Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

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.

Comments (74)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Kristy Clem's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was curious about Kindle, but I was not prepared to spend $200-$300 on one. If you have an iPhone you can download a free Kindle application that allows you to purchase Kindle books and view them on your phone. I did download the application and I have found that, yes it is convenient to have a book always with you in a compact size. It was difficult for me to focus on what I was reading though. For me, I enjoy turning each page, highlighting text, writing in the book, putting sticky notes on pages I want to look at again, etc.

As far as textbooks are concerned, I feel that yes, some students will thrive with an electronic version of a textbook. They will have no problem highlighting in the program and taking notes on paper as needed. For other students, this task will be difficult. Every student learns differently, and there are some students who will need to physically handle the book to be able to concentrate. As a previous poster stated, for research purposes, students will need actual books to look through to compare and contrast.

As I stated in the subject of this post, I am torn on my feelings towards this topic. I cannot help but wonder about the cost of thousands of Kindles for every student. Would there only be a classroom set? What if a student was absent and needed to borrow a book? What happens if a student loses the Kindle and their family cannot afford to replace it? How do you ask a student to "look on with another student" during reading? I foresee many issues and I hope that several trials will take place before districts start implementing such a plan.

Paloma's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for the insight on the value of Kindles or e-book readers. I can see how beneficial they could be. I wonder, could I have both textbooks and Kindles in my classroom? Thereby, still providing texts for learners who prefer it and Kindles for those more technology driven. I know that for myself, I must have the hard copy there in front me to read and mark up and throw around my desk. I can see the value in both resources but prefer texts.

Eric Starkey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This, at least currently, seems to be an overly expensive idea at best!! The price of these readers is to great to be able to use them in every classroom. Also, I don't feel that they are necessary. Most of our students are capable of reading paper texts, and should continue to do so, until they stop making them. Textbooks, and other paper texts, give a good feel to the student, and are easily replaced. I understand (being a college student) just how expensive some textbooks can be, but the cost of replacing a lost textbook, in the range of 100 or so dollars, versus replacing a Kindle, in the range of 300+ dollars, is much more feasible for families, AND schools!

Let's PLEASE stick to good old fashioned books!!

Brad Feick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I don't think that people are ready to abandon books and completely shift to e-texts. However, I do not see the harm in offering e-texts as a supplement or replacement text for students. As an American Literature teacher, I often use selected short stories that I can find copies of online. Students then always have access to the reading. I give them a hard copy which I reuse each semester and provide links to an electronic text. As others have noted, the students' interactions with the texts are much different electronically than a hard copy. I always found that physically marking up the text was a mode of learning, but e-texts do not allow this learning style.

As for a complete shift to electronic texts, I do not foresee this occurring in the near future. Too many students still do not have computer and internet accessibility outside of school. If every class required reading online, when would these students find computer time? I believe that we need to continue to incorporate technology into daily teaching, but we also need to be careful about the technological requirements outside of the classroom. There is still a great economic disparity between those that have the technology and those that do not.

Brad Feick
English Teacher
Plymouth High School
Wisconsin

laurie tanner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel that electronic textbooks are a wonderful alternative, however for the moment, I believe they should be employed as a supplement, for the following reasons.

Aren't different learning styles addressed through having both the print version and the electronic version available? For tactile learners, I suppose pressing computer keys may be sufficient, but can that compare with touching the pages and wielding the physical highlighter? I agree that some students will have a problem, for aome time to come, with having the e-version only. As for the cost, as with all technology, sooner or later ready availability and high frequency use will probably drive that down, which doesn't necessarily mean that it will be readily affordable for all families.

For some students, having an audio version of the text is equally, if not more important, than just having an electronic print version. Some e-textbooks are equipped with audio versions, and I believe this is essential. For English language learners, low-level readers, and students with certain disabilities, having an audio version is invaluable; through listening as well as reading they can learn far more. Some of those students may actually require the experience of marking up a physical version while listening to the spoken one.

I agree that the ramifications need to be fully explored before abandoning print textbooks.

laurie tanner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel that electronic textbooks are a wonderful alternative, however for the moment, I believe they should be employed as a supplement, for the following reasons.

Aren't different learning styles addressed through having both the print version and the electronic version available? For tactile learners, I suppose pressing computer keys may be sufficient, but can that compare with touching the pages and wielding the physical highlighter? I agree that some students will have a problem, for aome time to come, with having the e-version only. As for the cost, as with all technology, sooner or later ready availability and high frequency use will probably drive that down, which doesn't necessarily mean that it will be readily affordable for all families.

