Sunday, August 16, 2009

The digital textbook issue finally gets to the New York Times. Clickable print can bridge the digital divide.

On August 9, The New York Times published In A Digital Future Textbooks Are History. This Sunday the Letters to the Editor are responses to the article. It's a teachable moment that allows compare and contrast. Some snippets from the story and the letters follow.
“A large portion of our kids don’t have computers at home, and it would be way too costly to print out the digital textbooks,” said Tim Ward, assistant superintendent for instruction in California’s 24,000-student Chaffey Joint Union High School District, where almost half the students are from low-income families.
If the global spent their advertising dollars talking to school administrators instead of printers, Tim Ward might understand the new power of internet connected Print. (Clickable Print)
Textbooks have not gone the way of the scroll yet, but many educators say that it will not be long before they are replaced by digital versions — or supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.
Assembled is not the same as read. It is even further away from being "food for thought."

In today's New York Times, Letters to the Editor column various readers weighed in. Some selections and my not so humble opinions follow:
Printed books are a huge expense to students, serving as bread and butter to them and foie gras to the publishing industry. Fewer books and photocopies might also mean more trees left standing.
Yes . . . to the expense.
. . . but not for long, for the publishing industry.
. . . to the business of saving trees.
As an author of academic textbooks, I lament the trend of replacing textbooks with a panoply of digital materials. Textbooks provide students with an integrative framework with which to view a subject area. They offer viewpoints and ideas, as well as frameworks to understand the ways in which ideas collide and meld together in a multitude of ways.
Not so much . . . The inconvenient truth is that textbooks provide benefits mostly to teachers, not students. Curriculums, in the sense of a guide to what to do next, come primarily from textbooks. The other benefit of textbooks is that they supply the quizzes.
Textbooks frequently supply students with the facts that are consensually accepted by a discipline, thus offering a needed corrective to the cacophony of opinions appearing on Web sites.
No . . . Given how fast science and current events change the textbook is no longer the best way to deliver the "consensually accepted by a discipline." Knowledge is moving too fast. The textbook process is too slow.
Textbooks also teach students the methodologies of an academic field that help them separate out the artistic, historical or scientific wheat from the chaff, a necessary ingredient in an educated person’s repertory.
Yes, but. . . Textbooks are only the codex form of Printed Knowledge. It is the fact that knowledge is fixed on Print that creates this value. Appropriately designed leaflets, postcards, and newspapers would be better, faster, simpler and cheaper.
The Internet may provide an “infinite” stream of knowledge, but I’ve always found it comforting to know that, in a given course, the material one must retain is contained under one hefty (yet finite) binding.
Yes, but . . . What happens if the binding in question is a looseleaf instead of a smythe sewn hardcover.

If Print is connected to anywhere, anytime TV through TinyPurls and Smart QR it creates clickstreams that can be searched and analyzed for information exchange. Education informatics is possible when there is naturally emitted information exchange data that can be searched and analyzed.

Now more than ever it's important to get rid of the "Print is Dead" meme and replace with the "Clickable Print is the Next Big Thing" meme.

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