Friday, July 10, 2009

no more textbooks

I gave a final exam based on quotes from the following links:

BBC News. June 8, 2009. Online push in California schools.

Caleb Johnson, June 9. 2009. California moves toward online textbooks. Switched.

Associated Press, August 18, 2005, Look Ma! No schoolbooks! Wired

E-Textbooks- For real this time? Jan. 3, 2008. Inside Higher Ed.

Ashleigh Jardine, Feb. 11, 2009. Textbooks going paperless, Andrews University.

Christopher Dawson, Feb. 5, 2009, Textbooks? Textbooks? We don’t need no stinkin’ textbooks! ZDNet Education.

It wasn't until after I graded the finals that I realized that my students had been 14 to 0 in favor of online textbooks.

This stunning result does not necessarily mean that the same percentage, 100%, truly favor online textbooks, which clearly have some disadvantages (among them, you can't write native words in the margins). The results are skewed by the fact that the job of the test-taker, in a timed situation, is to take quotes from these articles and use them to make arguments; the arguments in favor are certainly clearer, and easier to use (by virtue of being direct from the author, as opposed to second-hand, the author quoted x as saying...). The results are further skewed by the fact that they may suspect I am in favor of it or believe this is the essay I would want.

But most of all, the results are skewed by the fact that, as university students, they have now become accustomed to the huge textbook monopoly and its results, because of which they have to pay $80, $100 or more for books that are "outdated" within years and can't be resold to classmates or returned for half price.

My own feeling is that we in the ESL business should just become very good at using "authentic" materials, and make them where they don't otherwise exist; we should at least listen to our students about the issue. It was not only 14 to 0, it was a rather strong 14 to 0. Very few even had time for the opposing argument, although that may have had more to do with their writing skills in general.


At 9:17 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I still prefer real textbooks no matter what comes out you can only do so much with digital copies! It;s still cheap enough to buy online try a good price comparison site like

At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Bus205 said...

Even though online textbooks are cheaper and do have their advantages, I believe that hardcopy textbooks should still be used/available to the students. I have found that most professors use a textbook to supplement the basic concepts of the class, instead of simply using it as a source of quotes. I have taken several courses that have required online textbooks, and I personally prefer the old fashioned paper textbooks to their online counterparts. Part of my preference is derived from the way I take notes as I read. I am a big highlighter and margin note-taker, which, as you stated, is impossible with an online textbook. As a future educator, the idea of "no more textbooks" seems constraining. Many students may prefer online textbooks, and in some classes they may be easier to use, but if the educational community fails to offer a hardcopy textbook to a student, and in doing so we have stunted this student’s education either by making the concepts too difficult to understand or not interesting enough to warrant the student’s attention then we have failed as educators. Since online textbooks are easily updated as new research is conducted, I do not think that they are entirely bad. As new technologies develop the availability of online textbooks that can be found in print is great, but, as I stated before, I believe that regardless of how far technology takes us hardcopies should always remain available so we do not limit the educational opportunities for any students.


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