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We should have had them years ago.
On this subject, I have felt for at least a decade that I am screaming into the void. It seems so obvious to me, but we continue to make little progress. So therefore it is not obvious to anyone else, and I am just an outlier. In the face of this reality, I am going to mount this soapbox again, in the (probably) vain hope that it might make a difference one day in the distant future.
I have written extensively here about our hybrid future in education. I believe in that, and progress towards that future continues to be made, albeit in the form of two steps forward, and one step back. Also, I have written here about our remote and hybrid work future, and progress towards that future seems similarly inevitable, despite the discomfort of managers and CEOs. But progress on hybrid textbooks… not so much.
Let me first define the term. A hybrid textbook is one that has less in print, and parts of the book in an interactive format online. It’s that simple. But what is the benefit of doing that?
Quite simply, I contend, it has great potential to make a better book, with greater instructional potential. There are several reasons for this, but the first is the most obvious. Some of what we want students to read is best done through print, and some of it can be activated by web technologies to become more interactive or instructional. I call this concept:
The difference between “lean backward” and “lean forward” reading.
“Lean backward” reading is what we want students to do with their feet up on a table, with a highlighter at the ready. It is the basic content of the course, the key elements, ideally organized in a stepwise learning fashion. “Lean forward” reading is what we want them to do next by going on the web to interact with what they are learning and engage with it. How about an example?
Do you remember your high school biology textbook? You read about the anatomy of a frog, and there was a static image on the page of a frog, cut open and splayed out. What if, instead of the static image, you went instead to the companion website for your textbook, and there found an interactive image of a frog where you could dissect it “live” on the screen in AR? Yes, in this example many of us actually dissected a real frog in biology lab. But that happens less and less now, and many schools do not do this anymore. But even if they did, the point stands, for this reason:
Because what if we did this sort of thing throughout education, in every textbook? Not just the frog?
Think of what you teach. How long is your printed textbook? Are there subjects in that book that could be made more interactive on the web than they are on the printed page? If so, crucially the next question is: would doing so be more interactive than the page, and would it lead to deeper engagement in the material by the student? If so, wouldn’t that be better?
I submit that the answer to these questions are, for most of us: Our textbooks are long, ponderous, heavy, and expensive. There are some subjects that could be more interactive, and doing so would lead to deeper engagement than just the highlighter. And overall this would be better for our students.
Yet hybrid textbooks are fairly rare. And often limited to the sciences, and subjects like frog dissection, or medical procedures, where the application and benefit are so obvious it is worth the effort and cost.
But the cost picture has changed in the last 20 years or so. These sorts of interactive elements are much easier and less resource intensive to create, activate, and host. Yet hybrid textbooks have not progressed much. I do not understand why that is. But I will hazard a few guesses. Here is the first:
If textbooks become cheaper, the textbook publishers make less money.
I know, that’s an obvious reason. So obvious, it may end the argument. But, I think hybrid textbooks would be SO much better that there should be a market for them, and another publisher in that space would have success.
Maybe textbook authors do not want to write them because they take more effort. That’s possible. But there are young academic authors coming up all the time, and they want to make their mark. This would be a good way to do so. To, say, reinvent the Economics textbook with interactive graphs of live data.
Our students today are saturated in technology, and the media they consume comes at them at light speed. And then we ask them to sit down and plow through 90 pages of dense text. I half expect students to just rebel against it one day. Actually, some already do, in a quiet way, by just not doing the assigned reading, or not finishing it. Yes, it was always thus, but I wonder if we are losing students who would otherwise be fully engaged. We are just boring the crap out of them.
I want to know your thoughts about Hybrid Textbooks, and if you have reasons why there are so few, and adoption rates are so low, please tell me. What am I missing?
Letters of Recommendation
As the days lengthen, finally, it is time to start planning your summer travel. At the very least, doing so will help get you through the winter doldrums. Since overseas travel still seems limited, why not pick a few National Parks to visit? Do you have your National Parks Passport? If so, you can keep a record of parks you have visited by getting it stamped. And here is a wonderful guide to the National Parks, published by National Geographic (so you know the pictures are stunning).
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1934:
There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.