09 August 2009

Antiquated, heavy, expensive

The title of the post is a quote by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the New York Times. It could be a fun guessing game to figure out what he’s talking about. Ah, so many punchlines...

He’s talking about textbooks.

This article looks at the move toward digital textbooks, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

“I want our teachers to have the best materials available, and with digital textbooks, we could see the best lessons taught by the most dynamic teachers,” said John A. Roach, superintendent of the Carlsbad, Calif., schools. “But they’re not going to replace paper texts right away.”

Why not?

There’s only one substantive reason given in the article not to switch this instant:

Not every student has access to a computer, a Kindle electronic reader device or a smartphone, and few districts are wealthy enough to provide them. So digital textbooks could widen the gap between rich and poor.

I am still trying to figure out how textbooks have held on as long as they have, and whether there are any pedagogical reasons for keeping some of them.

1 comment:

AK said...

The biggest problem with digital anything is the ease of change: in a textbook you often need to go back and know you're seeing exactly what you saw before. Corrections (to errata) and clarifications can be published on-line, but the original text used for learning should be unchanging. (This is especially important in the case of errata.)

Another problem is that too much on-line material can vanish, as can your own notes (via various on-line services), while a textbook with notes in can be put away in a bookcase forever (if needed).

Of course, the latter doesn't apply to high-school and below, and the former is reduced in importance. (And even for college, anybody who sells their textbook at the end of the class also doesn't get much benefit.)

The biggest advantage of on-line class texts is that they can be updated in response to new information more often. This has other risks than mentioned above (e.g. the possibility of introducing errors through misunderstanding of recent research), but it also has major benefits: too often texts are based on 10-year-old research, full of "facts" that have been proven incorrect since then.