Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"The Textbook Industry Deserves to Die"

When marketing guru Seth Godin enters the fray, people listen. His Textbook Rant blog post today focuses on the expense, impracticality, and lack of engagement textbooks provide and stresses how quickly they become outdated. He declares, "As far as I can tell, assigning a textbook to your college class is academic malpractice."
And he concludes,
This industry deserves to die. It has extracted too much time and too much money and wasted too much potential. We can do better. A lot better.
What didn't he say?

He never mentioned that textbooks are inaccessible to many students - those with physical, vision or other print disabilities.
But he offers a digital solution that offers accessibility at no cost to the student.
The solution seems simple to me. Professors should be spending their time devising pages or chapterettes or even entire chapters on topics that matter to them, then publishing them for free online. (it's part of their job, remember?) When you have a class to teach, assemble 100 of the best pieces, put them in a pdf or on a kindle or a website... and there, you're done.
Teachers, professors are you listening?


Anonymous said...

I like Godin; I have all of his books in my classroom library for my students to read. And, I don't use textbooks, so I agree with Godin. By the time I get a textbook, it is obsolete.

Anonymous said...

The textbook industry is a racket. That said, we have to challenge it and change it if we don't like it. That said, with tenure for college profs riding on publishing - textbooks and all the rest - this particular constituency may not be so inclined to dismantle the use of textbooks. For K-12 education: classroom teachers need to honestly assess the viability of textbooks. Sadly, so many teachers would not be able to give substantive instruction without them. For them the textbook IS the curriculum. Which may explain why, in large part, teaching and learning is so disengaging for students.

B. Polzin said...

Everything you have said is true, and there are probably additional reasons why the textbook industry should at least be “on probation,” even if it doesn’t get the “death penalty.” There’s the whole state textbook approval issue, for example. We keep hearing that competition in the industry is stifled because the books that win official approval from large states can be produced at a much lower cost per book.

Further, there are so many other technologies available now. Along with the pdf, Kindle, and website options, we have blogs and podcasts through the internet. Within the individual classroom, programs like PowerPoint and interactive devices like SmartBoards offer other ways to deliver information. There is no justification for a textbook becoming a crutch.

That being said, I have to admit that, as a student, I’ve had some good useful textbooks and some really bad ones. As a teacher, I have been repeatedly frustrated with how quickly they become outdated.