The future of textbooks in schools is digital.

June 2, 2011 by · 27 Comments
Filed under: Digital Era, e-learning 

One of the most frustrating elements of working in education and being a technologist is the lack of progress with digital textbooks. A whole raft of new curriculum changes have led to hundreds of new textbooks in the last few years but all of these were in paper form. What about digital resources? Publishers continue to look to traditional methods and maintain their market share by producing cd roms and inserting them in the back of textbooks to encourage future sales.

Amidst all this disappointing lack of progress we have seen the tablet segment of the devices market explode in 2011. Surely these devices present a medium which is tailor-made for the creation of digital content within education. A recent TED video showcased a new publishing platform for the ipad which I believe offers educational publishers a route to producing compelling digital resources to support learning within schools. Push, pop, press are in the process of creating a publishing platform which they plan to license and which allows quick and easy creation of compelling interactive e-books. Take a look at the video to see what they have achieved with their production of Al Gore’s Our Choice.

It will be interesting to see how the publishers respond. Any future lack of progress should surely be a sign to those of us in education that we need to start publishing our own content. After all we used to pay people a lot of money to produce websites due to the specialist skills required. Then WordPress, Joomla et al came along and showed us that maybe it wasnt so difficult to do it ourselves.

Comments

27 Responses to “The future of textbooks in schools is digital.”
  1. I would live to see school districts at least offer teachers and students the option of using digital textbooks, even if to do a test-run. As a parent, I hate seeing my kids come home with 3 or 4 books that weight five pounds each. My high schooler didn’t really have time to go to his locker this year so he carried all of his books around for most of the day.

  2. …and it doesn’t even have to be text books, it can be video too. I’ve started up my own youtube channel – not exactly groundbreaking, but it does provide a more relevant avenue for my students to access support in their learning, and at their own pace.

  3. Nick Dennis says:

    You can get part of the way there by using ePub. Pages on the Mac allows you to add multimedia files to a Pages document and then convert it to ePub which plays on the iPad through iBooks. Pretty useful for making quick ebooks and I will be trialling it next academic year with my students.

  4. Textbooks at all education levels are a huge racket. Interesting that someone collecting and curating facts can put a price on something that should be free and available to all…. but, stepping off the soapbox…

    Right now, many textbook publishers are charging much more for the digital rights to textbooks than the traditional books- school districts are forced to make a choice because of budgetary constraints. Until schools and higher ed start demanding for change, I don’t know how if we’ll see much of a shift for a while. Kids are the ones who really lose in this deal.

  5. Derek Hatch says:

    OK textbook publishers…stop wasting time and our money on paper textbooks! Digital textbooks are more interactive and better for the environment. Just think, our students could carry ALL of there textbooks on a device…now that powerful!

  6. I think we are still in pursuit of a balance between appropriate content (digital and/or conventional media) matching learners’ starting points, *and* where we want to lead them, and the pedagogic tools that makes it interesting and relevant to each and every learner.

    I do believe there is an importance to our selection from knowledge and this should not be a ‘free-for-all’. However, I do not see how a transfer of textbook content to digital forms – however interactive – is a sufficient end it itself. The learning tasks and outcomes need to have a much higher degree of collaboration, and, yes, digital tools are a facilitator, and this means interventions from teachers and other learners.

    The biggest concern about textbooks is the tie-in with Awarding Bodies. How did we let this happen? And I, for one, wouldn’t want that to be extended any further into digital textbooks. As you point out, it has already happened with the CD-ROM in the Teachers’ Book and the tie-in and buy-in to online.

    So, like all good questions, there are only complex answers. That’s education.

    On a slightly trivial point, I don’t want to see learners develop bad posture from sitting on a stool hunched over a tablet like the guy in the TED video!

