I wrote this June 29, 2011 for my digital blog—a little outdated, but the question is still relevant. So, what do you think about this new technology in the classroom and the possibilities that it provides for the future of education?
I remember just 8 years ago, when I was starting high school, how heavy the textbooks were. I was smart enough to put two of the thinner books in my book bag and physically carry the heavier ones. But, I swear that the spines of those who didn’t curved several inches lower or tilted towards one side after their four years.
But now, the kids of the future might not ever have that problem again. According to Mashable, publishing giant, McGraw-Hill launched its first all-digital, cloud-based textbook for the K-12 market this past Monday, June 27, 2011 at the International Society for Technology in Education conference. They have released other digital texts before, but they were sold as just companions to physical textbooks. This new one is created to replace textbooks altogether.
Supposedly, textbook sales have dropped more than 15% since this time last year. But will producing digital textbooks really reverse this trend?
We don’t even know the reason behind this drop. For all we know, that 15% could be those who are buying into this digital, using computers and tablets for education, thing. Or, with the economy still not up to par yet, maybe students are sharing textbooks more in the classroom. As a matter of fact, textbooks aren’t the only prints where sales have dropped. According to Engadget.com, within the past year, hardcover sales in general were down 11.3% and paperbacks dropped 19.7%. But, ebook sales have raised to a whopping 116%. With ebooks being relatively less expensive than physical textbooks, schools can be rest assured that students will be receiving the materials that they need in a way that is economically sound. Virtually, the tablet is the only object that might be of a concern, money-wise—and even then, to solve that concern, the tablet should be viewed as not just a piece of technology, but an investment.
The thought of bringing just that one tablet to all classes, with all materials existing on a cloud platform, which are easily accessible at just a tap of a finger on the screen—is wonderful. And another great feature is the chat platform where students can engage with the teachers with questions and concerns. Coming from a time when after-school-hours meant that teachers couldn’t be contacted, this is revolutionary in terms of education.
Some concerns are still on my mind though, as I’m sure are on the minds of some of you as well: What would the actual cost be in relation to textbooks? There’s been a lot of talk of ‘popcorn brain’ and such, which is the term used to describe the youth of today who can’t disengage from technology and in-turn has affected their perception of reality in comparison to the quick-paced digital world. Would we be instilling this thought process too early in the lives of these children with such technology? Other studies have shown that computer screens are detrimental to the development of children, mentally, socially, and physically. How safe are these tablets? Should we be introducing them to children at a grade level as low as Kindergarten?
Huffington Post correspondent Delia Lloyd wrote an article titled “Are Computers Really Bad for Kids?” Within this article, she lists some pros and cons of introducing computers early in the lives of children. Although she talks about computers, the same issues may be raised for these textbook tablets: the lost art of handwriting and a loss in the cognitive abilities of children (because their brains are still developing at this young age and technology can now easily do their math, spell check, and research for them). I’m sure that the tablet will have many educational resources such as a calculator for math classes, translation tools or dictionaries for foreign language classes, and maybe even a monitored web browser where children can research sources for their English papers.
I’m sure all these questions will be answered in due time, and when they do, you know where to go to find the answers first. We just have to remember that kids today aren’t going to the library like we did as kids. As adults, we’re even brushing their questions off at times and simply saying, “Just Google it.” I don’t believe that elementary children should be stripped of the joy of physical books/textbooks and given less time to develop their cognitive skills without the ease of technology, but times have changed. If these textbook tablets prove comparable to physical textbooks in terms of cost, their production stays ‘green’, and they’re not detrimental to the well-being of these children, I say that the future of education looks bright. We just need to make sure that their development isn’t compromised.