For some students, having an audio version of the text is equally, if not more important, than just having an electronic print version. Some e-textbooks are equipped with audio versions, and I believe this is essential. For English language learners, low-level readers, and students with certain disabilities, having an audio version is invaluable; through listening as well as reading they can learn far more. Some of those students may actually require the experience of marking up a physical version while listening to the spoken one.

I agree that the ramifications need to be fully explored before abandoning print textbooks.

laurie tanner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel that electronic textbooks are a wonderful alternative, however for the moment, I believe they should be employed as a supplement, for the following reasons.

Aren't different learning styles addressed through having both the print version and the electronic version available? For tactile learners, I suppose pressing computer keys may be sufficient, but can that compare with touching the pages and wielding the physical highlighter? I agree that some students will have a problem, for aome time to come, with having the e-version only. As for the cost, as with all technology, sooner or later ready availability and high frequency use will probably drive that down, which doesn't necessarily mean that it will be readily affordable for all families.

For some students, having an audio version of the text is equally, if not more important, than just having an electronic print version. Some e-textbooks are equipped with audio versions, and I believe this is essential. For English language learners, low-level readers, and students with certain disabilities, having an audio version is invaluable; through listening as well as reading they can learn far more. Some of those students may actually require the experience of marking up a physical version while listening to the spoken one.

I agree that the ramifications need to be fully explored before abandoning print textbooks.

laurie tanner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel that electronic textbooks are a wonderful alternative, however for the moment, I believe they should be employed as a supplement, for the following reasons.

Aren't different learning styles addressed through having both the print version and the electronic version available? For tactile learners, I suppose pressing computer keys may be sufficient, but can that compare with touching the pages and wielding the physical highlighter? I agree that some students will have a problem, for aome time to come, with having the e-version only. As for the cost, as with all technology, sooner or later ready availability and high frequency use will probably drive that down, which doesn't necessarily mean that it will be readily affordable for all families.

For some students, having an audio version of the text is equally, if not more important, than just having an electronic print version. Some e-textbooks are equipped with audio versions, and I believe this is essential. For English language learners, low-level readers, and students with certain disabilities, having an audio version is invaluable; through listening as well as reading they can learn far more. Some of those students may actually require the experience of marking up a physical version while listening to the spoken one.

I agree that the ramifications need to be fully explored before abandoning print textbooks.

laurie tanner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel that electronic textbooks are a wonderful alternative, however for the moment, I believe they should be employed as a supplement, for the following reasons.

Aren't different learning styles addressed through having both the print version and the electronic version available? For tactile learners, I suppose pressing computer keys may be sufficient, but can that compare with touching the pages and wielding the physical highlighter? I agree that some students will have a problem, for
some time to come, with having the e-version only. As for the cost, as with all technology, sooner or later ready availability and high frequency use will probably drive that down, which doesn't necessarily mean that it will be readily affordable for all families.

For some students, having an audio version of the text is equally, if not more important, than just having an electronic print version. Some e-textbooks are equipped with audio versions, and I believe this is essential. For English language learners, low-level readers, and students with certain disabilities, having an audio version is invaluable; through listening as well as reading they can learn far more. Some of those students may actually require the experience of marking up a physical version while listening to the spoken one.

I agree that the ramifications need to be fully explored before abandoning print textbooks.

laurie tanner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel that electronic textbooks are a wonderful alternative, however for the moment, I believe they should be employed as a supplement, for the following reasons.

Aren't different learning styles addressed through having both the print version and the electronic version available? For tactile learners, I suppose pressing computer keys may be sufficient, but can that compare with touching the pages and wielding the physical highlighter? I agree that some students will have a problem, for aome time to come, with having the e-version only. As for the cost, as with all technology, sooner or later ready availability and high frequency use will probably drive that down, which doesn't necessarily mean that it will be readily affordable for all families.

For some students, having an audio version of the text is equally, if not more important, than just having an electronic print version. Some e-textbooks are equipped with audio versions, and I believe this is essential. For English language learners, low-level readers, and students with certain disabilities, having an audio version is invaluable; through listening as well as reading they can learn far more. Some of those students may actually require the experience of marking up a physical version while listening to the spoken one.

I agree that the ramifications need to be fully explored before abandoning print textbooks.

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.