Are textbooks dead?
How form does packaging of content take in the future?
Textbooks remain ubiquitous in most classrooms. After all, a textbook is merely a convenient packaging for course content. As state standards increase in number and detail, textbooks gain weight proportionately. The girth grew to the point of overloading backpacks in recent years. The weight problem with books led nationwide to some schools using classroom housed sets of textbooks that remained in the classroom and dared not travel home in the backpacks. What about online textbooks? Do they help in finding a solution to the backpack dilemma? Is technology coming to the rescue of the weight-laden books?
Is Technology Coming to a Textbook World?
The answer is a resounding YES, or a MAYBE depending on the reader's viewpoint. What is the disparity in that answer? A story best told to satisfy that question is the recent choice of textbooks in Texas for language arts for grades two through twelve. Publishers in recent years have published textbooks in both a recognizable, print form, as well as in electronic e-book formats. School districts bought the textbook and got the electronic versions complimentary for each book purchased. Previously in Texas, a district had to buy the print textbook to receive the electronic version. The last rules for selecting books changed in particularly the elementary grades. Through revisions in the state purchasing contracts, schools could buy just the online versions of the book and not the print books. After all, much of the clamor revealed schools not wanting print textbooks, right? Yes, but that is not in the end the outcome of what they purchased. Less than 3% of the state selected just the online versions and passed on the print versions. Why?
Why Not Go Digital Only?
Equity for every student came across loud and clear as reason number one for choosing print versions. Not every child has electronic equipment available at home to use an online book. Would that offer give an unequal education if some students can reach the online book while others could not? That was the question. Having both print and online versions answered that question, and remember that the electronic version came along free of charge with the print books. Although all learners do not have that computer at home, the content availability for all was available through both versions of the text. Reason number two for not purchasing the digital only licenses, believe it or not, had to do with lack of enough electronic equipment in the schools themselves. Reason number three told a tale of those who repeatedly say they "like the feel of paper and a real book."
Direction of Technology and Textbooks?
So, where is technology going with textbooks? Misinformed are those who think the textbook publishers are behind in knowing that e-books are important. Quality e-books have accompanied most textbooks purchased for a several years now with number and sophistication of features growing by the minute. Most school systems say they are not ready for the electronic only route. It is coming, but not quite here yet. However, new, really exciting technology in the world of textbooks heads to schools as districts ready themselves with hardware purchases!
Truly customized textbooks created electronically take flight with new technologies. Schools purchasing a new science book in the past, just as an example, probably used the chapters out of sequence in which they were bound and possibly skipped some chapters not applicable to their curriculum. New technologies allow for a build-a-book option to exactly align books purchased to the district curriculum. Textbook companies live on as content providers, but the schools join in the venture as authors and designers. Schools use content from the provider, arrange the information in a sequence preferable for them, and can even add their own customized material. Those books then come alive in either print or electronic versions. Less expensive types of bindings result in more affordable replacements as information changes and curriculum is updated. A major drawback of print textbooks no doubt is the lack of ability to update information.
Electronic Book Formatting
Another exciting technological change coming in the textbook world is development of electronic textbooks in formats which work on any electronic device. Content delivery available through all forms of iReaders, notebooks, laptops, iPads, iPhones, Smart Phones, response clicker systems, and all brands of electronic whiteboards is on the horizon.
Look for the world of textbooks to change but possibly at a bit slower rate than predicted if the expectation was for the print book to immediately disappear. Futuristic plans in the digital age see content as important as ever but far easier to update. No longer will a student bringing home a backpack qualify as a strength training workout. Students and teachers are in for an exciting ride!