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Textbooks in the Digital World – Higher Education and the State of Transition

January 9, 2019 No Comments

Featured article by Evelina Brown, Independent Technology Author

student 300x170 Textbooks in the Digital World   Higher Education and the State of Transition The textbook industry has undergone an intense state of transition, and this state of transition is still underway. In the past, the choices for students in higher education when they needed to buy textbooks for class were either a new print or used print textbook. The used textbook was usually purchased at the student store.

The next change that occurred in the textbook industry was when a robust online used book sales network emerged. Then came the emergence of digital or e-books. Over time, more students have been able to buy textbooks that are digital for classes. The e-books may cost less than the print copy, but this is not always the case. Some e-books for courses are simply a replica of the print book.

Over time, though, e-books for courses have begun to include other study aids for students that can include videos, hyperlinks to additional resources, slide shows, lectures, or even virtual experiments. Studies are beginning to show that these e-books that have additional resources, and even print books that have links to similar online resources, improve student learning. E-books with additional resources tend to cost at least the same as the print version, if not more.

In 2008, the newest entry into the market for books for higher education classes is the rental textbook. Rental books can either be in e-book form, or they can be a print book. These have been a big hit with students because they tend to come in at a bit lower of a cost than e-books, and students do not have to worry about trying to sell the book after the class has ended.

The success of rental books has helped lower the price for new print books and e-books in higher education. It has also helped to spur book publishers to create more books with value-added content online for both print and e-books, in an effort to maintain a price point. Since studies are showing that value-added content helps student achievement, this shake-up in the higher education book publishing industry has been a boon for students economically and in terms of learning.

Elementary and Secondary Education – A Different Type of Transition

Problems With Access

The elementary and secondary book publishing field has also undergone quite a bit of change in the Internet age, but some of this change has been held back by schools because they are underfunded and do not have the technology available to help them fully take advantage of digital learning resources.

For example, 39 percent of all rural schools do not have access to broadband internet services. Also, availability of funding sources to purchase enough computers for students to allow them to access digital learning content has not been consistent across areas and school districts, so some districts have students taking home their own laptops each day, while other schools lack enough basic connectivity for their student body to utilize the new digital learning resources that include digital texts.

Another issue is that the training of teachers in how to properly utilize digital texts and other digital learning resources has been slow in coming and inadequate. Many teachers, when surveyed, state that they do not feel as though they have been adequately trained to utilize digital learning resources. This has also held back the move towards greater adoption of digital learning resources because teachers are loathe to introduce lessons using technology that they do not feel comfortable with themselves.

Standards-Based Education

Some ask why, with so much information already available on the internet, do teachers not abandon textbooks altogether. One big answer is standards-based education. Before 1990, although there were learning standards in English language arts, mathematics, science, and history in place in each state, teachers were able to teach the standards and other pet projects.

In the 1990s, the No Child Left Behind legislation forced states and teachers to adhere to learning standards. Each state had its own set of standards. Each state had its own test to determine if students in each school were meeting those learning standards. This kept textbooks relevant, and the textbook publishers worked to provide books designed to meet the standards in each state. The problem in many states was that the standards were a mile long but an inch deep in terms of learning something relevant and useful. This was antithetical to teaching students critical thinking skills and the use of what they were learning in daily life. Instead, teachers were just racing through too many standards in order to “cover the curriculum.”

Because these prior state standards that were not promoting critical thinking and actual use of learning to solve problems in the real world, the states convened and created the Common Core State Standards. These standards are designed with the outcome in mind of having the student who leaves high school after their senior year be able to read on grade level and analyze and synthesize age appropriate information in the different fields of study and create new ideas. Thus, the Common Core standards are fewer than the prior standards but are designed to have students solve real world issues that relate to each field of study.

The Common Core State Standards has also had an impact upon the elementary and secondary educational publishing industry. Publishers have had to retool in order to create books that teach these deeper and more analytical state standards. Publishers have created both print and digital forms of textbooks and have created more value-added content, such as videos, virtual experiments, graphics, and online interactive lessons. Due to the problems of connectivity and funding for technology in classrooms, this new content is not able to be fully utilized in all school districts. School districts are also struggling to make choices with limited book and curriculum budgets between print and digital books.

The Common Core Standards have also helped to spur more use of the internet for inquiry and project-based learning. In such lessons, students are working on projects in which they do research and find solutions to a problem. In the course of solving the problem, they are learning skills that teach them the state standards. Often, such inquiry and project-based learning utilizes the course text as the baseline of basic information, from which the students conduct a deeper inquiry online with trusted sources.

Print books have not been supplanted by e-books in any level of education. Instead, e-books exist alongside print books. Often, both are augmented with value-added features that help deepen the learning experience.


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