May 31, 2006

Textbooks & Dodos

From InsideHigherEd yesterday, and interesting article on the Future of a Dinosaur:

The calculus book of the future might be a lithe guidebook peppered with Web links. It might just be downloaded to a Pocket PC. Or maybe it will be a wiki, compiled at the editorial discretion of the calculus professors, and, perhaps, students.
And it's about time. There's expensive and weigh a ton.
[T]he way students gather information is changing rapidly, but textbooks are not. They are less portable than ever, and students can’t sell them back to the bookstore fast enough.

“How do I reconcile that textbook, which is very static, with dynamic teaching?” asked Paul Bierman, a geology professor at the University of Vermont who helped organize the meeting. For Bierman, the answer was simply to get rid of the textbook altogether. He prefers to get his students out in the field cracking open rocks.
In my own academic career, I always learned a lot more by doing than by reading the text. And another point made in the article that rung true for me was that students mostly use their texts to help them with assignments rather than as something to be waded through from page 1 to 1000.
Several faculty members used the analogy of the guidebook. “When I went to Egypt, I didn’t take the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt,” said Richard McCray, professor emeritus of astrophysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “I took Lonely Planet.” And then, McCray said, if he could spend time at a particular site of interest, and dig deeper if needed, just as a professor can linger on important topics in a class.
As librarians, what will our roll be in the death of the text book? Mostly making sure our patrons have access to solid and reliable sources that are also dynamic and interactive. And prodding the publishers to get the job done and change their publishing models to ones that make sense going forward.

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