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Is It a Good Idea to Do Away With Printed Textbooks?

Is it wise to set aside the "tried and true" for the sake of technology?

At the beginning of October, when speaking to the National Press Club, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called upon the nation to begin moving toward digital textbooks and away from those printed. Fox News has quoted Duncan as saying, "Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete."

Duncan says the nation needs to move quickly toward digital textbooks. Citing more than just keeping up with the times, the U.S. must keep up with other countries, such as South Korea, that are moving faster in adopting totally digital learning environments. 

The advantages are plentiful, not the least of which is the reduction in the weight carried by students from classroom to classroom in book bags that sometimes outweigh our first graders. The opportunities for students to get updated materials quickly, as well as savings to school systems when buying the material, are certainly among the advantages to a learning system based upon digital interaction. 

And digital is certainly less stress on the environment for many reasons.

Those in education have concerns about already stressed school budgets guaranteeing that every student has a laptop and that it has the correct operating system to interface with the books. And when the particular laptop becomes outdated and refuses to run the new, latest and greatest, what will happen to the equipment? To the information? Let's think about all that data stored on floppy disks. 

Maintaining technology might be just as economically cumbersome as those heavy backpacks for a long-term investment. Kindles? Nooks? iPads? PC operating systems or Mac OS? Anyone who even owns a cell phone understands how quickly outdated technology can leave you without the means to communicate.

Ink on paper has been a tried and true means of communication that has far outlasted the stone tablet scenario of cavemen, but is it time for that technology to be replaced? Or should we stick with what is now a digitally enhanced educational experience rather than one that is digitally based? 

Marne M October 16, 2012 at 02:53 PM
I have a Masters Degree in English Literature, and I'm a big fan of printed books. But the ease and convenience of my Nook is a wonderful thing and both my children and I make extensive use of it. I can imagine so much potential for text books in digital format, especially if designed creatively so as to include interactive elements that will help bridge different learning styles for children. In addition, for kids not to have to cart around a backpack full of heavy books, or for college students not to have to pay a mint for their textbooks, is an extraordinary benefit. The State of California is already moving toward creating open-source textbooks. While the technology may evolve over time, I think that this type of content is here to stay, and I look forward to seeing how I can incorporate it into the education of my children.
Gail Lane October 16, 2012 at 03:40 PM
I see that positive aspect, Marne, truly. My concern is with technology taking leaps and bounds every few months, how do we keep our kids outfitted with the right tools? I would hate to see books go by way of the great library in Alexandria and be lost forever. I already have photos saved to media that I must now find the means to either transfer or print out - will that happen to our information if we invest solely in digital education? In our house, we have 2 versions of the Kindle - the "older" one, bought at Christmas last year already won't run some of the features of the one purchased this month for a birthday. College kids are LOVING the access, but it becomes a never ending string of with a closet full of outdated equipment and should be updated to make a world of new, bigger, and better opportunities that will augment their education.
Trish Gates October 17, 2012 at 02:10 AM
totally, weigh too much, cost to much, too heavy for kids to lug back and forth, almost obsolete before printing, like a provider directory for insurance.....get rid of them.
Steve R. October 17, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Exactly. Weigh two munch. WTH?
Mari Forquer October 17, 2012 at 05:05 PM
So, what happens in a total blackout? Do we just go about mumbling duh? Think about this with a realistic attitude. Don't cut off our arms because we have "digital servants" to perform our work... if only for reference sake. Mari F
North Georgia Weather October 17, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Mari, you are probably not reading in a total blackout and I can count the minutes on one hand that we've had a blackout here in the last 4 years. Not only that, technology like Nooks and Kindles can store the books locally so if the power does go out, they can still be used for quite a while in the dark. Digital textbooks and can and will be more interactive and therefore more engaging for today's students. They can also be created, used, updated, and replaced more cheaply than a paper book. At the speed that information changes it will be important that our kids have the latest and greatest information at their finger tips.
Denna Millard October 17, 2012 at 08:30 PM
I can understand the need to keep up with technology. I don't think printed books need to be taken away totally. There will be, or are, children who find it hard to read digital information. I know I am - I usually end up printing out the material so I can read it over and over as my eyes play tricks on me when viewing a lot of digital information.
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