Sunday, October 14, 2012

Again, the Value of Paper

Antique books by Liam Quin Wikimedia Commons
Antique books by Liam Quin, Wikimedia Commons
Justin B. Hollander, who is an assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, has written an op-ed in the NYT decrying recent calls in the education community for the elimination of print textbooks. He argues that while there is a place for newer, digitized formats, there remains value in using print textbooks since they can be less distracting and more conducive to learning. Studies on the effects of using digital formats for learning have been mixed and despite some positive results, longitudinal studies have yet to be conducted since web and e-reading are still so new. Hollander effectively describes the ill-effects of replacing time-tested methods of doing various tasks with new technologies that wreak havoc in other areas of our environment. A good example is the national highway system replacing railways and cable cars, which were less destructive to the environment. Who knows what regrets we may later have if we eliminate print textbooks altogether? Reading from printed matter develops concentration and reinforces learning; it's a longer term process that is less distracting. For myself, I know that I feel different when reading a print book versus a digital book. E-books feel ephemeral and I don't feel I retain what I read, whereas with print books, the words on paper feel permanent and seem to burn themselves in my mind. It feels more like a journey reading a book from end to end; with digital, I find it too easy to switch tasks and look up things on the web or jump around the book with the search feature. Both methods have their place, but I tend to do lesser value reading electronically, with the exception of online newspapers. I rarely read print newspapers anymore, probably because news is so ephemeral, why not just read it electronically since it changes daily? 

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