Not all digital textbooks for higher education are created equal—and it’s important to be careful with how exactly a publisher is defining “digital.” For professors, transferring to a digital textbook should be as seamless and straightforward as possible—otherwise students are not going to get everything they need out of it.

Here are some suggestions for what you should be considering when choosing a digital textbook for your class.


If a publisher has converted their print textbook to a PDF, then labeled it a “digital textbook,” it’s quite possible they are time travelers from 1998. And, no, hyperlinks to Wikipedia don’t count.

A PDF version of a print book is just a print book on a screen. A truly digital textbook in 2019 needs to be an active and inspirational part of a student’s learning journey; embedded questions, discussions and interactive elements, such as timelines and tools, have to be part of the composition.

Here are just two examples of how this should be done, from Top Hat’s digital textbook offerings: a public speaking digital textbook should include questions that ask students to record video answers, so students can practice and share their delivery; and an anatomy digital textbook should include interactive models of the human skeleton and musculature, to give students one ‘hands-on’ way of exploring the structure of the human body.

The fact is, text and images on their own are only part of the picture—they can’t help students carefully plan how they learn and understand material, and they certainly can’t feed back to teachers to help them understand where students are struggling.

Always up-to-date

In the same way, a publisher that creates a “digital” textbook still anchored to the cumbersome two- to three-year content review process hasn’t created a digital textbook at all—they’re using old methods in a new medium. This is particularly galling in the age of breaking news and the Internet—when some subject areas you teach can change suddenly with new technologies or updated information, such as digital marketing or politics.

A digital textbook should dispense entirely with the idea of editions—and be kept up-to-date on students’ devices. Top Hat allows updates and the latest information to be updated in textbooks when needed—and gives professors control over when and whether to make those changes to students’ copies.


Most teachers are familiar with the rigmarole that comes with “Read chapters 2, 3, 5 and 8, but not the second part of 8, and here are three videos and some journal articles to read” and so on.

Many textbooks—print and digital alike—are bloated and require careful filtering for effective teaching. And, as discussed, these textbooks can potentially miss out important recent developments that the students of your field need to know about.

With Top Hat, professors can fully customize the material they adopt—from something as simple as rewriting a paragraph or rearranging chapters, to adapting and inserting assessment materials from our Marketplace. That way, the course is directly tailored, and everything is in one place.

Learning integration

In a world where digital devices permeate every part of life, it would seem strange to have a digital textbook for a single, specific-use: either to read just before class, or to go through questions during class, or take assignments on after. If it’s possible to do each of those tasks individually, on separate platforms, it should be possible to carry them out all-in-one.

On Top Hat, textbooks, in-class assessments, assignments, attendance, grading and testing are all fully integrated in one place. This saves students from hopping between platforms trying to complete everything, and saves you time in course prep and curation.

Learn more about the Top Hat platform and how a digital textbook, based on your students laptops and phones, can fully integrate into your course, helping you enhance and track your students’ success.

Tagged as: