Critiques on social and education issues
Being in the Age of Information can be a blessing and a curse. For one, we do not need to trek to the library in a blizzard to do research for our midterm essays. If anyone lives near southern Ontario, you would know that there was a blizzard a few days ago when snow blew horizontally.
This leads to the education sphere in developed countries to experiment with a technological initiative. The sector is currently undergoing an eBook movement. Literacy has been at the forefront of many schools in various cultures along the spectrum of East to West, but it is apparent that reading for leisure is a dying habit.
Teachers are constantly being scrutinized as outdated and out of the loop (particularly in technology), so eBooks were one of the many things introduced into the school as an attempt to spark interest in reading again. Computers were the first revolutionaries of this movement, then laptops, and recently, iPads and eBooks have entered the scene.
Doug Johnson lists some of these advantages, which are definitely all legitimate reasons to fall into the whirlpool trend of technology. I love using the Smartboard properly, as in more than just a screen to project onto. His list elaborates on the details of many of the advantages, but it doesn’t go into the disadvantages. One of the most apparent hurdles is acquiring enough funding and accessibility.
What happens to students who can’t afford a tablet?
Certainly, the students on the short end are going to feel excluded, and perhaps even embarrassed, because of the pressure to afford an iPad or an e-reading device. When a teacher says, “Now do this for homework on your tablet”, and the child doesn’t have one, what do they do? Technology is important, but it should not be a means of exclusion.
Doug talks about “value-added features afforded by e-reading”, at what cost? Some of these features include “built-in tools like graphing calculators, mind mapping software, timeline generators, and note-taking/organizing apps”. There are some good, free apps, but most of the ones that can last longer than a day are 14-day free trials.
Another problem with the temptation of technology is the discipline that goes along with ensuring that it is being used for educational purposes, and not just because it looks sparkly.
Sesame Workshop, a NY-based non-profit organization that promotes children’s reading came out with a survey that showed the efficacy (and effective use) of E-books, basic and enhanced. These graphs are interesting because they could serve as a wake-up call to the tech fanboys and fangirls that technology isn’t always the best answer (unless you can instill great discipline in your child, but very few parents are able to do so, let alone teachers).
The following graph shows the number of content-related and non-content related actions the parents and children do when they read an E-book versus a print book. In an enhanced Ebook, which has been rumoured to enhance your child’s learning while reading said Ebook, the child’s actions are almost off the charts in terms of non-content related actions.
The following graph is the real point I’m trying to get at to deter teachers from boarding onto the bandwagon without doing research. While basic Ebooks (i.e. literally just text on the screen with no “text to speech” or other enhancement features) are still able to pull a tragically marginal lead in retaining content, enhanced Ebooks negatively affect content retention.
So although children seem to be more engaged with E-books, particularly the enhanced ones, it shows that their reading comprehension was not monotonic. When enhanced Ebooks had interactive features that weren’t directly connected with the text, they distracted parents and the children from the story.
Perhaps Ebooks are all the rage now, but we should be mindful of what we do with technology. Tech is not innately evil; it is not out to get our souls, but we need to teach our children (and students) the self-discipline needed to really benefit fully from the Ebooks.
To improve literacy and vocabulary skills, parents are encouraged to begin with print books first, or at least Ebooks that have more literacy-focused features (i.e. not just a “Point to where Spot is on the page”).
Sandra Aamodt also writes that reading on a screen requires more effort, particularly on a computer screen. This may explain why we become tired after reading a long article (such as this) and have difficulty retaining what we read: we spend too much energy trying to deal with the flickering whereas we could have been concentrating on the content.
However, it may be my own bias, but print books have always been my preferred medium for texts. The feel of actual paper provides a completely different reading experience than swiping my thumb across a Kindle. The smell of the paper is, in itself, a sensuous experience than the plastic of the e-reader. The engravings on the cover and spine let the reader get a glimpse of the setting, and these hieroglyphs open up a whole new dimension.
Reading is no longer just visual effort decoding the text; it has become an experience involving touch, smell and sight. It’s no wonder that the passenger next to you has been oblivious to the chatting high schoolers on the bus, or that her scarf is falling onto the floor.
Although youth today are digital natives, I still see them prefer print books, but they are usually mystified at their attraction towards paper. Some experiences are just irreplaceable.