“The mere formulation of a problem is far more often essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.” Albert Einstein
We would be wise to heed Einstein’s advise as we look at this debate but we should also be aware of the agendas and bias that are present in the way an argument is presented. For example comparing tablets to textbooks is not a fair comparison for tablets or textbooks because the two are essentially different. A tablet is a computing device that can be used as an ereader as well as many other things and a textbook is simply a compilation of pre-digested information. The Tablets Vs. Textbooks ProCon.org website is a classic of example of how we can get mired in senseless debates of comparing apples to to oranges. The site also demonstrates that when the comparisons are NOT well defined and remotely equivalent the debate can actually limit well informed decisions and progress. Several years from now we will look back at the pros and cons listed on this site and many other similar sites and add the following statements to the growing list of ill informed statements that about other technological changes. It won’t be too many years until we add the following:
Tablets enable students to cut corners or cheat on schoolwork.
Tablets increase the number of excuses available for students not doing their schoolwork.
Tablets have too many distractions for classroom use.
to this growing list of foolish predictions.
“Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.” From Federal Teachers, 1950
“Computers give students an unfair advantage. Therefore, students who used computers to analyze data or create displays will be eliminated from the science fair.” From a science fair judge in Apple Classroom of Tomorrow chronicles, 1988
Putting the above illformed debate aside we can now deal with a personal observation regarding the power of ebooks and the limitation of traditional print books that will have an impact on learning–or at least have an impact on my learning. This past week my son suggested that I would be interested reading the book Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide by Barbara Coloroso that he was reading in his Social Studies class. I often read what my boys read and was looking forward to the discussions this book could start so after learning that I could not get copy of this book in a digital format I agreed to have my son to pick up a paperback copy from his school library. A few pages into the book made me realize that this was not just a light read and that I was going to have to start making notes if I wanted to be able to refer back to the powerful points the author was making. Unfortunately the book was in print I had to repeatedly stop and transcribe sections of the text. I found having to do this not only frustrating it interfered with my flow of reading and interfered with my learning process.
Some may question how transcribing text interferes with learning and may even argue that the act of writing out the test is actually helpful for learning. Since getting my first iPad back in May of 2010, I have moved over to ebooks and found that the ability to highlight and make notes directly on the book I was reading was an extremely important aspect of using ebooks. Highlighting and making short notes as I read directly on the book enabled me to enter into a state of flow that I have not experienced with traditional text based books. In his book Flow, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as:
“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake…your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
I was not aware that I could even enter into this state of flow while reading until I started using ebooks. I am not only able to read much more efficiently but am able to emerse myself much further into the material. While I am not able to quantitatively demonstrate that I am learning more effectively with ebooks I believe that I am and we do know from the research that this type of positive reinforcement does contribute to improved learning. This is also significant when one considers that I have read over 75 books in a digital format on Kindle, Kobo, iBooks or several other ereaders I have used in the past couple of years. When you add the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of articles that I have read in a digital format on my iPad the impact of digital text on my learning has been profound.
About the only advantage traditional books have over ebooks is that they don’t require recharging. However they do require a decent light source which isn’t required with an ebook so even this perceived advantage can be questioned. As I get older and require even stronger reading glasses the advantages of ebooks over traditional print are even more profond when you consider how easy it is to change the size and format of the text.
Like most perpetual readers I have a several stacks of books that I have purchased and am planning to read. Unfortunately, these stacks of print based books are not declining because I prefer to read digital text as opposed to print. I have re-purchased several of these books in a digital format so that I could read them more efficiently and I sense that if I am to make any progress on that stack will have to re-purchase electronic versions.
I have read thousands of books, most being traditional print and am looking forward to reading thousands more and unless I have not other option those future books will be ebooks. I challenge anyone to come up with any reason why a print based book is better than electronic text. Despite reading thousands of books and even have a Masters in Library Science I really couldn’t care less about books. I actually don’t like them. What I do like is ideas and insights that they contain and how they help me to learn.
It shouldn’t be about the books is should be about the learning.