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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Can Electronic Reading Devices Replace Classroom Texts?

And now a few words about the book, that ancient medium we've all encountered, with ink on paper pages, a front and back cover, and pleasure, or knowledge, or provocation, or even a certain necessary tedium stored within.

These words are inspired by hearing from my editor at Smithsonian magazine, a thoroughly literate woman, that she recently purchased an electronic, wireless reading device called a Kindle, and loves it.

These words are also inspired by the current push by California's governor to have many textbooks converted to electronic form. My own wife has begun thinking that having a Kindle would be a great way to avoid packing her suitcase with half a ton of books on our trips to Europe, and she may be right about that.

But it occurs to me that there's some metaphoric connection between Kindle -- a word whose first meaning is "to light a fire" -- and the Ray Bradbury book (and François Truffaut film) Fahrenheit 451, which predicted a future in which all books are methodically burned.

It turns out that the book in its old-school form may be threatened not by the heat of flames but rather by the much less incendiary dance of electrons and photons.

I'm well aware that there are all sorts of worthy arguments for a tectonic shift (no pun intended) from printed paper to words on a portable screen -- economics, up-to-date currency, and, for schools, a medium that most young people are entirely comfortable with. But the increasing rate of technological change that makes the Kindle and similar wireless digital readers possible also presents a serious problem.

Think about those Super 8 home movies your father so annoyingly made and that you, eventually realizing that they were irreplaceable memories, had transferred to tape. That was back when videotape was the latest, greatest storage medium. Do you have a videotape player now? I don't. It followed the film projector into the garage sale queue when I bought a DVD player.

So all those home movies I had put onto tape now have to find a new home on disk. And it will be a temporary home, at best, because a newer next thing will replace the DVD just about a week after I have paid for yet another transfer.

So let this be said for the words-on-paper book: It may be sooo yesterday, but it's also sooo tomorrow. I have sat in a Greek monastery, reading -- or trying to read -- a codex written on vellum 18 centuries ago. But I wonder if anyone a decade from today will be able to read the words I'm writing now, words that will end up on paper only if someone bothers to warm up the printer.

My children will, however -- should they ever want to -- have a trove of my printed magazine pieces and books. These relics of the golden age of publishing may not survive for centuries, but they should still be readable by my grandchildren.

After all, every electronic medium relies for storage on plain old magnetism. And magnetism has a host of enemies, just like the elastic in old tube socks.

My hope for the antique technology of the traditional book is simple: that amid all the gee-wizardry of wireless, paperless, boundless libraries, the printed, nonelectronic object that has transported humanity's wisdom, wit, wickedness, and wistfulness from one generation to the next still will find a place in the hearts and hands of students.

It may be too nostalgic to wish that kids will read Kidnapped under the covers by flashlight, as I did. But what I do pray for to the spirit of Johannes Gutenberg is that the rustle of pages, the smell of paper, the elegance of type, and the anticipatory joy of reading "Chapter One" will not be lost to the Wii Generation.

Do you see Kindles in your classroom in the future? Please share your thoughts.

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Joann Mills's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jillian and Paloma,

Like you, I feel we are on the cutting edge with electronic sources for reading, however, as I posted in my blog on this site, there is just something about the smell and feel of a picture or tradebook. There are times when I don't mind seeing a book that is 'well used' - that indicates to me that the book has been visited by many, many children and parents....this is a wonderful thing.

Joann Mills
Walden University
Masters in Education
Reading & Literacy

Amy Andrews's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a grad student at Walden University I have a couple of thoughts on this topic. At first the thought of having electronic books on a small device (Kindle)to take anywhere you go sounds so convienent. I think that in this age of technology children may be more apt to read great books if it was located on a small technological device.

When I think about this further I hope that the "Kindle" does not take over the traditional paperback books. I have great memories of when I was younger and would read books at night using a flashlight or straining my eyes to use the hallway light just so I could find out what was going to happen next. The best part was the sneaking because I was supposed to be in bed sleeping. This habit I had as a child is still continuing today, I can not go to bed at night without reading before bed. The only difference now is that I do not have to sneek and try to read with out the light on. It would be sad if electronic books were taken away and young children now would never experiance these same memories.

I also wonder what would happen to the libraries? I loved going to the library to pick out a book. There were so many to choose from and so many to look at. It was the whole atmosphere that contributed to the entire experiance. If the "Kindle" took over it would not be the same to "download" the next story you wanted to read from the computer.

Amy Andrews's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a grad student at Walden University and just wanted to comment on what you had to say about sharing books. With the Kindle there is no way to share with friends once you recommend the book to them. I know that I am constantly buying books that I read and love. With the cost of books being so expensive at times I share them (if they are good) with everyone I think that would like them. It would be a shame if I recommended a book and then my friends would have to go out and buy it on their own because I only owned it electronically. Thank youy bringing up this point of view.

