Are Textbooks Obsolete?


The textbook has long been at the heart of the classroom. It is the giver of knowledge, a place for students to go to find all the information they need and a guide for teachers developing curriculum. Yet the golden age of the textbook may be drawing to a quick end. Changes in what is considered best teaching practices as well as the rapid development of educational technology seem to have rendered the textbook obsolete. Is this the end of textbooks?

Rapid Expansion of Technological Capabilities

Technology and how it can be used in the classroom has come to dominate discussions about best teaching practices and school improvement. Even the most basic web-capable device can give students access to numerous tools, activities, and resources to enhance their learning.  With such accessibility, it is hard to imagine how the traditional textbook can compare.

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Textbooks are a reliable resource students can use without the need of wifi or any technical devices. They provide clear, concise, and accurate information for the curriculum in one place and limit the time it takes to convey information. Key terms are defined and highlighted for easy recognition and guiding questions throughout the reading promotes comprehension skills. Textbooks can also be cheaper as the cost of a book is cheaper than a web-capable device and they do not require wifi services to work.

Despite the advantages of using textbooks, technology is rapidly developing to meet the needs of today’s students. At first, many expected technology to merely provide another means of viewing the textbooks while providing some ancillary information. However, today’s devices provide access not only to electronic versions of the textbooks, but to interactive content that keeps students engaged and encourages them to explore beyond the text. Our digital world has placed more demands on students’ attention and has redefined the meaning of ‘literate’.  There are currently no studies showing whether or not the use of technology improves literacy, but textbooks do not allow students to practice the skills necessary to be ‘digitally literate’ and are no longer able to attract students’ attention.

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Though the use of textbooks might be cheaper than electronic devices, students also get less for the price. Each textbook only contains a single subject, requiring the purchase of one textbook per student for each class they take at each grade level. Not only do they only contain materials for one topic, this material cannot be updated as information and/or curriculum changes and can quickly become outdated. This not even mentioning all of the ancillary materials and interactive content textbooks are incapable of providing. These materials are equally vital to the modern teacher and increasingly require the use of electronic devices anyway. Since technology has become the central focus of school and instructional improvements, there is also more funding available for the installment and implementation of technology programs. This makes access to wifi and devices more affordable while funding allocated to textbook purchases continues to decline, putting more of a financial burden on students and their families. Schools may incur large costs while trying to maintain and support a large network with many devices however; these devices can be used in all classes and have the power to push curriculum beyond the text.

Changes in the Way We Teach

Traditionally, educators adopted a teacher-centered approach that required the teacher to stand in front of the classroom and present the curriculum. In order to meet the needs of the teachers using this style, textbooks were structured to reflect their respective state standards. This helped teachers structure their classes and made it easy to find the necessary information/materials. Textbooks are still made to reflect curriculum standards however; new teaching strategies have flipped the classroom to a more student-centered approach. Where today’s textbooks can still provide valuable information, they are often not central to the learning process.

From the beginning, curriculum standards and what teachers were able to cover in class has largely been determined by what information and resources can be provided to students. Textbooks were created in order to provide the essential information for a class without requiring the teacher to find other sources. Unless the teacher or students engaged in research, what could be discussed and discovered in class was limited to what was written in the textbook. With the technology available to use today, these limitations no longer apply; and curriculum standards have begun to reflect it. Instead of prescribing a set of information, modern curriculum such as Common Core follows an inquiry based structure in which students are asked to explore a given topic in order to answer essential questions and master key concepts. Textbooks are a good tool during this process of discovery, but they are limited in the information they provide and students are ultimately encouraged to look beyond them in order to be successful.

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Teachers are very aware of the idealistic shift occurring in curriculum standards and it is redefining what it means to be an effective teacher. In the classroom, teachers are stepping back from the front of the room and letting their students take control of the learning process. With a more student centered approach, students have greater flexibility in what questions are explored and how information is used. Many teachers recognize that in order to let students take control of their learning, they need to have engaging and flexible resources available to them.  As a result, teachers and administrators alike are pushing to redirect more funding towards the establishment, expansion, and/or maintenance of technology programs that will allow the necessary level of academic freedom to meet current academic standards. Funding for these programs is often drawn out of funds that would have otherwise been used to purchase textbooks as more and more educators feel that textbooks, though useful, are no longer essential tools for their students’ success.

Do you think this is the end for printed textbooks? Share your thoughts below!

Sources

Frank, Michael. “Daily Edventures.” Daily Edventures. Daily Edventures, 03 Aug. 2012. Web. 18 June 2015. <http://dailyedventures.com/index.php/2012/08/03/michael-frank/&gt;.

“PRIMARY SOURCES Third Edition.” Primary Sources, Third Edition. Scholastic, 2014. Web. 18 June 2015. <http://www.scholastic.com/primarysources/index.htm&gt;.

Smith, Jamon. “Some Experts Say Textbooks Obsolete.” TuscaloosaNews.com. N.p., 05 Sept. 2010. Web. 18 June 2015. <http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20100905/NEWS/100909838?tc=ar&gt;.

Willen, Liz. “High School Hustle: Overloaded Backpacks and Outdated Textbooks; a Better Way?” High School Hustle: Overloaded Backpacks and Outdated Textbooks; a Better Way? Inside Schools, 08 Mar. 2010. Web. 18 June 2015. <http://insideschools.org/blog/item/1773-high-school-hustle-high-school-hustle-overloaded-backpacks-and-outdated-textbooks-a-better-way&gt;.

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8 thoughts on “Are Textbooks Obsolete?

  1. One can only totally agree with Halina’s viewpoint.
    Take textbooks they are normally researched and peer reviewed which gives some assurance that the facts are correct.
    With the plethora of information on the web the trick is understanding that the information is authentic and valid.

    Like

  2. Books in general, I hope never go away. I teach in a paperless classroom. I say it is paperless, but in reality, my student library is HUGE. While I also have ereaders available for checkout, I have thousands of books on my shelves. We use no textbook, no paper to write on, etc.

    I hope that the days of good literature bound in book form are not limited. Textbooks, well, I do see the end drawing near. Content can updated much more quickly and efficiently when done electronically. The days of learning from paper based textbooks should, in my opinion, draw to a close.

    If you’ve not read it yet, take a look at Matt Miller’s book, Ditch the Textbook. It’s a good read… or just search Twitter for #ditchbook. It’s all over the place.

    I enjoy your blog, I write one myself, thepaperlesstrail.com It’s good to have folks to network with.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your response! Personally I can’t stand reading on a device with a backlight and I love having the satisfaction of turning the page of a real book. I hope those never go away. However, I too view them separately from textbooks in this case. I checked out your blog and I saw that you had shared a post about “Ditch the Textbook” and I would really like to look into it. It is great to get connected and share ideas/resources.

      Liked by 1 person

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