Textbooks Going the Way of the Dinosaur?
seem to talk to you as if they were intelligent, but if you
ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed,
they go on telling you just the same thing forever." Thus,
in Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates famously denounced the
new technology of "books," lamenting their lack of
interactivity and calling them "orphaned remainders of
forwarding to the 21st century, we hear the pronouncement by
Nicholas Negroponte, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Massachusetts
Institute of Technology's Media Lab, that the physical book
is dead. As MG Siegler elaborates in his post on the TechCrunch
website, Negroponte didn't mean that books would be completely
dead, but that digital books would soon largely replace physical
books, citing a report from Amazon.com that sales of books for
the Kindle have surpassed sales of hardcover books. Negroponte
compares the trend toward digital books to what has happened
in the film industry as the use of digital cameras has reached
critical mass. He notes that as early as the 1980s the writing
was on the wall that physical film was going to die, even though
companies like Kodak were in denial.
points out that Negroponte's argument is related to his One
Laptop per Child Foundation, adding that on those laptops,
he can include hundreds or thousands of books to ship to children
around the world, obviously an impossibility for physical books.
Bill Gates sees textbooks as particularly
problematic for the educational system. Even in grade schools,
he states, they can be 300 pages for a book about math. "They're
giant, intimidating books. I look at them and think: what on
Earth is in there?"
to Gates, our text books are three times longer than the equivalents
in Asia, where they're beating us in many ways with education.
Gates sees textbooks as built by committee and cluttered with
too many unnecessary "bells and whistles."
textbook market is perhaps one of the biggest rackets in the
academic publishing industry," says
David Parry, assistant professor of Emergent Media and Communications
at the University of Texas-Dallas. He believes that textbooks
should be free and accessible to all.
Hu, head of education technology and services for Goldman Sachs,
sums up the viewpoint of those who argue for the value and inevitability
of a transition from analog to digital learning media: "Technology
is doing to education what it's done to countless other industries:
disrupting it," Hu says. "Where education once was
static, bound to a textbook, now it's moving to a global, interdisciplinary
many countries, from Spain to China, students are no longer
required to buy expensive hardcopy textbooks. They can access
learning materials in various ways, including borrowing books
from a library, downloading parts or all of a digital text,
or watching videos created by their instructors and by the best
educators around the world. In South Korea, one of the most
digitally advanced countries in the world, most students are
no longer using hardcopy texts.
many young people (and their teachers) in developing countries
may not have access to the internet and may not possess laptops
or tablets, just as in the past books have been scarce. However,
there is a global push and collaboration among many educational,
philanthropical, governmental and other organizations to equip
students around the world with digital devices.
and supported by a new pedagogy for the 21st century, there
appears to be an inexorable global march toward digital learning
instruments, leaving physical textbooks behind.