A Textbook Description

I want to free my students from textbooks. They shouldn’t have to carry half their weight around in their backpacks all the time. When they get to middle school, it starts to get out of hand. Each student has 4-6 books. They’re big. They’re heavy. And they have to go back and forth between school and home all the time. Once they move on to high school, the textbook problem is ridiculous. The books are twice as thick, and twice as heavy. I want to change that.

TextbooksSo I switched to the electronic version of the textbook. The e-book can be accessed on a tablet or computer or Chromebook. There’s nothing else to carry. All of the content is right there on the device.

That’s called substitution. I have substituted one technology (an electronic book) for another one (a physical book). There are some advantages (it’s easier to carry) and some disadvantages (the device has to be charged to work). Overall, though, not much has changed.

But now that the textbook is electronic, we can start to do more with it. Maybe the map in a world history book is interactive. Maybe there’s a video in the literature textbook showing a scene from Hamlet. Maybe there’s an animation showing how the water cycle works in the science text.

At this point, there are some clear advantages gained from the electronic version of the text. Mostly, it’s the same content we’ve always had. But now it is expanded and supplemented with additional resources. This is called augmentation. We’re using the technology in the same way, but we’ve added something to it.

But these devices that the students are using to access their books are also connected. So in addition to the content in the book, there are links to other resources. Maybe there are forums where students can debate the causes of the civil war, or collaborative spaces where they can explore the effects of DNA folding. Maybe students can react to the textbook by adding their own notes, and then sharing those notes with others and annotating one another’s comments. This is modification. The technology is starting to change how learning takes place.

But what if the book could do more than that? What if it could adapt to the needs of the learner using it? At the end of each section, there are discussion questions and progress checks. What if the book could adjust to how the students perform on those progress checks? Maybe there’s more supplemental content that can help develop understanding. Maybe it can figure out that the student is missing some key prerequisites and adapt the content to fill those gaps. Maybe it can adjust its own reading level to fit the needs of the learner. At this point, the methodology of teaching and learning starts to change. The text is more than just a static resource. This is called modification.

By now, it’s not really a textbook at all. It’s a resource entirely different, with interactivity, adaptability, and collaborative features built in. We think of it as an online resource, or a collection of online resources. The textbook may live on as a metaphor, but the resource only vaguely resembles the printed volume we started with.

This process is called the SAMR model. Developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, this is a framework for evaluating the level at which technology integration is happening in classrooms. It’s not meant to be judgemental: modification is not always better than substitution. Instead, it helps guide conversations about how technology is used in education, the effectiveness of those efforts, and the capabilities that will come in the future.

This video from Common Sense Media explains the idea very well.

Photo credit: Timuiuc on Flickr.



Author: John Schinker

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1 thought on “A Textbook Description”

  1. This is one of the best explanations of the SAMR model that I have ever come across and a compelling argument for eTextbooks. Thank you for taking the time to articulate your thoughts! I’ll be sharing this within my district.

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