Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The "Textyness" of the Textbook in a Digital Age

I must admit that I have never been a big fan of the "textbook", especially at university level.  University students are at the stage where they should be reading a range of primary and secondary materials and over-dependence on an introductory-level single-authored book will not bring out the best in them.  I appreciate, at the same time, that students often want something that will help them out with introducing a new topic and it can perform a useful function in guiding them through the early stages of something complex, and so it is a crutch that I have sometimes recommended, though always with lots of warnings and with a good range of different introductory textbooks too to illustrate the point.

Recent discussions about the possibilities of an online Old Testament Textbook (AKMA, NT Blog, Sansblogue, Anumma, AKMA, NT Blog) might cause us to reflect on the whole scenario of textbook-writing a bit further.  As several have implied already, the digital age allows us to rethink the way we do textbooks and I'd like to support Tim, Brooke and AKMA in that kind of thinking, and then to encourage still more radical thinking about what we are trying to do when we conceptualize textbooks.  I think textbooks have a couple of shortcomings, both of which can be overcome in the digital age.  One relates to the "text" bit and the the other relates to the "book" bit.  In this post, I'd like to address briefly the text bit.

Old-fashioned textbooks are just too texty.  For those of us who have some investment in the digital world, and that is all of us who are engaging in this discussion, we are familiar with the fact that it is now possible to access audio and video material far more straightforwardly than it was in the past.  In our area, there is a wealth of good audio and video material and this is only going to increase with time.  Think, just for starters, about Bibledex from the University of Nottingham, or the several resources available at St John's Nottingham.  I have added audio and video pages to lots of the NT Gateway pages in order to gather together the best of these resources.  The importance of this should not be underestimated.  Different students learn better with different media,   Some respond much more positively and learn much more quickly by listening to audio, others by seeing things represented graphically.  And that is to say nothing of the importance of thinking through how we work with students with disabilities, in particular, in this context, those who are blind or near-sighted.  Newer, digital textbook resources can integrate, embed, link to material that is not just blocks of text.

Let me try to illustrate this point by engaging with AKMA's original post:
Hey, in a perfect world, you could persuade the authors to record their chapters so you could distribute digital audio (and video — or perhaps, a video abstract of each chapter). So at this point, you have a textbook that’s free to consult as web pages, free to download as PDFs, and (again, ideally) free to listen to/watch in digital media.
I like the sound of this because it addresses the importance of integrating multi-media into the newly conceived, digital textbook.  It is the kind of thing that makes me enthusiastic about the way that AKMA is talking.   But my point is that the authors of the textbook in question do not have to wait for the perfect world for this to happen because high quality audio and video resources are already available on the web for free.  Let's say you are talking about the topic of form-criticism and introducing Richard Bauckham's recent contributions about the involvement of alleged eye-witnesses.  You could record your own audio or video about this, in which you attempt to summarize his position, or you could watch and listen to the man himself doing it for you.  Examples of this kind could be multiplied.  My point is not that we should stop producing new resources -- of course not.  But rather that we should start thinking seriously about the integration of good existing resources into our new model.


Rich Griese said...

I think that Wikipedia has become the default text book. I know that it is the first place that I check for anything, and i have a wikipedia search added to the search area in the top right of my Firefox browser.

BTW... for those that have not thought of it, you can add a number of different "search areas" to your browser command or control K search input area usually at the top right. Click towards the right side of the current search area, and you will see a number of options that allow you to modify how that search area works.

I have mine set so that I can simply hold the command key (I have a mac) down, and use the arrow up and down arrow to choose which target search I want. I have the list ordered to my most used too. So my list looks something like 1) google, 2) wikipedia, 3) youtube, 4) amazon. Plus the search will default to the last "world" that you used. So if you last searched on wikipedia, the next time you hit command-K you will be on a wikipedia search. To get back up to the google search just hit command-uparrow. (change command with control for all you windows users)

But back to the text book thing. The beauty of wikipedia is that the entire world has the ability to add things and check for flaws. It's truely like "Adam Smith's invisible hand" inaction.

Cheers! RichGriese.NET

Danny Zacharias said...

Craig Evans requires the IVP NT dictionaries instead of a regular textbook. This brings in more authors to read, gives the students a more useful set of texts post-class, and they are available through all Bible Software platforms.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Rich. Interesting, Danny.

Unknown said...

Fourteen years ago I started to address some of the issues you are raising, Mark. I began creating a website to accompany the textbook that Doug Oakman and I were writing--Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts ( I have continued to update it over the years. On that website I have included materials for each chapter with links to online articles, photos, ancient texts, archaeological sites, etc. In the future I will be adding audio and video links. I am also preparing a companion book and website--Israel in the Time of Kings.
K. C. Hanson
Wipf and Stock Publishers

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, KC. I remember it well! In fact, I still link to it on the NT Gateway, I think. One of the things that I like about the site is that you link to *other people's* resources. I am frequently shocked to see textbook companion sites linking only to the author's own materials, which seems always seems a bit egotistical to me!