Will iPads, nooks, or Kindles be a Common Sight in Classrooms of the (Not So Distant) Future?
“I am convinced that the Internet will transform the world of learning. The transformation has already begun. Our task, I think, is to take charge of it so that we maintain the highest standards from the past while developing new ones for the future.”
-From page 64 of “Lost and Found in Cyberspace”, chapter four of Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future
Although Darnton composed this portion of his book in 1999, I think that this chapter applies directly to what is happening today with the popularization of e-books. We are feeling this directly here at Seton Hill with the arrival of iPads on campus, which will become a common sight in the fall. However, as Darnton discusses in chapters two and three of this book, other developments, including Google Books, the Library of Congress’ digital collections, and private institutions’ digital collections, as well as those that he does not discuss (Project Guttenberg, the Kindle, and the nook) are actively pushing themselves into our lives. Because of this one has to ask, “How is this going to affect me?”
For Darnton, it was the opportunity to create a book using all of his research information on Enlightenment age letters and literature via the creation of his own e-book (59-63). For me, it is my future career as a teacher. As someone who was not so long ago opposed to the popularization of technologies such as these, I can see how they may benefit classrooms in the (not so distant?) future.
For one thing, textbooks are so expensive. We as college students understand this perfectly, so imagine buying three hundred of your Biology or Math textbooks for one grade at a small high school. That is a ton of money. Plus, unlike us, students are never allowed to write in these books, to highlight important passages, or even to fold down the corner of the pager because these books will have to be used by thousands of students over the next ten or so years. They lose what I have come to recognize as important interaction with the texts when they cannot do this, especially tactile learners like me.
Also, think of the money that is spent in supplying private, public, and school libraries with books. Darnton discusses how private, state, and federal money is being taken away from these institutions, while they are still expected to provide their patrons and students with accurate and current information via online databases that can charge exorbitant fees (6-15, 43-58). When they do not have the money, they must selectively choose what to include and what not to include, not based on the needs of the patrons and students, but based on the budget.
Because of these reasons, as well as others, I can see the benefits of e-books in the classroom. As many schools give laptops to students today, it is not too much of a stretch to imagine them giving e-book readers to students and teachers for classroom use. I think this could benefit schools and students. Yes, the equipment, training, and upkeep will be expensive. More expensive than using the usual textbooks, current technologies, like Smart Boards and Promethean Boards, or older technologies, like books on tape? I am not sure. The proposal writers and school boards will have to do the research and math right now as far as that is concerned. However, I do know that if the development of e-books and e-book readers continues in the positive directions that they seem to be, at least in some areas, I think they could ensure student-to-text interaction, which could positively influence comprehension skills, they could ensure protection of these texts (if not of the readers themselves) for future use, they could appeal to today’s students who are more familiar with technological and Internet access than we were, and they could possibly save the schools and libraries money. They could even provide adaptations, such as text-to-speech capabilities, to accomodate students' individual needs.
Of course, as I mentioned above, all of this is contingent upon development in “positive directions.” This means that I feel that some qualities of various e-books and e-book readers are better than others. For instance, in the little research I have done, I feel that I like the nook the best based on experience and description, and feel that it offers a lot of possibilities for the future development of these products. For instance, the newest forms of the nook are allowing readers to “share” books. Although I’m not sure exactly how they are accomplishing this, I think this ability is the key to use in libraries and schools. Afterall, we share books now with no copyright problems. Of course, pirating may be a problem, but these problems can and will be addressed. Also, the nook allows people to read for free while they are in the Barnes and Noble book stores. This is a type of technology that could be applied to libraries and schools as well. Although I would not say I am computer savvy, I am sure that someone could also devise a way for libraries to “loan” copies of the e-books for only a select amount of time. Also, the nook, as well as other e-book readers offer Wi-Fi, color screens, and the iPad is basically a tablet computer. All of these features recommend themselves to use in classrooms and libraries.
The only question is, will classrooms and libraries ever get to experience these technologies in these ways, or, as Darnton suggests at times, will they be too expensive because of monopolies or a focus on big business rather than on the needs of the public?