The Downside of Digital Textbooks

This year, my Algebra 1 students have digital textbooks, and my Pre-Calc and Geometry students have hardback textbooks.  Back in September, I wrote a post about how I didn’t think it made sense for my Algebra students to use their iPads as notebooks like I was planning have my other students do.  My reasoning was that they needed to be able to work on problems from the book at the same time that they are looking at their textbooks, and I was worried that this much multi-tasking was going to be a recipe for disaster.  

A couple of months into the school year, I don’t regret that decision, but I regret that I had to make it because my Algebra 1 students need to spend a significant amount of time using their powerful mobile devices to view Algebra problems that they then work out in their notebooks.  This is not very different at all from what my classes did with a hardback book last year.  

On the flip side, I just posted about how my geometry students were able to use their iPads to collect and pool some data last week, and they have also used them to access Google Earth, find pictures of things on the internet to add to their digital notes, draw better, more colorful pictures, and more. They rarely touch a piece of paper.

Next year, these geometry students will have digital textbooks, and I’m not sure if this is going to mean that I am going to ask them to switch back to paper for notes and homework.  I don’t want to.  I am being prompted to try activities this year that I don’t think I would have tried if I had this class working in notebooks and binders.  I am at the point where I would rather have no textbook than a digital textbook.

Why?  I wasn’t exactly sure until I read a post on Dan Meyer’s blog called The Digital Networked Textbook:  Is it any different? about a month ago which said everything I had been thinking.

Meyer contends that digital textbooks aren’t different enough from their paper cousins, and I agree with him.  I think this is because that their main function is still to be a vehicle for content.  They are not a work space or, ideally, a collaborative work space.  Because they are just vehicles for content delivery, I think digital textbooks actually limit the power of the mobile devices being used to view them because students have to use the mobile to look at something, not to do something.

If my geometry students had been able to enter that data they collected last week into their digital textbook, see the data entered by their classmates (and maybe people in other geometry classes?), and then use that to draw conclusions and do other work (all in the
“book”, THAT would be different, and THAT would be worthwhile.  

Until then, I can write my own geometry problems, and I don’t mind the extra work if it means my students can use their devices to actually do something instead of just looking at slightly more interactive textbook pages.



5 thoughts on “The Downside of Digital Textbooks

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