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Are textbooks a thing of the past?

One of the unexpected side effects of information technology in the classroom is the decline of textbooks. As more and more classroom content becomes available online, teachers and their students are moving away from the bulky textbooks that most people remember.

Take, for example, the literature textbook in an English class. Most of the reading selections in a standard literature anthology are in the public domain and easily found on the internet. The editors of anthologies add other information like quizzes and discussion questions, but many teachers choose to create their own activities to react to a text. With many reading strategies, teachers encourage students to actively read by marking up the text—underlining important information or writing down questions by passages they don’t understand, for example. That strategy becomes difficult to implement when you use a standard textbook that students are expected to keep in “as good as new” condition.

It is entirely conceivable that a teacher of any subject could choose to forego a textbook entirely, using the content and activities available electronically instead of a traditional textbook. With schools looking to free up money to put more technology in the classroom, ditching a standard textbook for an electronic one can be a tempting proposition. Why shell out hundreds of dollars per textbook when students can read the same content on an iPad?

Many textbook companies are moving pro-actively toward electronic content. Some newer textbooks have QR codes that take students to enhanced or added content available online. Students can have updated versions of their history content, get immediate feedback and online assistance on their math homework, and find audio recordings of literature texts.

It used to be that if a teacher was unhappy with the textbooks that the school had available, they had little option but to use them until they wore out. Now that teachers have the option of foregoing a textbook altogether, textbook publishers have begun to diversify. This should work out well for teachers and students.