The Nextbook Must Be…


(cc) janthepea

For a science fiction look at textbooks, read about The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer in The Diamond Age and Ender’s desk in Ender’s Game. If you have other suggestions, please comment.


A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Tom Whitby, wrote a blog article, We Don’t Need No Stink’n Textbooks. I agree with his position, and was especially impressed with the list of components he compiled from Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum.

Responding to Tom’s title, though, I am growing less unhappy with calling it a textbook.  After all, we seem to have no problem calling the device I’m writing this on, something that only a few years ago would have referred, almost exclusively, to “a number of sheets of writing paper, fastened together at one edge.”

So, granting myself permission to call it a textbook, what do I think today’s textbook should be?

Today’s textbook should:

  • Be a Companion (Mobile) – The student’s textbook should never weigh more than half that of a human brain (about 3 lb.). It should be as easy to ask, as the person sitting next to you –and through it, the reader should be able to ask the person sitting in the next room, on the next continent or a radio telescope in Australia.
  • Be an Encyclopedia Galactica ((Wikipedia contributors. “Encyclopedia Galactica.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.)) (Comprehensive and Cross-disciplined) – The textbook should provide content in a variety of formats (text, images, audio, video, animation), selectable by the reader.  It can be drilled into for deeper exploration, and issues of special interest to the reader will trigger seamless bleed-throughs from other disciplines (literature, mathematics, science, the social studies, health, etc.) – No seams! No walls! No boundaries!
  • Be a Player (Responsive & Playful) – The textbook should be active and interactive. It both reflects and magnifies the learner, the teacher, and their world – and it adapts to its interactions with each.  It does not respond with a “right” or a “wrong.”  Instead, it causes the reader to say, “that worked” or “that didn’t work.”  The textbook will also contrive long-term narrative-puzzles that reach other readers, building communities of mutual concern.  Embedded in each textbook are hidden clues that can be exposed through the productive use of the book and shared with other members of the community – the combination of which solve the puzzle.
    • Be a Sandbox (Constructable & Elastic) – The textbook is totally stackable.  Both teacher and learner (to age appropriate degrees) can remove elements, insert elements, re-sequence, edit and even hack elements.  The textbook will edit itself based on changes reader interest and the changing dynamic global information environment.
    • Be Provocative (fueled by questions) – The textbook should tactically and strategically leave things out.  It provokes questions, the answers of which provide mortar for the personal and participatory construction and reconstruction of the book.  It is always broken and always fixable, and the rules belong to the reader.
    • Be a Journal (Turn the Learner Outward) – The textbook will require the reader to observe, interact with, reflect on and work her personal environment.  The reader will talk to people, use a hammer, play a game for fun, explore a forest, and become skilled at something that does not require a computer interface.  She will report her experiences in a digital journal, which the textbook will productively adapt to, creating richer relevance for the learner.
    • Be a Personal Badge (Identity-builder) – There is an element of the textbook that is public, continually and cooperatively refined by the teacher, the reader, and reader’s family.  It is a demonstration of what the reader has learned, what she can do with what she’s learned, and what she cares about.
    • Never be turned in (Grown into a personal digital library) – The textbook grows, year after year, with new elements added, old ones edited or deleted, and continuously curated – the ongoing and ultimate goal being the construction of a personal and lifelong digital library.

    That’s two more cents worth!

      …Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

      12 thoughts on “The Nextbook Must Be…”

      1. Excellent. I liked the “sandbox” idea the best. Do you think it could go as far as students creating their own textbooks, under the guidance of their teachers? In that way the students would be the authors/compilers of their “personal digital libraries.”

        1. @James Hosler, Starting at an appropriate age, yes, I do believe that students can and should take more and more responsibility for their textbooks. It seems to me that part of being literate today is the practice of cultivating your own digital library. For most it ends with their browser bookmarks. But it should go so much further than that. I suggested at the Beyond the Textbook Forum that perhaps we should be useing the word “Library” more than “Book.”

      2. I can see this happening with print media, going digital…but it’s a slow process. I recently wrote a book for Wiley publishing, and they created hyperlinks for the e-versions, which I thought was pretty interesting. Readers can end up going all over the place, somewhat thematically, based on these different links. But as was alluded to above, the idea of students creating their own evolving book is really cool.
        Hey, on another note, if you’re interested in reviewing my book, please give me a shout and I’ll mail you a copy. It’s a quirky personal finance book, originally written for teachers. It got lucky with it–it hit #1 on Amazon for personal finance, got featured on CNBC, all that fun, fortunate stuff. Anyway, let me know if you would like a free copy for a possible review. And keep up the great blogging work!


      3. David, thanks for those great insights. I’ve also been thinking about this topic and just posted “Toward A Vision of the Digital Textbook” at I am wondering if the socially connected, interactive, 3D digital textbooks emerging right now might evolve into a robust academic social network or a dynamic learning management system. The next 2-4 years are bound to be interesting!

      4. I really enjoyed and appreciated “Be a Journal”. It reminded me of my 11th grade English class – our teacher, Mrs. Hardy, had us free write in our journals daily. At first it was a chore but eventually became a habit. Of course this was pen-to-paper (1989) and technology has grown leaps and bounds since then. Your suggestions allow for journals to be even more creative than traditional ones and would be a potent tool for reflection.

      5. Education is shifting the paradigm of education with electronic books. Rapidly, we are no longer going to waste funds on books which are out of date before it gets in the hands of the students.


      6. Hey Mr. David,
        This is a very interesting post. I like the idea of “Encyclopedia Galactica” the most. I feel the idea of the textbook being cross disciplined with a variety of formats through text, images, audio, and animation is a great way to engage and motivate students. It can allow students to use their creative side in which ways they incorporate the various formats in creating their textbooks. Also, if we can engage students directly to their work by giving them “no boundaries” creates and gives them accountability to their work. This was an excellent post. Thanks for sharing.

      7. I suppose the next step is to ask the question, “how is this accomplished?” I think it is definitely not a “product” that we can buy for our students. In typical web 2.0 style, I think this is something that students create individually and collaberatively. I agree that a collection of bookmarks is not a true library, but what would work? Wikis are great storehouses, but not quite something that could be used in conjunction with parallel processing. Evernote shows some promise, as does social bookmarking. However they both have the inherent risk of being locations of information hoarding that are unorganized and unusable. Any ideas on the best format for this ever evolving library?

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