Monday, May 16, 2011

Quotations of The Day: Reading and Books

According to Nicolas Carr, E-textbooks may not be ready for classroom prime time.
But schools may want to pause before jumping on the e-textbook bandwagon. This morning, at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Vancouver, a team of researchers from the University of Washington, led by doctoral student Alex Thayer, is presenting the results of a year-long study of student reading, and the findings suggest that e-readers may be deeply flawed as replacements for traditional textbooks. Students find the devices cumbersome to use, ill-suited to their study routines, and generally underwhelming. Paper textbooks, it seems, may not be quite as obsolete as they appear.
I don't want any of my kids to do any of these book marking techniques to their text books, but I have to admit that I've done everything except the match to books I've owned.
Because we've come to take printed books for granted, we tend to overlook their enormous flexibility as reading instruments. It's easy to flip through the pages of a physical book, forward and backward. It's easy to jump quickly between widely separated sections, marking your place with your thumb or a stray bit of paper or even a hair plucked from your head (yes, I believe I've done that). You can write anywhere and in any form on any page of a book, using pen or pencil or highlighter or the tip of a burnt match (ditto). You can dog-ear pages or fold them in half or rip them out. You can keep many different books open simultaneously, dipping in and out of them to gather related information. And when you just want to read, the tranquility of a printed book provides a natural shield against distraction. Despite being low-tech - or maybe because of it - printed books and other paper documents support all sorts of reading techniques, they make it easy to shift seamlessly between those techniques, and they're amenable to personal idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.
None of this is to say that e-readers and tablets won't find a place - an important place, probably - in schools. Students already do a great deal of reading and research on computer screens, after all, and there are many things that digital documents can do that printed pages can't. What this study does tell us, though, is that it's naive to assume that e-textbooks are a perfect substitute for printed textbooks. The printed page continues to be a remarkably robust reading tool, offering an array of unique advantages, and it seems to be particularly well suited to textual studies. Traditional textbooks may be heavy, but they're heavy in a good way.

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