Thursday, August 11, 2011

Digital Textbooks Said to Be Less Effective Than Printed Texts

Dallas Morning News writer Nicholas Carr suggests that schools should think twice before dumping their traditional textbooks for digital texts and Kindles.  Unfortunately, as Carr points out in his piece, too many school boards are ready to jump immediately onto any new technology bandwagon that comes along.
In theory, the benefits of electronic textbooks seem clear and compelling. They can be updated quickly with new information. They promise cost savings, at least over the long haul. They reduce paper and photocopier use. And they're lightweight, freeing students from the torso-straining load of book-filled backpacks.   
But schools may want to pause before jumping on the e-book bandwagon. Recent studies suggest that printed books continue to have important advantages over digital ones. Not only do they accommodate a wider array of learning styles, but they also encourage more attentive reading and study. And if there's anything in short supply among students today, it's attentiveness. In a study last year at the University of Washington, a group of graduate students were given Kindles, and their use of the devices was monitored through diary entries and interviews. By the end of the school year, nearly two-thirds of the students had abandoned the Kindle or were using it only infrequently.

In another recent study, 500 undergraduates at the University of California were asked to compare printed books with e-books. Most of the students said they still preferred reading from pages rather than from screens. According to a report on the study, many of the students "commented on the difficulty they have learning, retaining and concentrating" when looking at a computer screen. In a typical complaint, one of the students said, "E-books divide my attention."
Please read the article to get the full impact of Carr's argument.  I am particularly impressed by his comments comparing the flexibility of reading a physical book compared to the rigidity involved in reading a digital textbook.  I think Carr just explained to me why I am personally still uneasy about doing too much of my reading via e-books.  I have too many little reading habits that don't transfer readily to the new technology - and I'm willing to bet that most of you do, too.

None of this might be a big deal when reading for pleasure during one's leisure time, but it could make a critical difference in the education of thousands of high school and college students who have marginal reading skills or learning difficulties.  After all, we live in what seems to be an ADD world already.  Why make it tougher than it has to be?

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