Good Riddance to the Textbook


By Samuel Greengard

Apple sent ripples through the education and publishing worlds when it announced that it was looking to redefine the modern textbook. iBook Author could revolutionize the way schools and students use books. It could modernize learning and, Apple hopes, "reinvent" the space in profound ways.

There's a practical upside to e-books in schools. For one thing, students don't have to lug around backpacks filled with heavy dead trees. I'm not exaggerating when I say that my sons--who attend middle school and high school--routinely carry backpacks that exceed 25 pounds. There's also the benefit of carrying one device instead of trying to keep track of several books.

However, the more interesting aspect of all this is the ability for teachers, schools and others to micro-publish course guides and textbooks. If I were a textbook publisher I'd be very nervous about losing the market stranglehold over my incredibly overpriced books. In some cases, traditional textbooks that sell for upwards of $75 are available in e-book format for $15 or $20.

Let's not even get into a discussion about the politics of textbook publishing these days. There's no question that iBook Author and similar tools will democratize and disrupt the relationship between schools, students, parents and publishers. Texas and other large states will no longer control the content that goes into what high school students read in Idaho or Vermont.

Some school districts and a growing number of universities have already turned to iPads--and studies show that this model is more effective for learning while reducing the overall cost of buying and managing physical books. There's no question that there are serious economic and logistical challenges with converting hardbound books to e-books--and not all school districts will be able to afford tablets initially. But the writing is on the blackboard.

The corporate world long ago gave up hardbound books and learning materials in favor of content distributed through the Internet and portals. Amazon reports that over 50 percent of the books it sells to consumers are e-books. The educational system is the final frontier. One can only hope that this radically different model will light a fire under an educational system that increasingly fails students, businesses and society in general.


3 Comments for "Good Riddance to the Textbook"

  • Daniel February 15, 2012 2:57 pm

    I am a 33 year old engineer in eastern europe and ever since college I was carring my laptop with me instead of notebooks. I haven't read a paper book in 10 year, I continuasly educate myself from the web, audio & pdf books, video tutorials and I can see why the resistance from the teacher, yeah progress has some who rezist to it, but digitalized life is more fun, more efficient, and alows you to achieve more on your potential. my children will not be held back by inefficient methods. sorry for any typos, English is not my primary language

  • Michal B January 31, 2012 9:56 am

    My daughter recently attended a high school open house for a school that has intentionally avoided the tablet PC in favor of a system of laptops available to students from carts throughout the day. They argue that they researched the question and couldn't discover any positive evidence that tablets or electronic devices increased the learning process. They also made the point that downtime could adversely affect the student who has to contend with not having his device for hours or days because of technical problems. The irony is that my daughter decided to go to a school that does have the tablet!

  • Dennis Murphey January 31, 2012 8:39 am

    No books, no pencils! People fail to appreciate how humans solve problems, real problems anyway. Granted I am an older part-time educator that have several years of learning and teaching experience. Being able to draw lines, boxes, circles and such, then erase them and change them, at will, is a part of thinking a problem through, that I feel we are losing in todays youth. It is a way of thinking, a way of exploring that I do not feel can be replicated electronically or digitally or eliminated from the process all together. It is possible, that use of pencils, books etc. is my style of problem solving and not everyone works the same. But, I don't think so. I have pencils, blank quad paper, erasers and many books in my offices, and I use them daily. FWIW

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