Not your mother’s textbook

Call me old fashioned, but I always prefer to read things on paper rather than on the computer. In fact, it’s a general rule that we are more attentive to what we read in hard copy (that’s why it’s always good to print out your paper to proofread it before handing it in, ahem). But, I may be a (partial) convert, now that the new era of textbooks has arrived (is in the process of arriving). In January, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation released a preview of a digital biology textbook called Life on Earthdeveloped for teaching high school biology. You can get the free preview of the book through iTunes for an iPad. Although the only content currently available is a general overview and a chapter on Ecology – it appears that this kind of textbook is going to change the way educators use books and technology in the near future.

Screen shot from the preview to Life on Earth.

Apart from saving middle school and high school students from carrying 50 lb backpacks around, the major advantage of this kind of digital book is that it is interactive and multi-media. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an animation demonstrating how molecules function in the cell or how photosynthetic activity changes by season is worth at least 10,000 (just an estimate 🙂 ).



So, what are some of the other potential pros of this kind of book?

  • Direct links to definitions, articles and supporting information right from the text.
  • Videos of experts explaining their research.
  • It can be easily updated on a regular basis, without having to publish a new edition.
  • You can take it anywhere.

And what about the cons?

  • You have to have an iPad, which is expensive. Although, the cost may even out over time  if the digital textbooks cost less.
  • This book takes up a lot of memory (~1GB for 51 ‘pages’ or 2 relatively short chapters), leaving me wondering if it is practical to try to fit a library of digital textbooks on one tablet.
  • I would still like to just be able to flip open a book and look around – maybe that’s just me.
  • It could just be part of Apple’s conspiracy to take over the world… hmm.

Here’s a link to a more thorough review.

What are your thoughts? Is it just a matter of time before all textbooks are digital? Have you seen examples of other digital textbooks that you like/dislike?


One thought on “Not your mother’s textbook

  1. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Liz. I’m teaching a HS biology class in the fall and will definitely be using this for the visuals and animations. They’ve updated it with 3 more chapters since your post; unfortunately, I find them all pretty thin on concept content. Like you mentioned, there may be a trade-off between chapter length and hard drive space. I’ll still be using a cellulose-based reference for class this year but as this next generation of digital medium evolves, I can easily imagine it taking over as a primary reference.

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