Texts for Today
For all the innovative thinkers and grand new ideas, the world of academia is not known for its progressiveness. Most educational institutions, K – 16, still work on the September to June agrarian community model. Most schools still report students' progress using letter grades, and rely on paper and pencil (#2 only please) assessments to monitor students' achievements. And, yes, most schools still utilize the printed textbook, the descendent of the ancient scroll, as the primary teaching resource.
The average high school students often lugs around as much as 20 pounds in textbook weight (1). In addition to causing back injuries, these weighty tomes contain information that at best has not been updated since publication. All too often these texts contain outdated and inaccurate information.
In Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman rejects the claim that technologies are themselves neutral. And so, it would seem, with etexts. Some people view them as the Holy Grail of instruction, as though they are capable of salvaging a long suffering educational system. To others, they are merely the latest gadget upon which to waste our ever-dwindling education dollars. While we may have been educated using traditional textbooks (and have done fairly well in our humble opinions) today's education is about today's children and tomorrow's citizens and leaders.
Imagine if you will the students entering kindergarten in September 2011. For as long as they can recall there have been iPads, smart phones, and other easily mobile devices which have allowed them quick and simple access to the world. They have listened and watched as grandparents a continent away have Skyped them a bedtime story. They have used the latest apps to learn handwriting, simple math, and even foreign languages. For them, the world of YouTube is a place to find Lego or Barbie videos. They have even created and produced their own digital stories using apps such as ToonDo to share with the world. Before setting foot in an educational institution, these children have been intuitively harnessing the power of digital media and devices to soar.
For the next 16 years, however, their academic experiences will likely disallow such incredible growth. Their academic potential will be constrained by the ages-old technology of the printed text. Digital texts, often referred to as etexts, ebooks, or digibooks, must be brought into the academic world today to teach today’s children for tomorrow!
Etexts exponentially increase students' learning potential. Information contained within the text can be updated as needed. No longer will an elementary textbook claim that Pluto is a planet years after it had been reclassified as a planetoid. Knowledge is an ever-changing and evolving asset; our students need to have that access to that type of knowledge.
One caveat concerns the definition of an etext. An etext is not simply a digital copy of a paper text. Rather, it is a robust, fully interactive technology tool. It should allow for the digital exchange between students and students, students and teachers, and even students and experts from around the globe of all text-related activities such as discussion, highlighting, notes, summarizing, creating, and problem solving.
If we return to those same kindergarten students of September 2011, we may see a few lucky ones—ones whose schools have already adapted and integrated digital texts. We may see students who are able to learn at their own individual levels; at a school where there is differentiation of instruction and limitless, worldwide resources. As the students learn both inside and outside of the classroom they will be able to easily connect with global peers and content experts to collaborate and share, to learn and grown, to create.
Isn’t this something we want for our students? Of course it is. So yes, the time has come to move from print to etexts.
1 California State Board of Education, "Textbook Weight in California: Analysis and Recommendations," California Department of Education, May 2004, id: cib-cfir-may04item02.