Thinking Beyond eTextbooks

SETDA (State Educational Technology Directors Association) just came out with a new report ““Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age,” I love the fact that they are recommending a shift that considers all digital resources –rather than just replacing a print textbook with an electronic one (with perhaps some embedded multimedia elements for good measure). They recommend districts should develop a vision that “looks beyond textbooks alone and considers flexibility, quality, and effectiveness of ALL materials.”

The purpose of a textbook originally was to deliver content during a time of information scarcity.  We can no longer think of the textbook as serving this purpose. Teachers who rely solely on a textbook to deliver content in this century are not preparing students to deal with the realities of information abundance (overload!) – and the skills needed to deal with that – how to efficiently and effectively locate, evaluate, and synthesize information.  This also includes new literacy skills needed to effectively navigate, read, comprehend, and decode online content.  Continuing to spoon feed information to students through lecture and textbook (whether it is print or electronic) and failing to plan for a way to move beyond this delivery of knowledge and content method will be disastrous for our students.

It is my hope that school districts will keep the recommendations in SETDA’s report in mind as they pursue not necessarily just “etextbooks” – but a larger possibility of what learning might look like if students have access to multiple digital content sources. As we explore blended learning, curating resources (by both teachers AND students) and begin exploring concepts such as personalized learning (or as Will Richardson says —PERSONAL learning), we should be creating processes and practices for students to access information and to learn from multiple sources: online, print, face-to-face (or virtual face-to-face) with experts, and in context through virtual or actual field trips to museums and historic places.  While we are at it, we need  to make sure  active learning and real-world problem solving are not just an occasional event, but are the expectation for all students.  Technology makes it possible.

Will Richardson states in his wonderful new book, Why School:

“As globalization and connectedness ramp up, traditional definitions of employment are being rewritten. Based on existing trends some now predict the year 2020 will see 56 to 70 million freelancers, consultants, and independent workers representing more than half of all US employees. That is four times the number today.”

The problem is, today’s schools are still preparing students for work in the last century –not this one.  If we continue down this path, or  settle for simply replacing a print textbook with an electronic one, we will not be preparing today’s students for this workforce reality.

Now is the time. Schools, districts, and state departments of education are all feeling the urgency to come up with a plan for digital textbooks. Let’s recognize that textbooks –print or electronic – won’t provide the transformation in learning that our students so desperately need. Let’s use this opportunity  to come up with a plan to re-imagine what learning should look like to prepare students for working in this century.

Author: Nancy White

Learner, Curator, Innovator, Teacher, Librarian, and Collaborator. Passionate about designing learning that is engaging, relevant & sticks. 20+ years in education.

10 thoughts on “Thinking Beyond eTextbooks”

  1. Great post, Nancy.

    The purpose of a textbook may have been to deliver content during a time of information scarcity, but I think it was also to deliver content in a structured manner. I would argue the latter still holds today, whether it be in an electronic format or otherwise.

    I share your joy that SETDA is looking at a broader range of digital learning resources and pedagogies, but I hope etextbooks remain in the mix because the scaffolding they provide remains valuable to novice learners.


  2. Thanks, Ryan. I agree that another purpose of textbooks is to deliver content in a structured manner. However, I think that as we are re-imagining education and school, it is that structure that we need to re-think. I do believe textbooks (print or electronic) can be one resource – but when they dictate the learning that happens in the classroom, synchronous or not, we lose the ability to make learning personal for students.


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