  7. Brandon Scott says:

    As a student, textbooks are the bane of my life. This is mostly due to the fact that one a full day I have to carry over 7 different ones, just for 4 subjects at AS Level. In my bag this leaves barely enough room for the 5 folders that I also need to carry that contain my notes. This set me thinking last week, what if we can digitalise these textbooks? I have an iPad 2, and it goes with me everywhere so imagine how much lighter my bag would be with all these textbooks gone, replaced by 1.3 pound of electronics.

    However, in some respects, having a digital textbook also has its flaws. For example, 3 months ago, as I was writing my Biology coursework, I had 3 textbooks open at once on my desk. Although on an iPad it is extremely easy to swap between PDF’s or eBook’s in iBooks, it is not the same as having that information accessible at the same time.

    This further lead me on to thinking well if I get rid of my textbooks, why can I not get rid of my folders and notepads? Well there are numerous amounts of apps on the Apple App Store that offer amazing functionality yet unfortunately there is not a stylus or pen that has a tip smaller than 6mm due to the capacitive screen. This in turn means taking notes on a iPad is not ideal as you simply can’t write in the same way as a pen and paper.

    I think tablets being used with digital textbooks is a very interesting idea and one I would welcome with open arms. The difficulty that is going to be faced is using multiple textbooks at one time. It is also worth noting the costs associated with tablets at present, especially in my age group, they are more seen as “cool gadgets” rather than affordable devices. I’ve stuck by the principle (although I am definitely of this stereotype) that the majority of students want to come into school, learn and get out. They don’t want to be using anything particularly complicated, they simply want to do it and go. Therefore there needs to be a stimulus put in place that requires these students to want to learn more and I can see this progressing through YouTube and Apps. I wouldn’t have learnt half my Maths AS course without ExamSolutions which is a youtube channel showing examples and techiques and am impressed by MedScape, a free app for medical students to learn about medicines and illnesses.

    One thing however that I think is moving the wrong way is using computers for learning. In education they are too slow, unresponsive and not stimulating. Pupils want to interact with the software and this is easily done through touch and sound on the iPad. Typing is easier on the iPad too, I can type just as fast on a physical keyboard yet it takes 3 minutes more on my PC to open Word than the 5 seconds to open a new Pages document on the iPad. Using learning journals isn’t stimulating enough easy yet short blogs using an iPad with WordPress or even Twitter is certainly something that will keep the focus and interest there.

    Digital textbooks are the way forward but the logic needs to be rethought behind multitasking, creating stimulus yet limiting the distractions from just being able learn which is the key outcome.

  8. Brian says:

    I think the big issue will be flash and how many publishers still code resources for it (hodder, Pearson). Until they move to something like html5 we will not see true digital textbooks evolve.

  9. Coming from a Primary angle I may have a different view, but I fail to see why there is so much being said about digital textbooks. The Al Gore book is a beautiful piece of software, but what it is is an authentic book, something someone with passion and expertise has written for a real purpose.

    Why do we need artificial constructs of ‘all the required learning for one qualification in one book’? Surely digital can do better than the concept of the ‘textbook’, and can be used to get learners engaged in real activities not artificially constructed ones.

  10. Brandon Scott says:

    As a student, textbooks are the bane of my life. This is mostly due to the fact that one a full day I have to carry over 7 different types, just for 4 subjects at AS Level. In my bag this leaves barely enough room for the 5 folders that I also need to carry that contain my notes. This set me thinking last week, what if we can digitalise these textbooks? I have an iPad 2, and it goes with me everywhere so imagine how much lighter my bag would be with all these textbooks gone, replaced by 1.3 pounds of electronics.

    However, in some respects, having a digital textbook also has its flaws. For example, 3 months ago, as I was writing my Biology coursework, I had 3 textbooks open at once on my desk. Although on an iPad it is extremely easy to swap between PDF’s or eBook’s in iBooks, it is not the same as having that information accessible at the same time.

