"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Friday, October 12, 2012

What We Learn Going 100% Digital

Hewlett Packard began creating computers over forty years ago. They entered the e-reader market almost six years ago and remain a consistent supplier of digital connectivity. Therefore they have great reason to be excited about Arne Duncan's latest comment about digital text books. “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete,” said Duncan in an interview with the Associated Press.

He has pledged to do away with printed the books in the coming years in favor of digital editions, much like South Korea who has vowed to use only digital versions of textbooks by the year 2015. “The world is changing. This has to be where we go as a country,” Duncan said.

On the plus side there would be tremendous cost savings for e-editions, up to 60% over printed versions.

Opponents of eBooks point out the trade offs in the switch. Less cost for the purchase of printed editions (which can be as much at $1,000/year for college students), but greater cost to universities to supply wiFi and sufficient bandwidth to meet the needs of the entire student population. This could be cost prohibitive for smaller colleges.

Those are the technical and cost issues associated with digital books. No one is talking about the ideological possibilities of fully digitized education materials.

One of the benefits to the written word in the electronic ether is that it is so easily changed. If you want your students to have the most up to date information on a topic, you want some way to provide that electronically. A student's science text could be updated daily or weekly to capture the latest knowledge in the field. Think how beneficial this would be for planet/dwarf planet Pluto in an astronomy class.  Even the number of planets in our solar system is changing based on our exploratory technology. An e-text for an astronomy class could keep the students from learning outdated material.

On the other end of the spectrum is the e-text for a history class. The benefit of an ever changing text book here is more debatable. In fact, the mere though conjures lines from 1984. Have history texts always contained the bias of their authors? Sure. But at least you could highlight a section of text on Napolean, then go back and compare it to some other text and know that what you read yesterday is still the same as it is today. With books that may update overnight, that assuredness goes away.

Are history texts likely to change overnight or even over the year in a particular class with digital textbooks? Not likely. Those kinds of changes would require a flexibility on the part of the teacher that is unheard of. They would render a syllabus almost useless. It would, however, elevate the importance of original documents. Unfortunately, future generations won't be able to read those documents because Common Core does away with teaching cursive writing. I hope Google Translate is working on a way to make the fancy writing in old documents readable.

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  1. Thanks to MEW for looking out for us on educational issues. I fear the e-textbooks for the 1984 concept you mentioned. I believe that it is part of the rewriting history. I also believe that this is a means of controlling what our children read and study. Once the students have access only to what the DOE approves, this misguided department controls their thinking. The Dept of Educ encourages this as a replacement for "expensive" textbooks. Recently the DOE partnered with Creative Commons and Open Society group to offer a contest to encourage the use of e-textbooks and the loser copyright rules. World Bank (the digital library) also uses only Creative Commons for its online material. The ability for kids to remix other people's original work before they even have a grasp of basics seems a great deal like the math approach of creating solutions before understanding the basic concepts.

  2. I seem to recall reading that we retain less of what we read electronically versus in print (of course I read that too online, so I can't recall the source). In an age of easy "googled" answers, I could see the dependence on digital media as a negative thing. It's ironic that students would become less educated with more access to digital media, but I can certainly see that as the realistic outcome.


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