Recently I was sitting in an elementary school media center. The media coordinator (Robin) was sitting in, what looked like the most comfortable rocking chair. At her feet were 18 Kindergartners not making a sound. They were captivated by the story Robin was weaving. In her hands was one of the most beautifully illustrated picture books I have seen in a very long time. (The book was Apples To Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter) Robin had a voice for all the characters. There was the voice of the main character, Lucky Delicious. There was a voice for her father, mother, and other characters throughout the book. The children sat, amazed and drawn into the story not only by the pictures or the voices but the words on the page.
I looked around and saw the shelves filled with other books, 100's of titles all deserving of a place in any library. I am sure we all grew up with a favorite book; that book you could not leave home with out. I had mine...I carried around The Berenstain Bears In The Dark by Stan and Jan Berenstain where ever I went from the ages of 4-7. (I must confess, I still have these books in my personal library and am excited that I can share them with my daughter.)
Recently in education there has been a surge in the promotion that schools, colleges and universities go paperless. I am a big advocate for that. With so many programs and applications out there it is possible to for these institutions to still function without paper. I rarely print anything any more for a workshop I am conducting or a lecture I am giving. What's the point? With services like Google Docs (where I wrote this post), Drop.Io, Slideshare, Wikis, and others, everything I can provide is digital. In just one year I went from using 5 boxes of paper to just 2 packs. (There are just somethings I have to print!)
And now the paperless conversation is moving towards eBooks. The eBook reader from Amazon, the Kindle, boosts it can hold 1500 books on its cheapest model ($279.00). There are other devices, like the Sony Reader and the upcoming reader from Barnes and Nobles that claim their devices have limitless storage because of removable media cards.
Textbook publishers see eBooks as the future. Several major textbooks come with access to either books on CD, media cards, USB or access to their content via a website. That is wonderful! I remember having to carry around 6-7 large textbooks when I was in highschool. The thought of being able to replace 50 pounds of books with a 2 pound eBook reader is incredible.
But then I read about a private school in Massachusetts that sold or gave away all of the titles in their library and replaced them with flat screen tv's, 18 eBook readers, and a coffee bar. The headmaster called paper books "outdated technology" and felt his students needed something more.
I am one of the biggest advocates for progressive technology in the classroom you will find. There is nothing I want more than students to be immersed in technology whenever possible. However, one has to question the wisdom of this man. Replacing a collection of 20,000 books just does not add up for me. It is doubtful that even 25% of the paper books that were available before are available in a digital format. While there are services like Google Books and the various eBook outlets, I think it is premature to call books "outdated technology."
Even champions of educational technology need to take a step back every once in a while and really think about our choices and think about what we are telling people the future of education is going to look like. Again, technology needs to be in schools. Students need to use laptops and interactive whiteboards and cellphones/smartphones and other technology whenever possible. But sometimes we move too fast. We need to think about what consequences adopting technology so early will have on the future.
There is a place for eBooks in the classroom. Can they replace textbooks. Heck yeah! Why not! The eBook of the future could be a multimedia platform with video and audio and interactive teaching tools. But should eBooks replace entire libraries like the one in Massachusetts? I just don't think so, at least not right now.
I worry that the libraries my daughter will use in the future will not look like the one I saw Robin and the Kindergarten students in just the other day. I wonder (and hope) that she will know what its like to curl up with a good book on a rainy day. Snuggling with a computer just doesn't have the same appeal to me.
Steven W. Anderson is Director of Instructional Technology for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in Winston-Salem, NC. He also, regularly travels the country talking to schools and districts about the use of Social Media in the classroom. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom or read his blog, The Web 2.0 Connected Classroom (http://web20classroom.blogspot.com).