What do you think of when someone mentions a textbook? Does a big, thick book with lots of information that was written for a specific grade and course come to mind? As I work with the Software Clearinghouse committee, I see more challenges arising in ways to meet educational needs of the students.
The times are "a changing." Information is out there for anyone to claim and use. Events are current, posted online almost to the minute of them happening. Several school systems are taking a look at the way information is given to students. They are making allowances for all the newer technologies - internet resources, interactive media, data devices. Districts are looking for ways to incorporate these technologies into their existing textbook curriculum to help with budget concerns and to help make the curriculum more interesting.
Our textbooks come up for adoption renewal every five years and the decisions are made for the next term based on information that has already happened and organized to fit our standard course of study. Some of the facts are already "wrong" before we start using the new texts because of the fast-paced changes in our world and society. Publishers have begun to use CDs with their textbooks, but even that is static information. They almost have their hands tied when it comes to textbooks because of having to prepare for all the different states' requirements, standards, and budgets.
Indiana has taken the initiative to ask publishers to provide better and more interesting materials that incorporate the newer technologies. Virginia is using a nonprofit organization to help them develop their own content and has textbooks in physics, math, and biology online. Chapters and lab experiments have been developed by teachers and are posted for other teachers to use. Textbooks haven't been replaced, only supplemented with online instructional materials. Florida is trying to provide more flexibility in their budget by allowing the school districts to use instructional material funds for texts or anything else. Once the teachers and students have gotten a taste for materials that are online, interactive, or otherwise digital, I think it would be much easier to bring the textbooks to life.
I believe we need textbooks, whether they are paper or a digital resource. As our world changes minute by minute, hopefully publishers will try to keep up (or ahead) and provide us with more possibilities for teaching materials. Learning styles, as well as ways to find and receive information, have changed. Let's try to keep improving the quality of the educational materials we provide for the students.