Textbooks Replaced by Technology – Is there a downside?

Just read an interesting article on eSchoolNews that focuses on some trailblazing schools in Arizona and Tennessee that are not only moving away from using textbooks, but in some cases, eliminating them completely.  One school in Arizona has eliminated textbooks in favor of giving all students laptops and using online articles and resources as the basis for curriculum; in Tennessee, educators are using a website built through school and private funding to teach Tennessee history.   

I think these programs are fantastic – but I’ve been surprised lately as I’ve heard a few people, especially parents, express some concern about the movement towards technology in schools – specifically as it relates to the one-to-one laptop programs that are being launched in schools throughout the country.  There is no doubt in these parents’ minds that technology is a benefit; rather, they have questioned the level of responsibility required by the student to care for and protect an expensive laptop and whether the stress of it all outweighs the benefits.

As someone who has made a career of losing, dropping, forgetting and otherwise "I swear, if your head wasn’t screwed on you’d forget that too”-ing my way through life, I personally don’t know that I would have been able to handle the responsibility of having my own laptop when I was a teenager. When I hear my friends discussing the level of “Where’s the laptop? Did you forget the laptop? Is your laptop safe?” arguments they are having with their children, I wonder if we need to explore ways to make these highly beneficial programs work without putting undo stress on families.

What do you think?  By trying to equip our students with the best possible tools to help them learn, are we possibly also requiring a responsibility that early teenagers may not yet be ready to handle, or do the benefits far outweigh any undo pressure we might be putting on students and parents?


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  1. Valerie said:

    I agree. I’m a strong supporter of technology in the classroom but it does have its limitations – like kids losing computers. Not to mention that laptops are heavy! I’ve had jobs were I’ve had to carry my laptop around with me and it’s tiring for an adult. Also, laptop monitors are not always the best for kids’ eyes. I think you need to mix it up a bit.

  2. Rachel said:

    I must admit that this is a topic that I have mixed feelings about. I love the idea of using technology with students, but I fear that we may over do it.

    Personally, as a student I do not like to have my text online. For several grad classes I’ve taken, I’ve had texts available online and end up printing what I need. Additionally, when I took an online reading class that focused on incorporating reading strategies in content classes, they recommended printing articles and chapters instead of reading them online. Throughout the course they posted stats about how much faster you read paper text compared to computer text.

    For students, I think it’s very difficult to teach them how to develop good study skills with an online text.

    I think, for now, I’m most comfortable having regular textbooks. I suspect this is an issue we are going to have to address more so in the future and there are definitely advantages to having the text in an online format.

  3. Rita Fennelly said:

    I tend to agree with Rachel. I would much rather read something in hand rather than on the computer.

    The advantage of e-textbooks, if designed well, is that they should integrate video, audio and web links seamlessly into the textbook experience to improve learning. This can definately offer an advantage if the teacher and students know how to use these tools effectively.

    An electronic version of a textbook offers no advantages to a regular textbook without taking advantage of technology.

    The real question, I think, is whether students are more likely to use an e-textbook compared to a regular textbook. If students are not interested in the material, they will not want to explore it regardless of the shiny bells and whistles technology may confer on a text. Textbooks tend to be boring and dry, and teachers are usually left to make the material come alive in the classroom.

  4. Christopher Bugaj said:

    I think that the provision of text in a digital format could really benefit students who might need an additional modality to understand the material. For instance, if a student with a learning disability who had difficulty reading a science text could copy that text into a program that allows the computer to read it auditorily (for example, http://www.readplease.com)this student would them be able to listen to the text. He could then stand a better chance of comprehending the material. Although I gave the example of a student with a disability, students without disabilities but with different learning styles could all benefit from the use of digital text. If a student felt the need to physically hold the paper, one option might be to print it out before reading.

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