Textbooks: Jumped the Shark

Not sure if you know what Jump the shark means. I figured it was a common term. Here is the wikipedia entry. Or maybe you would like a graphic explanation. Here it is:


So, why the attack on textbooks? The main reason is that I just posted a rant about forces (or abuse of the word force) and I am going for the combo attack (more points that way). Actually, this has been in my mind for quite some time. There was a post on Uncertain Principles that started me thinking about it again.

I have been afraid to really speak my mind on this issue because I don't want to completely enrage the textbook publishers. They do send me free books sometimes. Oh well, first what is the chance they will read this? Second, I already have tons of books and there is always wikipedia.

So, why do I think textbooks have jumped the shark? I know you think it also. Here are some problems with textbooks (in no particular order).

  • Price. Everyone knows textbooks are really expensive. Why are they so expensive? Part of the reason is that publishers need to make up money lost due to used book sales. Seriously. One solution to this problem is textbook rental. We do this at my institution. It looks like a good idea, but really it doesn't work. Imagine being a physics major in your junior year, but not having an introductory text.
  • In some cases, students don't even read them. One common use of the text in physics is for formula hunting. Some students are quite adept at this method. But really, if a student doesn't even read the thing, what is the point?
  • Textbooks are written for professors. What is important about textbooks (from a publisher prospective)? The important thing is to get them used by classes. How do you do that? Make something the faculty will like. The faculty make the decisions. Sure, some faculty will look to choose a book that is best for the students (well, all strive to do this). However, some faculty will only adopt a text that has obscure topic X,Y,Z - even if that is not central to the course.
  • Textbooks take up space and are heavy. Really, they are. Have you seen these high school kids lugging around a rolling suitcase because they are carrying around 100 lbs of books? Isn't that ridiculous? The textbook has been around for a long time (and the book). Isn't it time to make a transition to something else?
  • Publisher strategies. This isn't really a problem with textbooks, but something publishers do to try and improve their textbooks. They like to include more problems, more pictures and.....online stuff. This is really the new popular thing. Hey! Adopt our textbook, we have online stuff.

Great. If there are so many problems, why don't I suggest something better. Ok, I will. Actually, I don't really know what is the best, but I can think of a few ideas to consider.

  • Electronic. This is a no brainer. I really don't know what else to say.
  • Cheap. Or free. Stuff wants to be free. How about even add supported? Most of the stuff on the Internet is free, I don't think you can get around not making it either dirt cheap or free. My online textbook is free - just saying.
  • Interactive. I am not sure what the best form of 'interactive' is - but my idea is kind of like a tutorial. Show some stuff give some problems with instant feedback. At the very least, make it hyperlinked. I guess you could also add multimedia in there. I know there are some awesome online applets that help out a lot with understanding of difficult concepts (PhET comes to mind - free, btw). I think this is one area where the possibilities are vast. We are so used to textbooks being static and on paper that it is difficult to imagine all the ways it could be different.

I am not sure what else would be good for the textbook 2.0. It should be cool. I, for one, welcome our textbook 2.0 overlords.

More like this

I just tend to forget the book is there. I got out of the textbook habit when I began my HS teaching career when the book was "Modern Physics" by Trinklein (I forget the publisher...) which was HORRIBLE so I didn't let the kids read it. Then two other things happened--I was trained to teach using modeling, and then later Phil Sadler and Robert Tai did a study that had an inverse correlation between HS science class use of textbook and success in college intro science courses (as measured by grades in said college science courses). So I have no qualms about not using them, but sometimes the problem sets are pretty nifty. There are some great problems in HRW (Halliday/Resnick/Walker) and also some good ones in Giancoli.

The publisher wants money for nothing as does the university. Student are process fluid. A course requiring text(s) then costs its credit-hours, plus electronic textbook charges (only 70% of the dead tree edition!) plus $25 for the encrypted loaded thumb drive. 100% textbook purchase on the day of enrollment, no overhead for the campus bookstore, bulk purchase of thumb drives for about $5 each.

Each student has its computer(s) coded upon matriculation. Encrypted thumbdrives will only run on certified hardware after tuition is paid for a course. Anybody who successfully hacks the system and submits a working remedy gets $1000 toward tuition and fees.

Profitable, air-tight, and utterly non-discriminatory toward the rubes, er, students. A small additional student charge engages the highlighter option in a given electronic textbook. All textbook thumbdrives will be confiscated by Homeland Severity if students try flying home with them.

Think inside Accounts Receivable.

Why not just use a Schaums Outline as the course textbook?

I agree. I've long thought that it would be more useful to just supply teachers with the 'supplements' (by no means perfect in themselves) and rely on notes or handouts. One question I have there, though, is how the cost of photocopying compares to the cost of books (spread across their lifetime).