to debate or disagree with what’s printed. But is it OK for them to rewrite the book instead?

That’s what could happen with new software from major publisher Macmillan, The New York Times reported earlier this week.

Here’s how the Times described the “DynamicBooks” software: “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.

“While many publishers have offered customized print textbooks for years – allowing instructors to reorder chapters or insert third-party content from other publications or their own writing – DynamicBooks gives instructors the power to alter individual sentences and paragraphs without consulting the original authors or publisher. “

I can see the huge advantages here of being able to update books, particularly in fields that change faster than textbooks are revised. I can appreciate the convenience. I like the idea of cheaper textbooks, which these promise to be. But it unnerves me to picture an author’s book turned into a mashup of material, one that doesn’t necessarily reflect the original viewpoint.

At least I’m not alone: The Times quotes Neil Comins, co-author of an astronomy textbook, as seeing some advantages to the program, the ability to speed up revisions and correct errors. On the other hand, “if an instructor decided to rewrite paragraphs about the origins of the universe from a religious rather than an evolutionary perspective, he said, “I would absolutely, positively be livid.”

Reasonable? Unreasonable? Or just another example of what’s being called “intertextuality” – and inevitable?

Rebekah Denn blogs at

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