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Are my students reading the textbook?

I find myself wondering how many of my students (primarily the online students that I don’t see in a classroom) purchase the textbook for my classes. I wonder if they just find the information online somewhere. Sometimes I wonder if they read it either way, based on their test scores. That may be a little unfair, however, since learning is difficult and test taking skills vary with each student.

Yet, if I am exploring technology use in education, as this blog says I am doing, then I need to do more than wonder, don’t I.

Here’s my situation. I have a class that I regularly teach whose textbook is being “discontinued” – the editors are not renewing the contract with the publisher.

What do I do?

One solution is to just keep using the same textbook, letting the students find a used copy and continue to recirculate it. I don’t like that because (1) after a while the used copies disappear, and (2) there is some content that should be updated in some chapters. I want the students to be able to find and buy the text, and I don’t want students to buy a book with outdated information.

Another solution is to find a different textbook. The difficulty there is finding one that meets the needs of the class. This is always difficult because some chapters may not be relevant so not used; some books do not have all the information required for the course, so additional readings or a second book is needed. One incomplete book, or two books that are not completely needed?

Can technology help?

Why technology? One study in 2015 found that 78% of the students surveyed frequently used digital devices to read course material. Earlier research by Educause found that students use electronic devices for education and studying 3-5 hours per week. A 2017 study by McGraw-Hill Education found that over half to two-thirds of the students surveyed agreed that digital technology was helpful in studying, preparing for exams and completing assignments.

In one review of this type of research about students learning better by reading print instead of digital, the conclusion concerning digital or print was basically, “It depends.” This review concluded that “students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length” – students preferred to read digitally, and reading was significantly faster online than for print;

In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach.

They found that “for some tasks, medium doesn’t seem to matter” and general comprehension was fine when using both print or digital. But for deeper concentration, print seems to be better.

Of course there is the traditional “write another book” print technology. Or we have a growing movement toward OER (Open Education Resources) through our online technologies. Either way, it is the time and effort of writing or curating the information that is needed.

Here’s my plan.

I will be looking into developing a version of a digital textbook. This should help my students get the information they need, enable me to keep it updated, and ideally keep the cost considerably lower than most textbooks for my students, too. I would prefer that the digital text be engaging. Although much of that depends on my students’ desire to learn, there are things that can be done to increase the engagement level. Perhaps technology can be helpful there, too!