Digital textbooks are no longer a futurist’s dream.
Publishers are beginning to release books in a digital form. Students are more comfortable in a digital setting. And the devices are cost effective and user friendly.
As with any new technology, some benefits are obvious. Digital textbooks open opportunities for collaboration, allow for constantly updated information and make education less of a top-down system.
But the introduction of any new medium renders an element of an existing medium obsolete. The old medium is not extinct, but its effect on society’s landscape is diminished and its contributions are muted.
Radio’s glory days faded as television gained popularity in the 1940s. As we gained a visual medium we lost one well suited for disseminating abstract ideas.
This cycle of gaining and losing is accelerating as technology evolves. We have little time to see the negative effects of a new technology before society accepts it as normal. It took decades for the majority of American households to own a telephone, but less than one for iPods to saturate our culture. With technology moving at this rate, it will be only a few years before the book as we know it – and as Gutenberg knew it – finally will have to adapt to the 21st century.
We have to consider the features that will be gained relative to those that will be lost as we move toward this new system of presenting information.
We will miss the way a book feels and smells, but that is nothing compared to the possible detriment of the new technology to student learning.
Students will no longer have to comprehend the information they are given in order put it in their notes. They will be able to copy and paste with ease. Notes and sources for a paper can be compiled so easily that the student doesn’t analyze the text thoroughly. It is easy assume that possessing the information is the same as knowing it. That isn’t necessarily true.
Readers will not need to have a clue about the context of the facts and terms they look to find in the digital text. The search feature will allow students to cherry pick excerpts off of their study guides.
Each year more freshmen enter equipped with iPhones, making iPad textbooks the next step for our wired campus. If we aren’t careful, we might get lost in the technology and inadvertently weaken students’ educational opportunities.