Ginger's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Rosemary, I share your love of books and interest in technology. I hope that our books are not replaced by electronic media in the future. I appreciate the alternative option of electronic media, but would not want it to be the only option. There is something to the touch and feel of a book, well read, that warms the soul and stimulates the memory in ways that cannot be replaced by a glance at a kindle stacked on the coffee table with the remote controllers.
Walden U
MS in Ed grad student
Elem Reading and Math

KD's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a Media Specialist who is rebuilding a library, I must say that I would hate to see the day a good classic is replaced with a Kindle. However,the way technology continues to advance, I may have to make it work. If the student is engaged in a good read, than so be it. A touchy topic for some, but as teachers we often have to do the compromising.

Kester's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Before I started reading this blog I was all for getting rid of every paper bound textbook for new electronic textbooks. After reading this blog I have some hesitation. Even though it would make it easier on the students to just carry around one "textbook" for all their classes, the cost of replacement, maintenance, and overall wear and tear would put a strain on school's already thin budget. Though there is value in being able to sit down with a book and get away from the technological world but I see student huffing around 20 to 30 pounds of books that put strain on their backs. That is one reason why I very seldom use textbooks in my classroom. There has got to be a middle ground.

Tiffany Harrell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a personal tool, I think that the Kindle is a great idea! It saves the hassle of stuffing a book into my purse, and I also have the option of reading more than 1 book at a time from the same device. Although I would use one for personal use, I do not agree with replacing classroom text books with a Kindle.

There are certain books in my personal library that I can pick up and be taken back in time by the smell that reminds me of my days in elementary school. I can not imagine books being replaced by electronic devices, at least at the elementary school level. I have only two questions to support my argument of this decision: who will pay for the devices and what will we do when they get lost, stolen, or broken? I teach 3rd grade in a low-income area in Georgia, and I can not imagine parents that would be willing to pay to replace them or get them repaired. As I understand, the books that are put onto the Kindle have to be purchased and downloaded. This seems like it would take too much time and money to constantly load books onto each student's Kindle.

I am a graduate student at Walden University studying Integrating Technology in the Classroom, and I believe there are better ways to integrate technology rather than putting books on an iPod-like device. I feel that it is important to expose students to the newest technologies and how they can be of use to them, but I do not understand how electronic books would be any more beneficial than the books we already use. Overall, I think that the Kindle would cause more harm than help.

nick wisniewski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Kindles and other forms of tech gadgets will come and go, each one lasting less time than the previous hot item, superseded and forgotten in a short period of time. Books will endure.

Brad Feick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I believe that there will be a shared place for both electronic literary devices and paper texts. However, your point concerning our nation's newspapers is definitely alarming. Personally, I love the looking at the book covers, reading the author's synopsis, turning the pages, marking up the text with a pencil, and losing myself within real paper pages. Today a student told me that she hopes to enter a bookstore one day and see her own published novel on the shelf. I hope, for her sake, that books remain in publication.

Furthermore, for books to be replaced completely by e-texts, everyone would need to have internet access. Currently, there are too many people that cannot afford such a purchase. I have many students who do not have internet access, and even one who writes his essays on a typewriter.

Brad Feick
Walden University
Plymouth High School

Emily Holderman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a new teacher and current Walden graduate student , the Kindle is something I have yet to experience on my own. In review of others' blogs, as well as Kindles' brief informational movie, I can seen this goes way beyond books on computer screens. It's a way to rediscover reading and have access to sources and content that wouldn't ordinarily be readily available to most. Consequently it is a learning tool, perhaps primitive in its current features but none the less the first steps in media based sources for student achievement. No one is in denial of the fact that we live in and will continue to create a media based society, thus how can we not want to learn more about such technology. Of course it is pricey now, because it is still viewed as a luxury. Remember when DVDS were outrageous?!
I recently read an article for my grad course which focused on the topic of neuroscience and technology. When reading this blog I couldn't help but think of the reference the article made to the computer based intervention program Fast Forward. This series of language and reading programs are designed to "employ the scientific learning principles underlying neuroplasticity to enhance the fundamental memory, attention, processing and sequencing skills on which effective classroom learning depends" (Miller& Tallal, 2006). Such programs need computers to work. It is the computer that properly executes the functions within the program to trigger learning in the brain. Thus couldn't a Kindle be a potential catalyst for these programs in the future?
I too am partial to the look and feel of a "real" book, however the generation we are teaching has already started to move beyond traditional methods in other avenues of their lives. Thus to have them read one dimensional words on paper, is hindering their ability to completely navigate the world they live in.

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