Textbook technology: Taking classroom resources to the next level

Gary Bryant

Gary Bryant is the UK Manager of ITSI, a digital solution that empowers educators and students by simplifying the teaching and learning experience. Gary has worked in education for a number of years, introducing new and innovative technology solutions across all phases.

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At the latest British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) and Publishers Association Conference, Nick Gibb MP highlighted the importance of high-quality curriculum resources, citing results from the annual PISA reports, which showed that high-performing countries including Singapore and Finland, make far more use of textbooks in the classroom. The UK, on the other hand, has a thriving edtech market. So how can teachers utilise the combined power of the textbook and technology to create effective learning opportunities for students?

Mark of quality

When teachers consider classroom resources, I’m sure the majority look for content that is detailed, filled with practical and real-life examples, and accessible to the whole class, no matter what their specific needs. However, while textbooks tick all of these boxes, ensuring the content is also up-to-date can prove problematic, with old textbooks perhaps not containing relevant content or curriculum aligned material. Therefore, if for example you’re teaching a lesson in Geography, you might want to engage learners with near real time phenomenon such as a recent hurricane they may have heard of in the news.

Another issue that’s worth flagging when using textbooks in the classroom is that often they need to be kept immaculate"Ensuring the content is also up-to-date can prove problematic." for the next class or student to use, which means that students are unable to write notes alongside important text or make annotations. This can be hugely disruptive to learning. Therefore, we need to think about how students’ notes can be collated in one place alongside key information in the text, so that they don’t end up in the bottom of students’ rucksacks or on the floor in the corridor, and instead are able to truly benefit student attainment. One such way, is to print relevant materials, such as news articles, open source scholarship, or even from the textbook itself (if it complies with fair use guidelines, of course) that can be annotated directly, however despite enabling students to keep notes and text alongside each other, the risk of these paper-based notes being lost or damaged is still significant.

With the possibility of textbooks in multiple classrooms needing replacing due to outdated content or due to damage, they can also often prove economically unviable which, with schools’ budgets being placed under significant strain, can place question over the overall benefits of the textbook.

So how can technology help to bring textbooks into the 21st Century?

Technological revolution

In the last few years, we've seen a huge increase in the amount of technology being introduced in classrooms, and it’s helping to create a more effective learning environment for all.

For many schools, the use of tablets, for example, has allowed for unprecedented freedom when it comes to learning opportunities, opening the door to audio and video content, as well as a wealth of research materials, including news reports, academic papers and online discussions. For the tech-savvy generation of students, having the ability to access learning content in this familiar way increases their engagement; and after all, with many jobs now requiring technological skills, it's important for them to be proficient with a number of different devices in a productive manner.

The best of both worlds

While both textbooks and tablet technology have their merits, there is a great deal to be gained by combining the two. We're all quite used to the idea of e-readers for reading books, but this is usually associated with fiction and leisure time. But why not consider implementing a similar technology in the classroom?"Having ebooks available streamlines the learning process." Having ebooks available on tablet devices is sure to streamline the learning process, and there are a number of benefits to be gained from this. One such benefit is that it gives students ownership of the curriculum content. As discussed previously, annotations and notes can often be lost or damaged when on paper, but with electronic text, students can highlight a single word, or a whole section, and type notes associated specifically to this. Using digital content gives both teachers and students the flexibility to get creative with notes and resources, as well as making them easier to manage.

Addressing the issue mentioned previously about students losing or damaging their paper notes, why not consider using technology that allows both curriculum resources and student notes to be stored in one place, so that all their ideas are contextually accessible and can be accessed and updated regularly?

We’re all aware of the need to provide thought-provoking and rich learning in classrooms, and with digital textbooks, this can be delivered. Having individual textbooks often makes it difficult to personalise and adapt learning, but when they’re digitised, additional content can be added and accessed immediately. Have you ever considered using a YouTube video to enhance a point, or perhaps a PowerPoint presentation to delve deeper into a subject? These offer an alternative and engaging way to enthuse students with learning, so why not add these supporting materials to provide students with more varied and contextual curriculum resources?

As for ensuring that all content is up-to-date, digital access also means that whenever a new edition of a textbook is published, teachers can download and distribute it immediately, rather than waiting for a new package of books to arrive at the school. In some instances, it might be that a subject-specific textbook simply doesn't exist. But teachers shouldn’t feel restrained by resources that aren’t available. You could even consider creating your own flexible resources that you can tailor specifically to lesson plans for the term and enhancing this with images, video, articles and even digital assessments.

The textbook will always have a place in classrooms - it is a source of in-depth, specialist information that is contained in a neat little package. But with the advent of technology, the traditional textbook can become so much more, opening up a varied and enriched teaching and learning experience.

What form of textbook do you prefer? Let us know below!

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