Will a Digital Textbook Replace Me?


Anumber of excellent digital textbooks are beginning to surface, delivering information in an interesting and interactive manner to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. But, where d'es that leave educators?

First, let's clarify a couple of assumptions. When I use the term "digital textbook" I'm referring to professionally produced, high-quality, multimedia-enriched, interactive products available on a CD-ROM, via the Web or both. I am not referring to the junk that is available in the guise of digital textbooks, which looks more like someone has hurriedly scanned the latest version of the text. Primarily, I want to alert faculty members to the increasing use of digital textbooks in online courses, although this can apply to any other course in which digital resources are used.

Motivating Students

What do digital textbooks do? Digital textbooks can deliver information, and, if they include a test bank of some kind, they can assist you in the assessment of students' knowledge and skills. They should include some learning activities, as well as be able to motivate students by making the information interesting through quality information design and multimedia development. Also, a good digital textbook will include clearly stated objectives for each chapter, some of which will coincide with your course objectives; that is, if the textbook was carefully chosen.

If digital textbooks provide information in an interesting way, how d'es this change what you do? With the integration of technology into the classroom, your primary role is no longer "information provider." Your normal teacher tasks - such as mentoring and motivating students, developing course objectives, designing and implementing learning activities, assessing knowledge and skills, and maintaining regular communication - are connected to two major areas of instruction: the pedagogical (or andrological) design of the learning environment and the human relationship of learner to mentor.

As the designer of a learning environment you choose the textbook(s), other resources (whether analog or digital), activities, how you will assess learning, and course objectives (in the context of the overall curriculum). And perhaps you do not provide the majority of the information to the students - i.e., it d'es not come out of your mouth or from your keyboard. But, by incorporating technology such as digital textbooks into your instruction, you help facilitate students' access to content and guide them as they take in all of this information.

Role Change

Your role change in this aspect of teaching reflects a universal shift in basic skills needed for the Information Age. For example, during the '70s we were taught to find information in such a way that took hours to locate only a few informational sources. While, today, students can find hundreds of sources in just minutes, regardless of whether they lack the analytical skills to determine what is valid and relevant.

Your students need to develop higher level cognitive skills, and their need requires that you take into account principles of learning as you build the learning environment. Information is easy to come by, but the analysis, synthesis and application of that information is what you provide in your construction and facilitation of the learning environment.

Your role, then, is not to provide mass quantities of information as much as it is to help students learn what is important in the field, what is relevant to their situation and how they can apply that information. Thus, you are a model for your students. You model enthusiasm for the subject, as well as for the critical analysis and application of information. This modeling takes place in the context of a human relationship. In addition, teaching is a human endeavor, and while we as teachers certainly deliver information, we do so in the context of a relationship with the student in which we model effective practices and provide the rich setting wherein the content takes on life. We, as teachers, are also the incarnation of our respective content areas.

Can a digital textbook replace you? Probably not, but your role will change if it hasn't already. Can you just point your students to the digital textbook and step aside? You can, only if you are a dispenser of information, which makes you expendable since information is abundant and inexpensive. In conclusion, a good digital textbook cannot and should not replace a teacher. Also, every teacher should learn as much as they can about how their role is changing because of technology.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.