A Class Without Textbooks – Has Technology Replaced Basic Communication Skills?

Posted on October 14, 2013

This post was originally presented to Central States Communication Conference on April 6, 2013 by Professor Richard L. Underwood.

Welcome to Fundamentals of Oral Communication.  I am your instructor Rich Underwood.  The textbook for the course is…” This is a phrase that all instructors have used at the start of a course.  According to the article, School District 303 considers class without textbooks” technological gains seem to be driving us ever closer toward becoming a “paperless society, where everything traditionally recorded on paper is replaced with a digital alternative that can be viewed on a computer screen, tablet or smartphone.”    So what if an instructor would start the first day of class by saying, “Welcome to Fundamentals of Oral Communication.  We will not have a textbook this semester.  For many “seasoned” faculties, this is a risky possibility.  The following analysis will look at the pros and cons of eliminating the use of textbooks in a course.  This is not meant to take one position over another or question what an individual instructor decides to do in a course.  The purpose is to state both positions and it is up to you to decide.

Research Analysis

Textbooks have been a part of the educational culture since the 17th century and have become an important component of higher education.  But the constant pressure for educators to publish and the constant revisions that take place with textbooks has begun the debate on whether or not textbooks should go the way of the chalkboard and paper grade book.  Robert Chambers in an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education dated February 13, 2013 entitled Endlessly Revised textbooks-Just Say No stated the publishers are not as concerned with the students as they are with profit.

“Textbook publishers regularly update editions so that students won’t be able to buy used textbooks, which are of no benefit to the companies’ bottom lines.

Julie Gilbert and Barbara Fister in their article  Reading, Risk, and Reality: College  Students and Reading for Pleasure  proposed the news about reading is  chronically catastrophic:  Reading is at risk,’ in steep decline,  imperiled particularly among young people,  the “born digital” generation, so bewitched by Facebook, texting, and multichannel stimulation  that their attention span has shrunk to  the size of a tweet.”  Jeremiads about the  decline of reading are common enough to constitute a genre.

There is also increasing evidence the student and instructor perspectives of the utilization of the textbooks is vastly different.  Regan A.R. Gurung in his article Predicting Textbook Reading: The Textbook Assessment and Usage Scale stated that,” textbooks  are clearly a major vehicle for the transfer of knowledge. Unfortunately, students do not read textbooks or complete assigned reading to the extent they should (Burchfield & Sappington, 2000; Clump, Bauer, & Bradley, 2004; Sappington, Kinsey, & Munsayac, 2002; Sikorski et al., 2002).”   Data from bookstores across the nation suggest that, on average, 16% of students do not even buy the textbook.  Instructors have used a variety of methods to get students to use the textbook more. For example, some teachers have used routine in-class quizzes and other similar methods to get students to read their texts before coming to class.  Others have made textbook study-guide completion worth a part of the class grade.  Several instructors have used online quizzing to motivate students to read the book more often during the course of the semester.  But little seems to work.  So what is the answer?  Should we eliminate the use of the traditional textbook?  Should we give in to the desire of the publisher and only offer e-books or no books at all?

Should Textbooks Be Eliminated?

Whatever the delivery system, the research tends to follow a consistent pattern.  Reading should STILL be a vital component not only as an education tool but a personal fulfillment tool as well.  The College Student Journal in the article entitled Resistance to reading compliance among college students states that “most instructors believe that when students enter college, students should have the motivation within themselves to do the work that is required to accomplish the end result — a formal academic degree. While instructors see the value of students performing the required reading assignments, students often lack the motivation to read textbooks, research journal articles, and various types of reading assignments. What incentives do students need in order to come to class prepared?”

Research suggests that students need additional incentives to do the reading, such as giving quizzes to motivate them (Ryan, 2003). If students understand that quizzes will be incorporated into their over-all semester grade, they have more motivation to do the required reading assignment because quizzes can directly affect their final semester grade either in a negative or positive way, and students partially control what their final grade will be. Instructors’ feedback on quizzes and worksheets are a strategy to motivate students to read their textbooks, as well as to enhance journal article reading skills and comprehension (Cakenrod, 1994; Ryan, 2003). Students who have taken quizzes are immediately interested in going over the answers and determining their quiz grades (Cakenrod, 1994; Ryan, 2003). Allowing students to fix incorrect responses, and understand what instructors are looking for on quizzes and exams can increase reading compliance among college students.

The research seems to suggest that instructors need to require some type of reading no matter what the delivery system.  However if we as instructors want our students to read then we also need to change how we approach the use of material in our class.  Instructors need to provide study guides or other learning aides to drive the point home that reading is still essential to growth.  Using the flip class or team based learning (TBL) can also provide a viable tool to drive home the point of critical thinking and comprehension of material.


I hope the results of this study demonstrates the verdict may be still out in regards to using textbooks but academia firmly believes that some form of textbooks should still be a component in a classroom.

Works Cited

Gilbert, Julie, and Barbara Fister. “Reading,Risk, and Reality: College Students and Reading for Pleasure.” College and Research Libraries 72.5 (2011): n. pag. Web.

Lei, Simon A., Patricia J. Rhinehart, and Holl A. Howard. “Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension among College Students.” Reading Improvement 47.1 (2010): n. pag. Web.

Lei, Simon A. “Resistance to Reading Compliance among College Students: Instructor’s Perspectives.” College Student Journal 44.2 (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Schnell, Ted. “School District 303 Considers Class Without Textbooks.” N.p., 25 Aug. 2012. Web.

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