Virtual Textbooks: Reading in Cyberspace

Christina Duffman, Kaplan University Instructor of English

“I would say that, in the future, the book will be reserved for things that function best as a book. So, if I need a textbook that’s going to be out of date because of new technological inventions, you’re better off having it where you can download the supplements or the update.”~Art Spiegelman

Should we really get rid of the textbook in the classroom? I am finally entertaining this query out loud, as it were, without really wanting to utter this question aloud—especially in the esteemed halls of a higher learning institution. However, I could not help but think of this question from time to time, simply because my students—former and current—have beaten this query out of me—and finally, after a turbulent battle with my inner bookworm—who had kept lamenting, “Will you not miss feeling those silky pages—turning those delightful ink-blotted leaves—savoring the touch of the weighted wonder you behold in your hands?” (I am sure most of you may not know that my inner bookworm is a romantic, to say the least!) As if I shall never again touch another book—much less a textbook or corresponding handbook! However, this trend seems to be the way students are learning these days in some of their online and face-to-face classes. Behold this inevitable exchange between an instructor and student, which takes place days after the beginning of a new semester:

Instructor: Everyone, please take out your textbooks and turn to section…

Student: I don’t have a book.

Instructor: No book? I require all students to bring the required textbooks to class.

Student: I am aware of the rules, but I cannot afford the required textbooks. My financial aid has not come back yet.

Instructor: We’ll work out something.

Virtual reading

© 2014 Jupiterimages

Of course, that something is my giving the textbook-less student some extra time with the assignments, or I will give the student in question some handouts I had acquired from an online source—with permission from the website’s owner, of course. Sometimes, there are more students in the course who do not have textbooks because of sundry reasons, and in this case, these handouts turned out to be good omens for my students, for they seem to love the reading material far better than the reading material found in the textbooks. The very answer to this conundrum (on my part) should come as no surprise for the eclectic soul: it is because I get to choose the reading material. If I want the students to read a sample Descriptive Essay, for example, I will provide them (free of charge) handouts of Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” Unfortunately, I could not find this excerpt from Hurston’s autobiography within the current textbook, so I had decided to print the online version of this chapter from a credible online source. All I have to do is thank Richard Nordquist, the provider of such wonderful materials as they are found on My English Composition students have come to love these samplings of excerpts from notable authors—and some textbooks that I have assigned to be used in the classroom will often fall by the wayside because of my capricious nature to not simply use the sometimes drab reading material found within the textbook. I now find myself surfing the internet for scholarly articles and canonized literature in order for my first-year writing students to still experience the art of writing—the effervescent prose of Oscar Wilde or Susan Glaspell seems to come to mind—but now these students will have a taste of literature to take with them—all because I have decided to give them a wide array of delicious stories from which to read.

Indeed, I do entertain the notion that this very thought would not have occurred to me if I had not printed these stories for my students to read, and it is within that very action that I decided to seriously pursue the idea of not requiring a textbook in my English Composition 111 class. Indeed, as far as the writing process is concerned, what better way to teach writing than have the students feel inspired to write? By having these students read material and look up material on their own time (with the guidance of the instructor), these students will also learn how to search for credible research. Bob Minzesheimer (2013) of USA TODAY noted, “Even as e-books sales have grown more than 4,000% since 2008, it’s unlikely that physical books will disappear the way records did in the music industry” (para. 9). Indeed, I do not suspect that hardcover or paperback books will ever become extinct, but in my future English Composition 111 classes, my students will no longer have to pay exorbitant prices for their grammar handbooks and miscellaneous writing textbooks, for I shall go the way of Art Spiegelman’s prediction and supplement my first-year writing students’ learning with essays written by the likes of Orson Welles, Oscar Wilde, and William Shakespeare.


Art Spiegelman. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2014, from Web site: .

Minzesheimer, Bob. (2013, May 15). In a digital world, print books maintain appeal. USA TODAY.  Retrieved from

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: