What makes a good textbook?

23 April 2013

Tim Oates, Group Director Assessment Research & Development, recently addressed a wide range of international educational publishers at a landmark conference at the international London Book Fair. The second of two International Publishers’ Association conferences on textbook quality, the event further consolidated a new drive towards industry-based, international-derived quality standards. 

Tim presented his wide-ranging, original analysis of the distinctive approaches, taken in different national settings, to ensuring textbook and resource quality. 

The analysis went beyond simple surface differences between textbooks to look at the deeper relationship between the text and learning models, and examined the context in which materials were used. Based on an examination of hundreds of books from a range of high-performing jurisdictions, the analysis suggested that publishers needed to be highly proactive in seeking ‘best practice’ models, and seek actively to overcome market imperfections invoked by high pressure accountability arrangements. 

Tim’s study of the different patterns of use of materials across different national settings provided important contrasts to domestic antipathy to textbooks and to the narrow instrumentalism which has crept into domestic materials. The study looked at the impact of state approval of textbooks and materials, including historical analysis of reform in countries such as Finland. Tim examined forms of self-organisation in systems which consider state-approval to be an inappropriate mechanism. Far from presenting a counsel of doom and despair, the presentation drew on international evidence to argue for both the crucial role of textbooks and allied electronic resources in ensuring effective learning, and for the role of international comparisons and benchmarking in raising the quality of materials. 

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