I recall my early college experience often, especially all of the mathematical courses. A buddy and I were working fulltime and attending the local community college at night. For example, we would attend a Calculus lecture two nights per week (and other classes the other two nights); one of us would stop by the library every so often to renew the Calculus books containing different examples; and then we spent all day Saturday doing homework problems. That is, we “worked” at learning Calculus by researching, bouncing ideas off of each other, and attempting problems. Although the new paradigm of using videos and applets certainly seems to help some students understand mathematics quicker, I wonder if we are doing a disservice to the future generations by making it easier. In other words, are the modern students really learning perseverance, problem solving skills, and becoming lifelong learners, which I believe are the true keystones of a college education?
Back to my original question: Are textbooks obsolete? Unfortunately, I believe they are. Textbooks used to be the standard by which knowledge was transferred. The book went through a peer review process to ensure accuracy and it contained problem sets for students to complete. Now, the knowledge is freely available and the practice problems are all computerized, so the actual textbook is not needed. As we go through this transition, there is some attempt to hold on to the past by making an “interactive” textbook, which is nothing fancier than what I do in the blog (i.e., hyperlink stuff). But, in the past year we are starting to see some revolutionary ideas surface. For example, an educational platform that is sound in pedagogical practice (i.e., test, teach, guided practice, independent practice, test, and repeat) starts by assessing the learner to determine what he needs to know and then directing him to an applet that introduces the concept as a whole, and then sends the learner down the rest of the path towards mastery. It is phenomenal for content acquisition, but I recently heard the phrase “Are we creating chefs or cooks?” and I wonder if we are still creating chefs or only cooks who follow recipes?