I Guess It’s a Start

The title of this post pretty much tells you everything about the current state of digital textbooks: Students Find E-Textbooks ‘Clumsy’ and Don’t Use Their Interactive Features.

The writer is addressing the issue in colleges but that same statement applies to the online Social Studies textbooks we began using last year here in the overly-large school district.

I’ve ranted about this before but the fact of the matter is that the publisher in our case is offering little more than a digital reproduction of the hardcover book, and they still require us to purchase a minimum number of those analog versions.

The math textbooks our students will be using this year are somewhat better in that the material is largely in HTML, includes some video, and adds a few interactive features. However, as with those digital social studies books, the math textbooks are hit or miss when it comes to using them on smartphones and tablets, even those still running Flash.

I suppose you could view this in a glass-half-full manner, as a tentative start to the process of eventually having all classroom materials in a digital form. I’m just not sure that process is going to move very quickly since the publishers seem far more interested in protecting their markets and profits than they do about anything instructional.

If I was running this show, we would be putting some of the large chunk of the money spent every year on dead-tree books into creating online, open-source, accessible on any device instructional materials of our own.

It’s one of those big changes that could have incredible long-term advantages for an educational system accustomed to very short-term thinking.

3 Comments I Guess It’s a Start

  1. Doug Johnson

    Hi Tim,

    I really think that traditional publishers just may miss the boat if they keep clinging to the old financial model. Personal “textbooks” are getting easier and easier to make and I see more teachers using something like Moodle to string together web resources and activities to use instead of the $150 tome.

    Districts will use the money spent on textbooks to pay teachers to develop their own course materials. Hasn’t this already happened in higher ed to a large degree?


  2. Tim

    Thanks for the comment, Doug. I know there’s some movement to open source higher ed textbooks but I don’t think it’s any farther along than the process is in K12. At either level, we waste a lot of money paying someone else to assemble what is mostly basic and easily available information into a printable format. I would much rather pay creative teachers (and students!) to create curricular materials than pay for the profits of large publishing companies.

  3. Karen Richardson

    You get to the heart of the matter: we’re still talking about textbooks! I was asked to fill out a survey for a higher ed publisher in which the assumption was that I used a textbook. I mostly answered no to all the questions about whether I would be willing to switch to a digital textbook since I simply don’t use one. Like Doug suggests, I see the Internet as my textbook. Some of that is the nature of the class I teach since it’s related to ed tech but with resources from sites like the Smithsonian, NASA, NOAA, etc. etc. spending money on “textbooks” does seem like a waste. And having teachers curate and create materials that are immediately relevant and useful to them seems a much better use of the money.


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