Around the Web: Hitting the Books

What will the textbook of the future look like?

There has been a lot of buzz about e-textbooks this year. Will the iPad be the platform that turns the tide? What will collaborations between book publishers and educational platforms bring? Will late-adopting professors, publisher restrictions, questionable fees, and the nonexistence of a secondary market doom the conversion to digital? Will open-source materials become widespread, or will private companies stymie such initiatives?

Textbook with highlighting

photo by Alan Levine via Flickr

In the midst of these very open questions, here some points worth noting:

Libraries have been playing an important role in studying and adapting to how, and in what kinds of spaces, students prefer to read, as well as in changing the circulation of academic scholarship (which, one imagines, will eventually trickle down into how that scholarship is packaged for undergraduate consumption)

A resounding success story in the world of digital texts is Bookshare, a service that renders traditional texts into formats (larger print, easier-to-read fonts, scrolling, audio) that make them much easier to read for students with “print disabilities.” Bookshare has far outpaced its own targets for readership and number of books available, and recently won a major government award.

Faculty Focus reports on one of the first studies to measure students’ perceptions of textbooks. Visual layout, the usefulness of study aids, and whether instructors use the textbook in class are all important factors in determining how much of the text students read.

But even if students read the text, how much of it are they getting? Mindhacks.com reviews the decades-old research on what makes students likely to be able to recall what they’ve read: it’s how much they process the information, not how much they want to remember it. Sadly, our assessment methods often measure a student’s recall of the syllabus’s or lectures’ conceptual framework, not how deeply the student has processed the content.

Tiffany F. Culver solves this problem by requiring that her students write a “Reader’s Guide.” Such detailed tracking of their reading process enhances student comprehension—of particular note is the step that asks students to write down what they know about the topic before reading and then to connect that information with what the text says—and, Culver says, they require little instruction and are easy to grade.

Whatever the bells and whistles it uses, what matters most about a textbook will always be the range and quality of content it chooses to present: Ben Hufbauer reflects on the lasting scholarly achievement embedded in a project that changed the genre of the history textbook.

This post was written by Odile Harter.

2 thoughts on “Around the Web: Hitting the Books

  1. I completely agree with Faculty Focus reports, visual layout are very important for students to read. But at the end of the day, it’s up to them how much do they remember. From my personal experience writing before reading helps a lot. And even Technology +Education is one good combo to go for. Nicely written article. I liked it as a reader!

  2. Hi Odile

    What a lovely article. I totally concur with everything you mentioned – in particular, your well-justifed comments around the stunning success of Bookshare. My partner is visually impaired and ever since the advent of Bookshare her love of reading (via a screen-reader) has blossomed.

    While I truly believe that “books” as we have known them for centuries, will continue to flourish and be enjoyed by the masses, there will be an ever-increasing shift towards the digital versions. I know that in my own partner’s case she wayyyy prefers the digitized Bookshare concept to conventional hard copy braille versions. There’s simply no comparison. And while the blind and handicapped of this world only make up a fraction of the total population, their unilateral gravitation towards digital book-reading speaks volumes (no pun intended) for the future direction of published literature.

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