Textbooks, particularly basic textbooks, are not very efficient containers of information in the Digital Age and represent pernicious cost-drivers for our students. We need to reconsider their role in the modern instructional landscape. A recent study by the College Board indicated that the average cost for a year’s worth of textbooks is over $1200. That’s roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of in-district tuition at my community college.
There is widespread acceptance that this is a national problem and a lot of efforts, stretching all the way from open educational resources (OER) to Congress, have been initiated over the last decade in an attempt to address this issue. All of these efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, miss a basic point: We are still thinking in an industrial mode when it comes to role of the book in our world. These efforts all seek to make books cheaper without asking the question of what their role in education is in the first place.
The problem with textbooks
For centuries, books have formed the backbone of our educational experiences. The earliest universities coalesced around their bibliographic collections. You went to Oxford to “read” history because that was literally where the books were. Even with the advent of printing, books were still a scarce and precious resource. However, books are not the ideas contained in them. They are merely the repositories for the ideas in them and those two are often conflated. The Digital Age is awash with ideas not contained in books. The world of textbooks ignores this basic fact.…Read More