Thursday, September 10, 2009

Textbooks: Do They Have a Future?

Textbooks as we know them today we soon be a thing of the past. What exactly will happen with textbooks has yet to be determined. Some school boards and districts, including the state of California and Texas, are shifting to electronic textbooks. Many organizations are seeing the cost-effectiveness of e-textbooks, a textbook that is completely digital and read via computer or hand-held device. However, is that even that is a viable solution, considering the textbook is a cornerstone of an old pedagogy?

Education has undergone a variety of changes due to the introduction
of new technologies. Calculators revolutionized studies in mathematics. Colour printing brought life to textbooks. Film projectors turned the classroom into a theatre, while Smart boards and interactive whiteboards ushered in a new world of interactive learning. Nothing however, will change education as drastically as the end of traditional textbooks.

"Textbooks are instantly outdated, budget-stretching, and back-breaking and are no longer needed."

The future of textbooks depends on a number of factors: costs, availability of e-tools, teacher acceptance and training, publisher response, and of course, students. Technology is continuously shaping the way we communicate. Nowadays, texts can be read from computers, portable electronics, or even e-readers using the new technology: e-ink. Textbooks are instantly outdated, budget-stretching, and back-breaking and are no longer needed. Educators play a minor but valuable role in determining the future of textbooks.

Change, as it often is in education, is inevitable. Educators have two options: resist the inevitable
or be contributors so that pedagogical practices and student learning remain the focus as traditional textbooks fad into the background. Publishers are concerned. Some may not be prepared for the upcoming change or may lack viability in the digital age, like their peers the newspaper publishers.

"Make no mistake, students can and are learning with this new technology."

Students are the most important factor in determining the future of textbooks. Technology is just a bunch of circuits and plastic if it wasn't for the users. Students will decide what they are comfortable jettisoning, what they are willing to embrace, and what they will move on to. Make no mistake, students can and are learning with this new technology. As we consider the current changes, there are a number of realities being overlooked.

Teaching the iGeneration’s 10 Textbook Realities

1- Teachers and administration are frustrated with textbooks. The ongoing costs of textbooks are a constant headache for teachers and administration. Textbooks are expensive and budget is limited. Talk to any university or college student and they will be able to relate. University and college students pay hundreds for textbooks that go relatively unused by professors. The print cost of textbooks is placing an unsustainable strain on the education system.
2- The infrastructure for e-textbooks already exists. Technology companies are currently creating more accessible and usable reading gadgets for students. Mini-laptops, kindles, e-readers, and iPod touches are all fully capable of transmitting e-textbooks.
3- Education is important, not textbooks. Journalists were disillusioned to believe that newspapers provided a fundamental service and were therefore not threatened by technological advances that threatened their worth. As Clay Shirky points out in his seminal article “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” newspapers had to realize that it wasn’t newspapers that were important, but it was journalism. Likewise, textbooks themselves are only a current means of delivering educational content to the student. Certainly what the textbooks are delivering is important, but is the delivery method outdated.
4- Textbooks are not originally designed for the contemporary classroom. In today’s classrooms, most learning occurs through hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning material.
5- Paradigm shifts define winners and losers. When music went digital during the 1990s, Apple, a computer company, got into the music industry and took over the mp3 market with its product, iTunes. Textbook publishers are disillusioning themselves if they think they won’t face new competition if the new digital future. Technology companies will enter the market with force.
6- Open Source technology may play a crucial role in the future of textbooks. Teachers everywhere are collaborating more. Teachers from all over are beginning to work together to create textbooks. With technology and organizations like ck-12, creating textbooks with a group of committed professional educators has never been easier.
7- New teachers are used to transitions, we're ready. Teachers have been shifting to a new model of teaching and are continually adapting their teaching practices and classrooms to the new model. E-textbooks fit into this environment comfortably.
8- E-textbooks have an economic advantage. During this time of economic uncertainty, budgets are stretched and e-textbooks have a long-term economic advantage. California’s shift towards e-textbooks is strongly influenced by potential savings.
9- A successful transition from traditional textbooks will involve the entire educational community. Administration, teachers, publishers, technology companies, parents, and students all play an important role in determining the future of textbooks. If better education is the focus, the future looks bright.
10- The earth will be thankful for a shift to e-textbooks or the elimination of textbooks all together. Textbooks use an incredible amount of pulp and are constantly being replaced. From a environmental perspectives, textbooks need to become extinct.

If better education is the focus, the future looks bright.


  1. a great summary...

  2. it will be interesting to see how students today will adapt the new technology to their needs

  3. You are right on the mark. But why even use an e-text. Does educating students still depend on a "text book" in any form to be successful? Is there more value in allowing the students to find the information they need rather than giving it to them in on place.