A clarification on ELT digital textbooks

Much of the literature, reports and suchlike on electronic book/digital books/eBooks do not apply to ELT textbooks because ELT textbooks are typically not read, they are done. When the literature speak about ‘interactivity’ they are often referring to the inclusion of multimedia content. When ELT people speak about interactivity they are usually referring to interactive exercises/activities. As so much of a typical ELT book is done, the digitalisation of ELT books or material demands the existence of activity templates which mirror the cognitive skills (hopefully) exercised in the realization of activities in a print book. Indeed, digital versions of ELT materials should enable and promote the use of higher level thinking skills more quickly and in a more real life environment, by making memory and comprehension easy with media-rich presentation and moving the students quickly to higher – order skills such as Application and Creation, as well as Analysis and Evaluation. Creation, Analysis and Evaluation are also in the ‘soft skills’ area which the CEFR hopes to promote through Key Competencies and also take us into the affective domain and thus satisfy the requirements of addressing the affective in learning, the importance of which is highlighted by followers of the theories of Gardner and by prominent figures such as Robinson.

The activity types typically used in ELT books are well known, typically:

  • fill in the gap

  • reorder

  • match

  • multiple choice and choice multiple

  • etc.

These activities are useful enough for lower-order thinking skills and although successful completion of activities of these types is often mistakenly taken as proof of language competence and although this is manifestly not the case, teachers are likely to expect them so their inclusion in early digital products is recommended for the sake of face value and acceptance, not to mention avoidance of problems with sales forces who are notoriously reticent in accepting, selling and giving value to products they do not understand. But the importance of moving learners to higher order ‘soft’ skills and moving teachers to competencial models of evaluation and therefore, teaching, cannot be stressed enough.

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