Milestone Documents Hosts Case Study on Textbook-Free Teaching

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Professor opts for the raw materials of history to create a flexible, friction-free learning environment.

Milestone Documents is helping educators find new teaching models by posting on its popular website a new case study that explores history professor Jonathan Rees’s move to a textbook-free classroom. In “Off the Beaten Path: Ditching the Text to Get in Step with Students” ( ) Rees, who teaches at Colorado State University – Pueblo, describes both the reasons he abandoned texts and its impact on his classroom.

“We want to share Professor Rees’s story because of the increasing levels of student frustration with the high cost of textbooks,” said Neil Schlager, publisher of Milestone Documents, an online classroom resource that includes more than 1,200 key historical documents and expert analysis from a global network of scholars. “Texts can be a huge friction point between students and teachers. Jonathan found that a text-free classroom eliminated that friction and also enabled him to create a more flexible learning environment, one that moves with the class instead of anchoring to the lock-step of a table of contents. It can be a win-win for teachers and students.”

Indeed, “Off the Beaten Path: Ditching the Text to Get in Step with Students” ( ) describes Rees as a happier teacher with three textbook-free semesters under his belt. With Milestone Documents as the foundation with support from PowerPoint, the new model provides Rees freedom to pick and choose the contents of each class and teach directly on the screen – face to face with his students. The a-la-carte approach allows him to customize, moving the pace faster or slower… the level of discussion up or down, depending upon the students’ fluency in the material.

The case cites Milestone Documents as a pivotal element in Rees’s success with the text-free option. Students like its affordability (less than $20 for unlimited, semester-long access), and the resource leverages some significant advantages of digital technology. Without the limitations of print, Milestone Documents is able to provide far greater breadth of coverage. Plus, its rich analyses connect students with a diverse group of historians and their perspectives.

However, the case notes that for Rees, the satisfaction comes from the content he’s teaching: the raw material of history. Rather than rote memorization of facts, he and his classes explore primary documents together, sharing thoughts, interpretations, and impact. “This isn’t Jeopardy. If we make them just recite answers, we’ll turn more people off than on,” he says in “Off the Beaten Path: Ditching the Text to Get in Step with Students.” “We need to prepare them … teach them how to think for themselves.”

Milestone Documents welcomes visitors to its website to read “Off the Beaten Path: Ditching the Text to Get in Step with Students” (

About Milestone Documents (
Milestone Documents is an online primary source reader developed for use in history and social science courses. Pairing the most significant primary documents of all time with award-winning analysis by a global network of 300 historians and scholars, Milestone Documents has an expanding document collection of more than 1,200 primary sources. It is accessible via the Web, the iPad, and any smart phone.

Visit to learn more or launch a free trial.


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Beth Dempsey
Milestone Documents
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