I was so thrilled with the response to my newsletter last week about hybrid textbooks that I thought I would address the topic again this week, in a little more depth.
Last week I defined a hybrid textbook as:
[O]ne that has less in print, and part of the book in an interactive format online.
To be clear, my position is that every textbook in every subject should have an online component. Further, I believe that any textbook subject that has a component that could be more effectively taught by being activated with online technologies, it should be.
It would be easy to assume that I believe there is no role for print anymore. But I don’t believe that. I am advocating for print books that are shorter and cheaper, with student reading having two distinct steps. First in print, quietly, looking at the page, using a pen or highlighter to interact with what they are reading (the “lean back” reading). And then to “lean forward” into their laptops and see what they have just read be activated in some way.
How about a few examples? In an economics textbook, graphs that move when manipulated by the reader, or graphs where the data plotted on the X & Y axis can be selected by the reader. In a history textbook, an embedded video showing how people lived in the time. In an archeology textbook, a time-lapse video of a dig site. In a law textbook, a simulation of how the plaintiff’s injury took place.
Last week, I offered the example of frog dissection in a 10th grade biology text. That picture came from an app, separate and unrelated to a textbook. It’s a beautiful app that runs on most phones. But it is not integrated with the text.
I should note, as Philosophy professor James Geschke (who writes Jim’s Newsletter) posted in the comments, this is “kinda sorta already being done.” He is correct about that. We as teachers have the opportunity to kludge together a “text” from a book, handouts, links to videos, integration of an app, etc. In most cases, it puts a big burden on the teacher to put all this together in a coherent way, but it can be done.
Joel Neff (who writes Learned, a fascinating newsletter on linguistics) suggested that we just need an integrated technology, specifically a color e-ink device that becomes ubiquitous, and then textbooks can be written for that more integrated platform. I absolutely love that vision. But my only concern is… we already have such a device. It’s called an iPad. And when the iPad came out 12 years ago, a year later there was an app called Book Creator, which supports the creation of ebooks with interactive components. Yes, an e-ink device would be cheaper than an iPad, but used iPads are pretty cheap, and widely available. Why has this not been done, and widely?
It probably sounds old-fashioned that I am not suggesting we need an integrated device, because we have such a thing, and it hasn’t happened. There must be a reason why. And I think the reason is there is still a role for print. So again, when I refer to a hybrid textbook, I am suggesting a print book, with integration to online technologies.
Paul Hackett (who writes Guitar Noise) suggests that with entire courses successfully online, there’s no need for textbooks at all. For certain subjects, purchasing a print book (or in his case, guitar music) is obsolete. The instruction and the textual material can be integrated from the beginning. And I bet that is true for many courses. Just not all. Some subjects really require some close reading of print material.
Chevanne (who writes The FLARE) makes the incredibly important point that hybrid textbooks have the potential to reach students who otherwise struggle with a heavy print-based textbook. I agree with this, and it is one of the reasons I am frustrated about hybrid textbooks not being more common already. I think teachers who adopt such a book would find that students who learn differently will be more engaged. That is a general statement, but if only a few students are engaged in this way in each class it would make an important difference over time.
Jody Frank (who writes Things Invisible to See) and has experience in academic publishing, notes that a physical book can not have a link in it, so she likes Joel Neff’s idea of the e-ink screen. I certainly agree with both of them - we may find that the right device is the key that unlocks this problem. But I think that Gutenburg’s 500 year old advance still has legs. And I deeply believe in our hybrid future, as I have written here, and here and here.
So what an interesting discussion! When I started writing this newsletter over a year ago, exactly this kind of community discussion was what I was hoping for. Thank you all for reading, and for your engagement. In fact, let’s keep the discussion going! What have I still missed?
Letters of Recommendation
Over the last year, I have recommended about two dozen books, some relating to teaching and learning. Over the last year I have linked those recommendations to Amazon - with no affiliate relationship - for simple convenience. But really, who needs to give Jeff Bezos more money? So I have recently decided to use Bookshop.org for these links, because they allow for a “Bookstore” to be set up for this newsletter, and they give a portion of their profits to the local bookstore of your choice. Going forward, these will be affiliate links, but be sure to select your local small bookstore to receive part of the profits. With that preamble, check out our new Bookstore, which includes all the books recommended so far, and will include all new book recommendations:
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from American Novelist Anne Lamott which captures something I have discovered in writing this very newsletter:
Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do - the actual act of writing - turns out to be the best part.
"...a physical book can not have a link in it,.."
Well, yes it can with a QR Code! We publish CC licensed casebooks/textbooks in the legal area and our books have lots of links. This works fine in the ebooks, but obviously not so much in print. I am going to look into printing a QR code in the margins for all links in our pbooks. Thanks for the inspiration!
Hi David, Here are a few thoughts from a recently retired secondary school teacher who spent 30 years teaching Spanish, English, linguistics, writing, etc. For the most part, I would say I agree with the hybrid textbook idea because I can see its merits for using the online components to enhance what's covered in the print version in ways that print cannot. However, when it comes to junior high kids and even most high school kids, it's really best, in the classroom setting at least, that they not spend solo time on their laptops because they don't tend to be doing what they are supposed to be doing on them. Distractions are too tempting and policing them while they work becomes so problematic and time consuming. When technology was forced more and more upon me, I finally gave in and got a Spanish textbook that had online components, but what I found (and what made me actually pretty happy) was that every time I'd tell the kids to get out their laptops, they would groan. Finally, I asked them why, and they told me they were just sick of having to use them because once the school went one-to-one laptop per student, so many teachers started doing practically everything on them. They saw my class as a bit of a relief from the screen time, and I was quite happy to continue to oblige for that. What I found worked well with the online components I wanted to use was when I hooked my own laptop up to the projector and simply showed the things on my white board. Then I could focus all their attention to things, stop the video or whatever was playing as needed to either explain something or redirect their wayward focus, and I could even use it in an interactive way by having kids come to the board to do something related to what I was showing. You wrote that another person said that teachers are basically doing this already, which is true, but I would have appreciated, say, an English textbook with accompanying links or videos to show to go with the pieces of literature we were reading, so I didn't have to track them down on my own; however, I'm sure there would still be times I'd prefer to show a video that I prefer rather than the one the textbook creator came up with. For example, after reading "Our Town," I found a great recording of it from 1977, and I showed it to the students. I also found some fun animated versions of the Rip Van Winkle story that I showed. But, if those things were already available for me to use in a hybrid textbook, I may have simply gone with what was there, so I do see the value of them, but I also know that kids, surprisingly perhaps, get very tired of looking at a screen and they often prefer to read out of a book or, even better, just be taught by a great teacher. As I told you in our conversation, I left teaching for many reasons, the number one being so I could focus on my own writing career, but one of the main reasons I left was the sheer amount of technological stuff I was being required to master and use and implement became too much. I just wanted to teach, and that really wasn't what the job was about anymore. Sorry this is so long. Have a good day! Tammy