When’s the last time you learned something from a textbook?

I asked the title question of a room full of students at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education ranging from third year undergraduates to second year graduates.  The students looked at me as if I were crazy.  Then, they looked around the room to see what their peers were doing.  Then, one after one they shrugged their shoulders or rolled their eyes.  I broke the silence by then asking a question like, “So, why do schools still buy or require students to buy textbooks if students don’t use them to learn?”

So, where do students get their information?  What’s the purpose of a textbook any way?  Who is the textbook for?  These are some of the questions that were thrown around last week in a planning session on the future of technology for learning in my school district.  As reported by the group of citizens and educators in attendance, textbooks are for teachers.  So, do schools still buy textbooks so teachers can use them?

Virginia last adopted science textbooks in 2004.  One of the Earth Science books adopted, Modern Earth Science, was published in 2002.  I find it very interesting that a 9th grader in a Virginia high school will have a textbook that is 10 years old when a new state contract for science text books  is issued July 1, 2012.  The online version of this book states “Chapter 3 describes how various types of maps are made and used to study the Earth.”  There’s a nifty PDF-based activity in the chapter for finding directions with a compass and there is no mention in the book’s glossary of GPS or GIS.  Teaching materials that were provided with this textbook include 2 CD-ROMs, overhead transparencies, a video disc, and a video tape. GPS technology was first integrated with cell phones in 2004.  Google Earth was released by Google in 2005.

This textbook is one example of why it is absolutely irresponsible for us to even consider purchasing textbooks en masse for one-to-one deployment in this day and age.  By the way, this textbook cost $55.40 in 2004 per the state contract.  English textbooks for 9th graders, per the state contract, amount to over $100, the least expensive 9th grade history book is $54.97, and the cheapest geometry textbook is $53.70.

What do I recommend instead?  Assuming a student will require $267.07 in textbooks each year for four years of high school, that’s $1,056.28.  What if we handed the kid a netbook (beefed up to the cost of $500), improved our infrastructure ($200 per student), and paid his or her teachers to participate in professional development (4 teachers per year at $40 per hour at 30 minutes per student or $320)?  The cost of all of this is $1,020.  This is less than the cost of the textbooks that are out of date before they are handed out for the first time!  Granted, textbooks are on a 10 year replacement cycle and netbooks will have to be on a much shorter replacement cycle, but there’s a chance they may actually improve learning!  


One Response to “When’s the last time you learned something from a textbook?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I agree. I think that school systems particularly in the south are being dragged kicking and screaming into the paperless age. I am one of the products of the VA school system, graduating in 2002. And I recall that book. In my time their we didn’t use technology in the classroom the way that we now know that we should use….as a teaching tool. When i was in public school it was just a way to do research form off the internet or Encyclopedia CD-Roms or to type up a report. Textbooks need to be obsolete but I think that what is holding it back it the fear of teaching with having something physical for the kids and teacher to use it will take more work for a lesson plan to be orchestrated around the computer. By that I mean that it will be difficult for some to adapt to. especially those teachers who have been teaching for years in the fashion that their are use to too and disapprove of change. But their are other factors like having the money for it and how to safeguard the technology from theft and how to adapt the system for disadvantage children without access to technology at home.The answers and solutions are unknown and will remain to be a work in progress, but the focus should be that American schools continue to make progress despite these and other unforeseeable obstacles.

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