Teaching to the text: textbooks or technology?Sunday 23 October, 10.00 - 11.30 , Frobisher Auditorium 2 Battle for Education
Textbooks are rarely seen in English classrooms today outside of the dreaded cover lesson. But in recent years a number of academics, government ministers and commentators have suggested the time has come for the textbook to make a comeback. In an influential policy paper drawn up by Cambridge Assessment, Why Textbooks Count, it is argued that even as they have become obsolete in the UK, traditional teaching materials have played a crucial role in the success of education systems in Hong Kong, Singapore and Finland. While education in such countries flourishes, Schools Minister Nick Gibbs has claimed that an ‘anti-textbook ethos’ has become entrenched in teacher training institutions, resulting in an ‘astounding gap’ in standards between England and high performing countries overseas.
Critics suggest textbook enthusiasts are guilty of nostalgia and sometimes naked self-interest. Not only are they ‘out of date the second they’re printed’, but a ‘rigged textbook economy’ now profits only the industry that publishes endless new editions, rendering last year’s outdated. In contrast, advances in software and digital resources are said to hold great promise, with innovators suggesting that they hold the key to complete ‘individualised learning’. Maths software such as ALEKS, now widely used in US schools, has the capability to adapt to the needs of individual students and to instantly assess the individual capabilities of an entire class at a rate almost impossible for a classroom teacher. Meanwhile, online resources can be updated to reflect new discoveries and are claimed to be cheaper and more convenient to access. So are advocates of print guilty of fetishising the form? Is the debate around textbooks actually a discussion about content? If, as Dan Rowson, education policy officer at the Society of Biology, claims, ‘textbooks are a physical manifestation of the education system and the structure of knowledge itself’, does the proliferation of worksheets and lesson plans, or digital versus physical resources, reflect confusion within the teaching profession about the content of subjects?
Is it possible for teachers to have autonomy and freedom over what they teach while working with prescribed texts? Is a reliance on educational resources (whether on the page or on screen) the mark of a weak teacher? Has anyone asked teachers what resources they want?
head of publishing, Discovery Education
managing director, Collins Learning
group director of assessment research and development, Cambridge Assessment
founder and principal, East London Science School; director, the Physics Factory
assistant principal, Surbiton High School
The Future of Education: Tablets vs. Textbooks, Margaret Rock, mashable, October 2012
Why Tablets are So Much Better than Textbooks, Peter Jacobs, Business Insider, November 2013
Survey: Most Students Prefer Traditional Texts over E-Books, Joshua Bolkan, Campus Technology, January 2015
Textbooks have a huge impact on education, Barnaby Lenon, Telegraph, July 2015
Why textbooks don't work and hurt schools, Jay Mathews, The Washington post, February 2012