10 features textbooks of the future must have

Textbooks of the future

Paper textbooks are dying a long, slow death.

At least I hope they are.

Printed textbooks are such an inefficient way to convey information and ideas to students in light of the powerful Web 2.0 tools that exist today.

Textbooks are bulky and a pain to carry. They’re expensive to print. Some are outdated as soon as they reach student hands.

Publishers are trying to ride the tech-savvy wave with their offerings with interactive websites, digital copies of print books and apps.

Frankly, I’m not impressed yet. (No surprise coming from a guy who writes a blog called “Ditch That Textbook,” huh?) Neither are students, according to this USA Today article.

The tools are out there. Teachers are using them. We need them integrated into a textbook that doesn’t look a thing like what we have today.

Here’s how the publishers should do it (in case they ever ask me):

1. They must improve the user interface. Efficient page-flipping in digital textbooks is not a reality yet. Finding something in a paper book involves a few seconds of flipping. Digital texts need to evolve.

2. They must facilitate peer collaboration. Digital textbooks should be a center for class discussion. In-line comments, links and replies should be seamless and real-time.

3. They must link to the world. Hyperlinks should abound – links to research, to studies, to homepages of organizations. Digital texts don’t need to house all the information – just point to it.

4. They must include a world forum for opinion. Students can so easily communicate and share opinions with peers around their countries and the world. An chat/discussion board option should exist to expose students to other worldviews and get them in the conversation.

5. They must be everywhere. Facebook. Twitter. Google+. Instagram. Podcasts. Pat Flynn’s “be everywhere” slogan fits well here. Go where the students are.

[RELATED: 7 classroom uses for forums and discussion boards]

6. They must be timely. Updates should be constant (i.e. Wikipedia model). Twitter, Facebook and Google+ feeds should be updated regularly. How? By using money they save from paper and printing costs to hire a social media team.

7. They must be accessible. Large print options. Audio versions of texts. Various languages. No disabilities or disadvantages get in the way.

8. They must encourage work in various media. Audio assignments. Photo assignments. Video assignments. Website creation. Written text shouldn’t be the only option.

9. They must allow for teacher modification. Teachers know their students better than publishing companies. They should have the power to modify, move and delete content to suit their needs.

10. They must be note-taking friendly. Incorporating note apps like Evernote (for typers) and Penultimate (for hand writers) should mesh in the learning experience easily.

The concept I’ve described here isn’t exactly a file you download and peruse on a device. These “textbooks” are a learning experience. They’re an all-in-one-place learning hub. They take the best of the Web’s tools and use them for a single purpose – education.

If publishing companies don’t follow suit, more and more teachers will ditch their textbooks and make more relevant learning experiences of their own.

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  • Gerry says:

    I’d suggest that the idea of “textbook” has historically required the idea of “subject”, but that subjects are more and more recognized as somewhat arbitrary abstractions. In real life, projects nearly always involve more than one “subject”, so what is needed is not summaries of traditional subjects, but a library of smaller pieces of knowledge such as seen in Khan Academy videos, which can be accessed when needed to advance a particular project. Such a library would need to have the characteristics you suggested for textbooks.

    Of course, teachers may want to hold out for subject overviews, thinking that there are some things everybody needs to know. I disagree and think this approach very inefficient. To paraphrase your statement, if teachers don’t adapt to the ubiquitous availability of information, students might ditch them and make more relevant learning experiences of their own.