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The future of textbooks

January 9th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Two discussions have been coming together recently – the use of mobile devices – especially tablet computers – and the provision of text books.

As more tablet devices are released – and the increasing functionality of smart phones – plus the rising availability and popularity of ebooks, there is an immediate attraction to the idea of giving students mobile devices pre-loaded with all the text books students need for a course. However, as Ewen MacIntosh has pointed out, mobile devices remain relatively expensive compared to the price of text books and it may be that the only institutions that can afford to distribute them to students for free are those catering for relatively wealthy students anyway.

That ebooks have made a limited impact in the education textbook market is not surprised. Remembering my own student days – and talking to friends little seems to have changed – there is a thriving market in second hand textbooks. Digital Rights Management software and prohibitive licensing have prevented such a market emerging in ebooks.

I wonder though, if the debate over text books and mobile devices has been overly limited in scope. The real qu8estion for me is if we still need textbooks. The development of Open Educational Resources would appear to potentially render many textbooks redundant. But even more, web 20 and multi media applications put the ability to produce and share materials in the hands of anyone. So text book publishers no longer have a monopoly on the production of (scientific) publications. And that of course, has big implications for what is considered as scholarly or what publications or artefacts have authority, approval or sanction as learning materials. to an extent that debate has already started with the widespread use of wikipedia despite the frequently ambiguous attitude of academic providers.

Is it too big a step to imagine that in the future the ability to seek out and evaluate source materials will be seen as a key part of learning, rather than absorbing pre given material. And further, that student work can contribute to the body to learning materials, rather than being seen as just an exercise on the way to achieving accreditation?

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2 Responses to “The future of textbooks”

  1. 2 things I might add to this discussion:

    1: Student authored open text books where the learning value is transfered to the creative process rather than the memorisation of content.

    2: Internet Archive’s work on their own BookReader, and their perspective on Google’s work too…


  1. The future of textbooks according to Graham Atwell, OER may render many textbooks redundant #OER

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