    This further lead me on to thinking well if I get rid of my textbooks, why can I not get rid of my folders and notepads? Well there are numerous amounts of apps on the Apple App Store that offer amazing functionality yet unfortunately there is not a stylus or pen that has a tip smaller than 6mm due to the capacitive screen. This in turn means taking notes on a iPad is not ideal as you simply can’t write in the same way as a pen and paper.

    I think tablets being used with digital textbooks is a very interesting idea and one I would welcome with open arms. The difficulty that is going to be faced is using multiple textbooks at one time. It is also worth noting the costs associated with tablets at present, especially in my age group, they are more seen as “cool gadgets” rather than affordable devices. I’ve stuck by the principle (although I am definitely not of this stereotype) that the majority of students want to come into school, learn and get out. They don’t want to be using anything particularly complicated, they simply want to do it and go. Therefore there needs to be a stimulus put in place that requires these students to want to learn more and I can see this progressing through YouTube and Apps. I wouldn’t have learnt half my Maths AS course without ExamSolutions which is a youtube channel showing examples and techiques and am impressed by MedScape, a free app for medical students to learn about medicines and illnesses.

    One thing however that I think is moving the wrong way is using computers for learning. In education they are too slow, unresponsive and not stimulating. Pupils want to interact with the software and this is easily done through touch and sound on the iPad. Typing is easier on the iPad too, I can type just as fast on a physical keyboard yet it takes 3 minutes more on my PC to open Word than the 5 seconds to open a new Pages document on the iPad. Using learning journals isn’t stimulating enough yet short blogs using an iPad with WordPress or even Twitter is certainly something that will keep the focus and interest there.

    Digital textbooks are the way forward but the logic needs to be rethought behind multitasking, creating stimulus yet limiting the distractions from just being able learn which is the key outcome.

  11. Radana says:

    Paper computers-the next new thing? Check this out.
    http://tinyurl.com/453tkvz
    Do we need a ‘paper’ and ‘book’ analogies when toddlers are growing up using i-technologies?

  12. Dylan Brown says:

    I would love to move to digital material. As it stands the major publishing houses appear to be asking significantly more for the digital version rather than the paper copy. The digital text should allow students to cut and quote, highlight and annotate in a way they already do. The benefit being is that this can then be assimilated into a bigger document or as part of a project. It just requires a significan investment in the technology. iPads are expensive for families to buy into. They also have a fragility which may not stand up to teenage angst.

  13. Scott Hewitt says:

    Great video and very interesting debate.

    There are some issues that we need to think about within the development community and then the education sector:

    1: Standard formats for publishing then remain in place and are agreed by all devices – including all the interactive elements.

    2. Cost of the devices – How do you get all of the tablet devices into schools and business? The PC user base is massive and very difficult to disrupt?

    3. The tablet/touchscreen market is current via violate with lots of update and technology changes – how do you protect your large scale investment in technology and resources?

    4. Interactive ‘books’ – Is this not just interactive media?

    5. Are e-books the best thing to be using if you need to cross-reference multiple text at the same time and quickly?

    Many publisher can provide e-book versions now, we’ve are currently developing e-books for some of our clients. I’ve got an e-learning project in place where the print publisher is able to easily provide the e-pub version from their system. It might not have all of the interactive elements within the TED video but its pretty straightforward to start publishing e-books with the correct system.

    Great blog post!

  14. Steve Pashby says:

    Digital resources are definitely the way forward. I have just written a revision guide for GCSE music and was looking to get the book published. However, after working with the Head of ICT at my school and speaking to an app developer, the guide is now to be released as an app. Having the guide in this format allows the user to access all of the information without having to carry the large document everywhere. The digital version also allows questions including audio clips and acts as practice paper questions. Lots of information all contained within one app which can be accessed anywhere must be a good thing!

  15. djuler says:

    Hate textbooks all round. For primary school the idea that one book fits all is ludicrous. Some could finish in 5 minutes and some never will There have been years when I brought home class sets of texts and dumped them. Parents pay good money for useless resources but find comfort in students having them. Digital apps that can be be used for all where they are in learning is the only way to go.

