I’m not at school today.

I’m not in front of or beside or among my students for a change. Instead, I’m working with the Southern Oregon Education Technology Cadre, a remarkable group of educators who come together several times each school year to learn from one another. That’s one of my favorite things about being a teacher…that I get to continue to be a learner as well. In fact, I see myself as the lead learner in our classroom more than just a teacher.

Another thing that I love about being part of this group is the opportunity to collaborate. So much of my learning comes from my interactions with other people. Discussing new ideas and bouncing my questions off of others is a great way to find better ways to accomplish what I want to accomplish and become aware of things I never knew existed. I want my students to work collaboratively, so it makes sense for me to work that way as well.

At the beginning of today’s session, the following question was put out to us: Should school districts continue to purchase textbooks? We were asked to go to our blogs and write a response.

Before I write my own thoughts, I’d love to put that same question out to you as you read this post. What do you think? Is purchasing traditional textbooks a good use of school budgets, or should school districts look at other ways to give students access to the content they need?

This past week, our class had the amazing good fortune to receive a full set of Chromebook laptops in a beautiful cart. For the first time in my teaching career – and for the first time in our district’s elementary schools, I believe – every student has individual access to a computer and the Internet for the full day, everyday. Having such easy access to online content makes an old-fashioned textbook seem rather necessary. Is there anything that students might find in a standard textbook that couldn’t be easily located and used online? How necessary will textbooks be when my students have the world at their fingertips?

The great thing about a textbook is that it is always on. You don’t need to recharge it or plug it in. It requires interaction and allows learners to physically turn pages and look up content using traditional tools such as an index, glossary, and table of contents. There is a very satisfying, tactile quality about physically turning a page and feeling the substance of a book in your hands.

The great thing about accessing content online is that it is constantly being updated. Unlike a textbook, you don’t necessarily have to buy a new edition of a website to get coverage of new information. Especially in areas such as social studies and science, where new things are happening everyday, it is so valuable to have updated information. Textbooks are always at least a few years behind what is happening currently because of the time required to research, write, edit, and publish a new series of textbooks. With a website, new content can be added on a minute-by-minute basis.

One of the discussion threads that has come up today pertains to the balance between using technology and traditional tools in the classroom. Some of the teachers who have been working with “paperless” classrooms for a few years have seen a pretty significant decline in their students’ ability to be successful academically. That surprises me, honestly, but these are people I hold in high regard and when they say something I listen. It makes me feel very cautious as we find the ways in which we will be using our laptops…I want to make sure that I’m giving my students what they need to be successful. Today, I’m thinking that means we won’t be tossing our pencils and papers and books anytime soon…

So, where does that put me on the original question regarding whether or not schools should continue to purchase textbooks? I’m thinking that purchasing print-based textbooks should no longer be our only answer. I think that a combination of web-based and print-based text would be valuable and ideal. A best of both worlds situation that would allow students to have access to the newest information and high quality media, but also be provided with the opportunity to build and refine the traditional, book-based skills that are still important to have. Kind of a wishy-washy answer? Maybe… But, like everything else in life, I think that finding a balance is the best solution.