The Future of Our Textbooks
Textbooks and course books for first-year law students have a tradition which goes back to the Greeks. But what makes a good textbook? And even more importantly: does it make sense to invest in traditional textbooks in the virtual communities we live in?
A Dutch first-year law student once praised an online extract of a first-year study book for private law on the internet:
… Law, boring, boring, boring, and then you have to read the whole book! Phew…. Luckily I saw an extract on the internet. Perfect, very transparent and clearly explained. The essential points are mentioned, that’s all you need. So, no fear, into the exam, there’s no better way of learning.
Textbooks and course books, and other study books for law students, have a tradition which goes back to the Greeks. But what makes a good textbook? This question seems relevant now that the number of first-year students at universities across the world is steadily growing.
Digital developments in education are moving fast. There is for instance Wikibooks, a cousin of Wikipedia: everybody can pitch in to write study material – including, or especially, students. Wikibooks is part of Wikiversity, an initiative that aims to create ‘one grand learning community’. The development links up with the push towards open textbooks. In 2002 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pioneered OpenCourseWare with all of its course material freely available on the internet. More than 2000 courses are now online.
Other universities have followed MIT, with free textbooks, extracts, student lecture notes, tests and mock exams, even games. But on the internet you can buy Apps, for instance in the App Store for the iPhone or iPad – that prepares and navigates recently graduated American law students through the Bar Exam. The German website JuraWiki, e.g., shows the possibilities in Germany. AppsFürJuristen supplies your smartphone or tablet with every single German law, as well as the educational Spiel der Juristen.
Last week CourseSmart, a large commercial provider of eTextbooks and digital course materials, announced the results of a survey revealing US college students' growing reliance on technology. The survey of more than 500 currently enrolled college students found that nearly all college students (98%) who own a device have used it for school and a majority of these students (53%) read eTextbooks frequently. Further, 90% of college students say they save time studying with technology – including mobile devices, digital textbooks, eReaders and tablets. I quote from the report:
- average student using 3 devices daily
- 67% can't go more than an hour without using some digital technology
- 40% the usage not lasting more than 10 minutes
- 5% say textbooks are the most important item in their bag
- 51% more likely to bring laptop versus printed text (39%)
- 79% do quick search on device before test
- 58% have taken online course motivated by time choice, place, pace
- 98% have had online components in course
- 71% have taken online test
- 18% had materials from prof on facebook
I cannot exactly assess the quality of the research, but an intriguing question arises as to what the future is of printed law course books and textbooks. Our students are changing fast, and so are we, the teaching staff. What does this all mean for legal education? What is a good academic textbook and how does it differ from a non-academic book? What is the future of legal education in this respect: a book by one individual teacher/scholar; books by ‘nobody’ (Wiki, extracts); ‘readers’ with texts mainly taken from other books (casebooks); all sorts of apps, including online tests for students; new media? Is there still a significant role for a dry-as-dust book in first year – because law can also be dry and dust? For my book about law schools (see my website) I’m interested in the experiences of the faculty and students.