EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY, ONE STEP AT A TIME
It doesn’t matter what I think as an educator about going digital. In a digital age, students in higher education deserve digital choices and we have an obligation to help them with those choices.
As a college educator, I used to routinely review textbooks that the publishers sent to us in an effort to find suitable books for our students. This is what college and university teachers do. But is that fair or even appropriate for our students? With the rising cost of tuition and the rising cost of textbooks, many students choose to buy used books, share a single text, buy or find an open source eTextbook or use multiple Internet sources to supplement their learning. In fact, the greatest existential threat to the textbook in the 21st century is not the eTextbook, but the multiple media rich resources available to all students at no cost.
One thing that distinguishes textbooks from other books is that the consumer, the student, doesn’t choose the textbook - it is chosen for them by the professor. Some describe this as a “broken market” since the professor who choses the book doesn’t pay for it and this allows the publisher to set high prices for a captive audience (Koch, 2006). While eTextbooks may not solve this problem completely, they can cut the costs for students by as much as 60% (McNeil, 2012) and we are seeing an increase in free open source eTextbooks (Straumsheim, 2016) from places like eCampus Ontario or MIT and Rice University’s OpenStax.. Moreover, we should be helping students to become information literate so that they can seek out their own digital resources and develop their own peer learning network (PLN). The battle is not between analogue and digital books, it is a battle between paper and multiple media rich sources of more current and more engaging information. The information literate students benefits from differentiated learning from multiple sources and the more imminent challenge for educators will be to help students to select the right digital tools to help them learn and give them the skills for lifelong learning.
How far have we come?
Should teachers and students be forced to “go digital”? Arguably no. But some institutions such as Lampton, Algonquin and other colleges and universities have done almost that by making eTextbooks the default. This is a good start.
I acknowledge that I am an outlier when I say that I look at my laptop and tablet screens with a sense of reverence. These devices allow me to collect and organize my digital books, notes, blog posts, articles, scholarly papers, essays, ePortfolios, videos, Podcasts and all other forms of media. Within it are hundreds of books and access to the sum of all knowledge ever written on this planet. When I stare into my screen I feel like the character Newton Scamander with his magical suitcase in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movies who used the undetectable extension arm charm “capacious extremis” on her purple beaded handbag to give it a depth from which she could retrieve far more items than a bag of that size could possibly hold. To me, that’s the magic of the computer, the tablet, the smartphone and the Internet; they enable us to see the world through a window. And just around the corner, virtual and augmented reality will enable us to step right into that world, as if entering Newton’s magic suitcase. The elusive question is, how do we get our students to see these devices with the same reverence? Perhaps by helping them find digital alternatives.
I am a big fan of Podcasting. I Podcast all of my classes and my students can subscribe to my classes from our iTunes Podcasts. I also recommend several free Podcasts by experts in our field on iTunes for my students. Another listening option is to use a text to speech app so that when students don’t have time to read a pdf article they can have it read to them on the drive to school or at any other time of the day. Voice Dream (Android) is one such app that I like to use. I plug my iPad into the auxiliary port in my (old) car (bluetooth if you have it) and it reads my PDFs to me. Another app I’ve used that works well is NaturalReader Pro. Confession: Although you can choose from a variety of male and female voices, it’s still computerish sounding which can get annoying at times. But, when your student MUST read a paper and there’s no time to read, listening is a great alternative.
In summary, paper books and articles may still be the preferred form for most students, but it’s expense, it clutters, it weighs too much and it increases our carbon footprint. As educators we owe it to our students and the planet to provide them with other options.
deNoyelles, A., Raible, J., & Seilhamer, R., (2015). Exploring Students' E-Textbook Practices in Higher Education. EDUCAUSEREVIEW. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/7/exploring-students-etextbook-practices-in-higher-education
Koch, J., P. (2006). An Economic Analysis of Textbook Prices and the Textbook Market. Retrieved from http://www.immagic.com/eLibrary/CBICBT99/FIN_AID/US_ED/A060923K.pdf
McNeil, A. (2012, ). Print Textbooks Vs. E-Textbooks. Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0912/print-textbooks-vs.-e-textbooks.aspx
Straumsheim, C., (2016). Where Open Textbooks Are Used. Inside Higher ED. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/07/26/study-finds-use-open-educational-resources-rise-introductory-courses