Are textbooks still relevant?

  • 4 minute read
  • 20 September 2020

‘Turn to page 160 in your textbooks’ is an all too familiar sentence for many of us. Followed almost certainly by several groans from some of our more vocal students, and perhaps an internal one from us too. When it comes to textbooks we feel our students pain. Textbooks are more often than not heavy, lifeless books crammed to the brink of bursting with an overwhelming amount of material that is frankly disengaging for students, albeit all the best efforts from authors and publishers .

Still that doesn’t stop many teachers relying heavily on them as the main resource in their classroom. And with the textbook industry being worth a whopping $7-$10 billion (US) it’s easy to see why many teachers rely solely on textbooks — it often feels like their only feasible option since textbooks have a monopoly of the education resource industry.

And what are the other options available to teachers? 

Well, short of sourcing their own material and creating their own course, which few have the time needed to complete this mammoth task, there are eBooks and online editions available. However, these are usually simply companions to the paper copies.

With so many teachers relying on textbooks as a core part of delivering the curriculum, and with huge revenue to back them, you would expect modern text books to be the best educational resource out there. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most new edition textbooks are written by publishers and composed of previous versions that have been chopped up and remolded back together by editors. Sure, the new editions may feature some educational buzzwords of the time. But more often than not the content remains eerily similar to past editions but with a brand new cover and price tag.

This publication process means that new edition textbooks are often already out of date by the time they’re printed and distributed to the masses. Additionally this en masse printing and its matching price tag means that once the textbook is printed, it’s here to stay. Yes, the eBook companions and online editions may get small tweaks and updates here and there. But for those who chose to get the print version, so most students and teachers, any corrections will not be visible until a newer edition is created from the ashes of previous editions and in doing so fueling the ever growing billion dollar industry. 

But what does that mean for the students?

Well for starters, it means textbooks are extremely static. Questions and examples remain the same, lacking in the latest pedagogical research. Additional questions can’t be added to give students more practise and the wording can’t be changed for clarification.  Furthermore, solutions can’t be edited to provide students with additional support and feedback if they need it.

What’s more, in this data driven age, textbooks provide no data on their impact with students. It’s virtually impossible to know if students are repeatedly failing the same question, and if so why. Even when it comes to eBooks, the data they provide is limited to things like the length of time the student had the eBook open, which tells very little about the efficacy or behaviours related to success in learning.

That’s why at Maths Pathway our goal was never to simply replace textbooks. Our goal is to completely reshape the mathematics classroom for the better and in doing so we’re constantly looking for ways to improve the student experience.

Now thanks to our innovative dynamic modules, students are seeing a 20% improvement in the successful completion of modules – the worksheets students complete as they learn and solidify concepts – across the curriculum.

Unlike textbooks where students have to interrupt workflow and leaf through the book to check their answers, the dynamic view allows students to access worked solutions at the click of a button, ensuring they understand the concept before moving onto the next question. Even compared to digital texts, this is not a simple “autocorrect” that checks whether the input in the answer box is correct, it invites students to reflect and dissect the steps taken in solving a problem. What’s more, if the students are still struggling to grapple the concept, having seen the solution, they can use the ‘help’ button, which provides several resources to help them master the question. 

As a result of this new interactive learning experience, Maths Pathway has found that modules completed in the dynamic view are failed 5% less than those completed in a PDF format. This improvement of 20% in the successful completion of modules has been seen across the entire curriculum.

As part of our commitment to constantly improving our product and practice, this dynamic module setup means we can collect and curate a whole new world of data and information that was previously unavailable to us.

With the help of the latest pedagogy and innovative technology, we now have the unique ability to use real-time data to update our content if and when issues arise or as a result of clear trends in our data. If thousands of students are tripping up on the same question, our Learning Team knows about it. And they can use their expertise to fix it. The insights this data provides enables the team to be more strategic and targeted, availing them to spend time where the learning impact will be greatest. But even better, they can see the efficacy of the change, ensuring the content they’re delivering to students is the best it possibly can be. This allows our students to progress faster with fewer misconceptions and a deeper understanding.

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Author: Maths Pathway

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