  16. Harnessing the use of mobile technology is definitely the way forward. The ability to create mobile apps at almost no cost (apart from time) is already encouraging teachers like myself to produce apps. I see no reason why teachers can’t begin to bypass the big publishers who have exploited the education market for far too long.

  17. John Miller says:

    Traditional textbooks are dead. Many districts, mine included, have not been able to purchase new books in years due to the fact that they struggle each summer to fight off insolvency. When funding returns to a reasonable level, it is clear to me and many of my colleagues that we would much rather the resources be spent on tablets for students. Teachers and school boards, working with our students, should have more control over how the content is delivered rather than relying on overpriced and static textbooks.

  18. John Connell says:

    Surely it’s not the lack of digital textbooks that is the real problem but the continued dependence on the textbook at all, whether digital or otherwise. Textbooks are a symptom of the continuing existence of an outmoded and irrelevant kind of education.

  19. @NoelineL says:

    Have a look at this interesting article. Free for All: National Academies Press Puts All 4,000 Books Online at No Charge: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/free-for-all-national-academies-press-puts-all-4000-books-online-at-no-charge/31582?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en

  20. Seb Matthews says:

    The future is inevitably digital but the cost of digital is surely prohibitive at this time?

    The cost of IT is not (as many people naively believe) in the initial outlay, its in the on-going cost and the cost of maintaining digital devices for school kids would surely be astronomical.

    The cost of running these devices will be high (parents don’t need electricity to charge text books, how will poorer families keep their devices charged?).

    Surely the tech is just too immature to be low-cost enough to work in these scenarios at this time?

  21. Bit late to the party but heres my thoughts, which hopefully won’t be too outlandish….

    Get rid of textbooks altogether!!!!

    Problem is we talk of getting digital interactive textbooks to replace current paper based ones but shouldn’t we really be looking of abandoning textbooks altogether for other forms of technology based learning materials.

    Theres Apple with their apps and Microsoft with their marketplace, isn’t it time that educators and education publishers realised that textbooks (paper or digital) are actually old school and the need to change to other forms of learning materials is now a necessity.

    I walk round my School and see iPhones, blackberrys, Windows phones, laptops, MacBooks; shouldn’t we be tapping into these resources that all of our students have to push leaning to them in a format they will ‘get’

    Just a thought!!!

  22. John Hobson says:

    Currently putting together a digital text book for ICT GSE. However, whilst it’s easy for my students to access in ICT suites, if I was teaching say History which only has an IWB, it wouldn’t be worthwhile. Mobile phones are not acceptable for sustained reading and students don’t have any other mobile device access. And the current cutbacks are not going to remedy this soon. Yet we have to make a start to justify future ICT expenditure in Schools by being able to point to the substantial advantages of digital books and the cost savings.

  23. Steve Pashby says:

    @sjpashby – I have commented already but wanted to add that we have a great system at school, set up and run by our excellent Head of ICT, which uses moodle. I have put a vast amount of revision material, all lesson powerpoints, sample questions and answers etc on the site which can be accesses by pupils both in and out of school. This has meant that there really is no need for the hugely expensive textbooks which accompany the GCSE course. It takes time to setup but is definitely worth it!

  24. A great post that sparks activity in my head!

    I kind of agree with Oliver Quinlan as I’d like to see technology offer something better than a digital textbook. At the minute I have no idea what (yet). Collaboration and the ability to share must be incorporated into the next generation Digital textbooks. As it stands, blogs can be developed in a way that allows pupils to be writing their own text books and shared with their audience. Studying from a textbook although important is solitary, yet there are 1000′s if not 10,000s of pupils reading the same book. The power of these great minds collaborating through a interactive platform kinda makes me excited!

    You’ve got me thinking!

  25. Ben says:

    Compelling post. Tablet PCs will play an important role for these digital resources to be used in more educational settings. The problem is supplying all the eReaders and other technology. Replacing the technology will be an issue too…

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