Do textbooks still have a place in today’s classrooms?

Ever since the Ancient Greeks, we have been recording our knowledge in written form and sharing these documents for the purposes of educating others. Previously, this transfer of knowledge was done verbally, and so this new medium allowed for much faster, scalable education. What a wonderful advance this was for human societies!

Fast forward over 2000 years and we are still using this same technology to educate our children. This, to me, seems odd given the technologies that we now have available to us.

When, I wonder, was the last time that you wanted to learn something and wandered over to your bookshelf to leaf through your encyclopaedia? I mean, why would you do that when you have a vast array of ever-current knowledge available to you at your fingertips all the time, just a simple voice command away?

Last year my colleague and I, went to a workshop given by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, father of the SAMR model of teacher technology adoption. To be clear, Ruben doesn’t care for technology for technology’s sake. Rather, he pushes the following: when you have a task at hand, consider the tools available to complete that task and ask yourself “what tool or tools will best help me to achieve my goal?”. That’s it. Oftentimes the answer to your question will be using a range of tools. They may be online, they may be offline, it doesn’t matter. Simply consider the problem you are trying to solve and consider how best to solve it.

Now, ask yourself this question: what learning resource, or combination of learning resources, should I use in order to be help my students to learn what I’d like to teach them? I wonder, in asking yourself this question, where does the traditional paper textbook fit? I would be surprised it if featured at all.

“Textbooks, ladies and gentlemen, are dead.”

Textbooks are fundamentally broken. They are always out of date (even by the time they hit the printing press), they aren’t searchable, they aren’t customisable, you have to have them with you to use them, and they weigh a tonne! Doesn’t it make sense to have an equivalent resource that is always current, that is searchable, that is customisable, that’s accessible anywhere and that doesn’t break your back!? What I find remarkable is that this technology exists and is readily available, yet paper textbooks seem to still be ubiquitous in classrooms today.

It’s our responsibility to best prepare the next generations for the lives ahead of them. In order to do that, we need to be continually reflecting on our practice, both on a micro level and on a macro one. What is the best way to be preparing the next generations for the world that awaits them given the tools that we have available to us? Through this lens, I find it difficult to see why textbooks ought still to have a place in our classrooms.

Communicating information via paper was a wonderful invention of the past. It has lived a long and illustrious life, making great contribution to the advancement of societies worldwide. But for this purpose, its days are numbered. Textbooks, ladies and gentlemen, are dead.

Daniel Pikler I Head of Education @ Stile