Friday, January 28, 2011

Perspectives on Printed vs. Electronic Books & Textbooks

Last week, I read an article called "Textbooks? So Last Century. Rent a Netbook Instead." that represents what many educators are facing today as they consider the media of their curriculum. For more reading, click on the following: http://chronicle.com/article/Textbooks-So-Last-Century/125884/ and below are my intial thoughts after reflecting on it.

I believe we are in a technological bubble when it comes to our methods of acquiring and managing information packaged in the form of a book. Personally, I have always been a "book worm" and have managed to acquire about 2000 books (including many college textbooks) in my personal library over the last 25-30 years. During the 90s I bought on average about 100 books each year (even more during graduate school in the early 90s). Books remained a large part of my work world in the next 15 years as I worked as an education minister, curriculum writer, and technology trends researcher and workshop presenter. In the last ten years, the number of paper books I bought decreased with each passing year (in 2010, I bought about 10 books). I believe this shift resulted from my growing Internet habits and the realization that much of the information and content that lined my book shelves could be found online. As my habit of digital bookmarking grew (and my confidence that the Internet will not "lose" my data, info, etc.), I also discontinued the almost maddening habit of creating folder after folder of clipped magazine/newspaper articles and research-related computer-generated printouts...which shamelessly became stacks around my desk (sound familiar anyone?).

Now that I work as a Campus Technology Coordinator at a high school, I recently made a decision to part with 75% of my library (which has not been easy for me since I have notes and markers in many of my books). In fact, I feel like I am betraying good friends as I boxed them up for donation or to sell...but the drumbeat of technological progress demands that I march forward to what has changed and what is continuing to change. Ten years ago, Adobe Acrobat provided a means for me to easily print to file and digitally store what use to be piles stacked next to my desk (I will confess that this didn't happen overnight). Next, I found that adding highlights, notes, and bookmarks to my PDF files were easy and quite convenient. I have to tell you...I really like the idea of trading in my paper habits for new digital habits -- less clutter, saves trees, and easier to share with others. But I do admit that I have to constantly challenge myself and my “print happy” moments during Internet research sessions.

Now, as schools begin to move in the direction of using electronic textbooks, I see both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are plain to see but some of the disadvantages may not be fully appreciated by all advocating for e-textbooks. In fact, I have had a couple conversations with teachers recently about this very topic. First, as mentioned by others, not every student has an Internet-equipped home computer or possession of an e-reader device. This only adds to the Digital Divide issue. Secondly, many schools are already struggling with bandwidth issues due to poor infrastructure, aging computers, and the sharp increase in classroom use of streaming video from the Web and the use of Web 2.0 tools. I believe adding electronic textbooks on a mass scale is somewhat premature for most schools, especially if thousands of students need to access the Web to access those textbook texts and supplemental media files that are becoming more common by educational publishers. Anyway, this is something for us to consider before committing to a textbook format that will no doubt be more digital with each passing year (a format I welcome if we are prepared for it). As a tech coordinator, I see lots of preparation in order before we can add another layer of technology in our K-12 schools.

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