Textbooks: Are they necessary?

Are textbooks going to become a thing of the past? Or is there still a place for them in the future of pedagogy?

First, I think we have to define the purpose of a textbook. What is its function?Textbooks in my field are usually facts + equations+ examples + practice problems and generally they are in print. Some try to provide context for the information they are conveying, but not all are successful. I do not know that this format is the same for all disciplines and I welcome other examples of textbook formats.

Why would textbooks not necessarily be so useful in the future? The simple answer I came up with is technology. In a world where almost any fact can be found in a matter of minutes, from almost any location, how can a hard copy textbook survive? I think an advantage that a textbook may have is that it is a topic specific collection of information, and therefore may be more useful as subjects are investigated deeply as opposed to trying to google all the important aspects of let’s say water chemistry, for example. One serious shortfall our current hard copy system has is staying current and up to date. If textbooks become a primarily digital resource, then they can be easily updated as newer, better information is compiled. This poses a serious problem for the textbook industry, which seems to rely on minor changes leading to new editions every few years to improve their sales.

Another question I have is does the textbook have a place in a more learner centered, problem based pedagogy? I’m seeing a shift in many classes, especially those where a more problem based pedagogy is employed, where there is no all encompassing text for a class. Instead, resources are pulled from a variety of sources, and the fundamentals are pointed out and emphasized in the content driven portion of class either though readings or lecture.

What do you see as values and challenges of our current hard-copy text based academia? Are you also seeing a shift away from textbooks? Will you use a textbook for the courses you plan on teaching in the future?



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