Friday, August 20, 2010


NPR ran a feature today on the future of books. Here's the part that most perked my interest (beings that many of us have been talking about this for some time now)...
Long the building blocks of academia, textbooks are seen more as albatross and less as asset these days. They are expensive — some costing more than $300. They are quickly outdated. They can be so heavy that students and teachers are forced to tote them around in wheeled luggage carts.
Students, professors and universities are rebelling against the weighty — and wasteful — tomes. Stanford University's brand new physics and engineering library is advertised as "bookless"; relying almost solely on digital material. Free and downloadable textbooks are at the heart of the growing "open educational resources" movement that seeks to make education more available and more affordable. Groups such as Connexions at Rice University and the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources in Silicon Valley are supporting free online textbook initiatives.


  1. I'm curious how much pushback the textbook publishing companies (thinking of elementary/high school textbooks more than college) are giving to this growing trend - or if they are seeking ways to adapt. I don't know - haven't really seen/heard anything about that, but it's an easy parallel to the music industry, for example. Adapt or die (and there are plenty of people, I'm sure, that would rather see the textbook publishers die for numerous reasons).

  2. Bravo. My eighty pound daughter regularly totes around nearly fifty pounds of books - as a high school sophomore. Bring on open-source!

  3. You naile Russell. I've just posted on my blog that one of the reasons why schools should go paperless is the weight of books. Here in Brazil I've seen kids carrying 6 to 7 kg in thei bags. Some schools tried to created lockers where sts could leave their material but it did not work. They would either have to abolish homework or let the kids carry a lot of weigh. Guess what they prefered?
    Great post!
    Bruno Andrade

  4. Long before the introduction of online media library, students are forced to carry around heavy textbooks that they suffer physically (eg. back pains are the most common). Thanks to the world of technology, students now can access online textbooks that are updated and free. Great post.:-)

  5. I just started grad school this summer--the last time I was in college was 1997--and was surprised by the lack of textbooks. I started six classes and was required to purchase one textbook and one coursepack (total cost=$80). The rest of the reading material is posted online. My wallet and back appreciate this. However, it has also posed a few challenges for me.

    One, when I started the program I didn't have an internet connection in my apartment (I had just moved) so I had to either download all of the readings to my computer when I was at school, or go someplace with free Wi-Fi. This wasn't that big of a deal for me, but it would have become more of an issue if I didn't eventually get internet access in my apartment.

    The bigger challenge for me has been the fact that a lot of my reading strategies don't work when I'm reading something on a screen. I can't underline or highlight or take notes in the margins with the same ease as I can when I have a printed source in front of me. I end up printing out the more difficult readings, which often feels wasteful and cumbersome.

    That being said, I still feel like there is immense value in reducing or eliminating textbooks. I agree with RT--the time is approaching where we will have to "adapt or die." With the vast amounts of constantly updated information available online, textbooks are becoming more like a dusty old set of encyclopedias than the revered tomes they once were.

  6. Excellent topic. Love the idea that is being tossed out there. I once wrote a blog topic wondering what the affects of Social Media was on the environment. For example meetings now take place all over the world without the expenses of fuel and traveling. This topic of paper as a whole is huge. If you just take the big picture and wipe out paper completely "HELLO"! Thats a hell of a lot of trees and healthy tasting oxygen for our kids and there kids. Thanks for the topic and really enjoy your blog and info. Have a great year!

  7. @jenson and everyone else

    Guess you never have gone to a journal to read an article for class and discovered that it had been razor bladed out of the journal by a selfish person. That was a before online phenomenon!

    Texts are for a world without the Internet. It is not about weight or convience. It is about access, about liberation from schoolnessas. Texts are now about control! The Internet is about learning.

    Something that is online is PRINTED! It is just a different medium. Your printed on paper techniques dao do not work because on online print because it is a different medium. Online is a medium with greater and less expensive access. It is worth developing new reading and studying techniques for so you don't have to return to analog form from digital. It is worth the switch!

  8. I just watched a video on TED about this very issue. One of personal teacher goals this year is move away from the book.

  9. I'm an English teacher. I still relish holding a novel in my hands, sitting with my legs slung over a chair arm, reading for pure joy. I wonder if this joy is a thing of the past, or if young people today have adapted and feel the same way about their cell phones.

    Still, I agree with a lot of what is said here.

    To Jenson Angle, check out diigo -- you CAN annotate and make notes on a text online.

    Susan Davis

  10. Some thoughts:

    Oh, Jenson! Since you are in grad school, please follow Susan's advice to check out Diigo! You can annotate; you can collaborate; you can organize. It's great for research, too.

    More and more publishers are offering digital versions of their texts, sometimes for a fraction of the cost of the paper ones. A good thing, since our students won't go to their basement lockers and insist on carrying everything everywhere. Since we're 1:1, the use of online texts is quite feasible.

    Here's a blog post from a colleague of mine who has been experimenting with going bookless in some of his classes:

  11. Thank you all for the great suggestions! I just started my Diigo account and it seems like a great answer to a lot of my issues. I just started student teaching this week at a school that has very limited resources, so I'll probably ask you all for more advice as the year goes on!



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