Do we need physical textbooks?

After an 18-year hiatus from teaching, I had the chance to teach an applied statistical techniques course this past spring. Feedback from the students was mostly positive, and the negative comments were expressed as constructive criticisms which I found insightful and actionable. For myself, the overall experience was positive, and I’m looking forward to building on the work and teaching the class again next year.

Along the way, I’ve also been tackling some data analysis problems using R, and a common theme has become apparent between teaching the class and my work—textbooks are obsolete.

For the course, only online materials from two sites were used as “required” readings, and except for the one weekend when the host website for one of the online books went down, there were no issues. (This did cause some stress, and fortunately, the site had provided all the material for download; however, the possible need to distribute this material made me temporarily question my selection of using only online materials.)

The other primary reading for the course is using a relatively new format called Bookdown. If the platform sustains support from the developers, this may revolutionize the way technical books—especially textbooks—are published.

When looking for a “book” on forecasting, I was pleasantly surprised to find a resource that had both a physical copy (available on Amazon, of course) and an online version. And while the theme for this new book was distinct, at the bottom of the page, there was an acknowledgment “Published . . . with bookdown,” which was the same method as the book above.

In addition to online books, online videos (mostly hosted on YouTube)  are providing content on implementation. Need an example of how to implement that function call in R? Someone has probably recorded a demo on that very topic. In teaching the class, I felt less like the disseminator of information and more like the curator—presenting content in an organized manner that allowed the students to gain new knowledge and skills.

I still buy books and having an option to buy a physical copy is definitely a plus, but it’s quickly moving away from being a requirement. It has never been easier to learn something new.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s