So is the ELT textbook dead, or not?

Early in 2013, Pearson (along with all major ELT publishers) had an exhibition stand at the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool. The only difference between Pearson and all the others (bar none) was that Pearson had absolutely no books on their stand – and all the other ELT publishers had books.

This was a clear message to the ELT community that, in Pearson’s eyes, the age of the book was over and the age of the tablet was upon us. Sticking with this brave new world of technology, Pearson continued to exhibit NO books at The London Book Fair in April 2013 and again NO books at the huge Frankfurt International Book Fair in October. Again, without exception, all ELT publishers were present, and all with books.

It should be pointed out that Pearson (who no longer call themselves “publishers”) are still publishing books – new editions of their best-selling Cutting Edge series (2013) and also new editions of their hugely successful Speakout, (planned for publication over the next two or three years). Despite this, Pearson “restructured” their UK Sales and Marketing team making three (out of four) representatives redundant together with a Sales Manager or two and their marketing manager. Within six months, replacements for the bulk of these redundancies were recruited!

However, It was a combination of serious and well-argued pressure from Pearson authors as well as specialist ELT booksellers which seems to have already forced a policy U-turn within Pearson. At last week’s BESIG conference in Prague (organised by Pearson’s Polish office) Pearson were both the primary sponsors of the book exhibition as well as having a large stand  – filled with books! They have also advised us that at next year’s IATEFL Conference (in Harrogate) the Pearson stand will welcome the return of their books.

There are many tales surrounding both the death of books and the arrival of the tablet. We would love to hear yours but my favourite is of a classroom in Italy where “blended learning” took on a whole new meaning. A row of students had the textbook, the second row all had tablets, and the third row had no material at all. The observer of the lesson noted that the vast majority of the teacher’s time was spent on helping the second row come to grips with technical problems presented by the tablet! Not an awful lot of language teaching or learning going on here.

So can we have a real discussion on how ready teachers are for the tablet? Do you and your institution have the necessary skills, broadband speed, budget and inclination to go wholly or partly digital? Or would you like publishers to cater for your present needs of a book and, perhaps, a CD-Rom? Please like and share this as much as possible so that the views of the ELT Community can be shared with – in alphabetical order – authors, publishers and teachers.

John H Walsh

Managing Director

The Bournemouth English Book Centre Ltd (BEBC)

+44(0)1202 712919

BEBC-British Council


7 thoughts on “So is the ELT textbook dead, or not?

  1. I’m wondering if the books had merely not been delivered in time… such things happen more often than you’d believe. As far as books being dead is concerned, I think they’re safe until a way is found for apps to get the student interaction element right.

  2. I work as the Academic Manager of a school that provides every student with both a textbook (bought from the ever-reliable BEBC) and also the opportunity to benefit from mLearning. I write this post, however, as an independent reader of your blog post.

    Like many others I was both surprised and disappointed when I saw the Pearson stand in Liverpool and other venues this year. Indeed, we relied on BEBC to show us and sell us copies of new Pearson books being launched that week. I have only heard second and third hand about treatment of staff and haven’t liked what I have heard. However, this post has left me rather frustrated this morning.

    My issue with this post is its black or white (textbook or tablet) approach. The Italian classroom example is surely a straw man. Any decently-trained teacher wouldn’t allow an English lesson which uses technology to take place without first training the students to use this technology and ensuring that there was a sound pedagogical basis for using that technology in the first place. Are we to believe that the learners who leave our classrooms are only going to be using paper books in their future careers and studies?

    There are certainly challenges to be overcome with regard to training and costs when using tablets. These challenges are equally valid for the use of IWBs in class. BEBC, however, have successfully held training sessions in schools for the use of this technology. The cost of a couple of IWBs could pay for a revamp of a school’s wifi. We take a principled pedagogical approach in my school and use textbooks, tablets and IWBs to support learning wherever we can. The work that students can produce using tablets (either their own or the school’s) is nothing short of breathtaking. The digital skills such as real presentation writing, video making, blog making, website creating etc etc. also helps prepare them for the existing (not future) global workplace.

    I’ve recently given a British Council seminar on the great interactive functionality of some of the new e-Boook graded readers and how useful these can be in class. This should not be confused at all with me – or anyone else who uses tablets in class – stating that tablets are good, books are bad. Am I really supposed to argue that a book with excellent integrated audio, interactive exercises, comprehension checks etc. is not as pedagogically sound to have in a classroom as a paper book? Personally, I’d choose both.

    For me, the idea of CDROMs containing all the video, audio and exercise materials etc seems a backwards step. Our students come to the UK with smartphones, tablets or laptops which often don’t have CD or DVD drives. Putting the information online with an access code seems more realistic in my context. Having digital class materials on CDROMs also limits the benefits of these resources to rooms with computers and projectors. I know this will vary for other people in different situations though.

    Is the issue here really with tablets and their use in class or rather the future potential switch to text books only being available through tablets? If so, this needs to be made much clearer. A more reasoned approach to a discussion which is utterly necessary would be more welcomed. I cannot foresee a time in the near future when paper textbooks are not wanted in my school’s classrooms. However, I equally cannot see how comments about “not a lot of language teaching or learning going on” in classes which embrace the benefits offered by tablets are helpful.

  3. The Italian classroom story sounds very interesting. Is it a documented case or a teacher’s anecdote? I would love to learn more about this episode. Jenny.

  4. I teach in a school which integrates the use of coursebooks and other printed materials with technology, particularly with tablets. In my experience, the use of one does not rule out the use of the other, the trick being to use tablets to supplement and consolidate the more “traditonal” methodologies, whilst those of us eho are more comfortable with the technology provide a lot of support for those who are less practised at it, giving them time for proper monitoring and mentoring in the classroom .Of course, none of my colleagues would ever dream of teaching three rows of students in one class, each with (or wirhout) a different resource. What would be the point? Are books dead? I don’t think so. Does that mean the technology is redundant? Only if you’re afraid of it.

  5. Just a case of corporate “OCD”. How can they have a neat tidy corporate stand if they allow people to pick things up and put them back crooked, or in the wrong place, even if they are products. Somebody should tell them about a wonderful vertically rotating carousel, as they use in some shoe shops. Only staff get to take them out and put them back. Perfect (?).

  6. Using a tablet instead of a course book is an interesting thought. But how far it’ll be a viable substitution is a question, especially in a country like India where majority of learners even in cities come from very poor financial background. The other conditions like educating learners and teachers in the employment of the tablet as a learning and teaching tool come into the picture only later. Thanks.

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