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A textbook example?

Technology has expanded the definition of the term “textbook.”

Traditional book publishers are transforming the process for developing textbooks and supplemental digital learning content and tools. Creating responsive, interactive, dynamic digital learning content and tools instead of just e-books or PDFs of the printed books is part of the modern educational landscape.

“The changes in the textbook world are giving us more tools to be able to meet the needs of more students in ways that we could not do previously,” said Nicole Luthy, director of School Outreach and Engagement in the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement at The Ohio State University.

The ways in which educators are using textbooks is shifting, too, said Kui Xie, Cyphert Distinguished Professor of Learning Technologies and director of The Research Laboratory for Digital Learning at Ohio State. Decades ago, textbooks drove decisions about curricula and tests, he said.

“The more recent trend is selecting instructional materials to meet academic content standards.”

The composition of a “class” is also evolving as students blend their in-classroom experience with learning opportunities online, Luthy said. Students can watch a demonstration from class again for comprehension and even expand instructional time by previewing lessons and presentations in advance.

“Digital resources are really helping us as educators to think about how to use technology to deepen student learning in ways that go beyond the classroom,” Luthy said.

For younger children, making textbooks more interactive provides teachers with a better understanding of how the students are learning. Students have the ability to access definitions to specialized vocabulary, and their progress is assessed and reported to teachers.

“We see that digital textbooks can support learners in ways print cannot,” Luthy said. “It helps teachers to target their instruction to specific students and to focus on specific topics in order to help address shortcomings or misunderstandings.”

Digital textbooks have the advantage of presenting the content in multiple ways — with video, audio and visual elements — which helps make the content come to life in a way that’s not available in print, as well as provide formats that can assist students with learning disabilities.

Expanding access to education

Instructors at universities are putting lectures online, and those are being incorporated in courses, so teachers are essentially creating customized “textbooks” structured around different types of content modules, Luthy said. And, as the “Web 2.0” technology has emerged, with every internet user being able to generate and disseminate content, it’s made resources for learning “almost unlimited,” Xie said.

Students and teachers, however, need to carefully evaluate the “open source” information they’re using, Xie explained. Just because it’s published online, doesn’t mean it’s accurate or scientifically reasonable.

Educators and schools need to provide training on how to evaluate digital content in order to increase schools’ capacities to evaluate and select digital content for teaching and learning, Xie said – adding he can see more technological tools in the future to intelligently recommend vetted digital resources.

It’s hard to say if there will ever be a time where there are no printed books in schools, Luthy and Xie agreed.

“I see a combination between the physical world and virtual world in the future,” he said. “I really think it’s exciting to have digital content available in schools, and to move away from the boundary of physical textbooks. They can do a lot of other things to stimulate learning.”

The emphasis should be on the best approaches for teaching students and allowing those approaches to drive decisions about the format of materials and how they’re used, Luthy added.

“We’d hope to see students engaged in learning and teachers with access to the best materials, whether that’s print or electronic, to support their instruction,” she said. “We want to see a really diverse set of materials, print, digital and world-based learning opportunities for students in their courses. It’s really not an either/or — it’s kind of all of these things, all of the above.”