The book and the paper it’s made from have recently taken a rap. The suggestion is that the book is outmoded. It's well past its use-by date in education and it's not environmentally friendly.
I like the book. Having had a lifelong association with the invention,
I realise my opinion inclines in its favour. To be fair to the book in the context of learning, however, the reasons gathered in support of its removal or replacement should be related to its merits and demerits as a learning resource.
When weighing the stresses, it is difficult to assess its effectiveness against digital counterparts unless a few ground rules are defined.
Judged by its cover
It is unfair to pitch the book against such things as an online chat or a wiki. Whatever the equivalents of these technologies will look like in future, their application and purpose cannot be compared, with any relevance, to those offered by a book. Try comparing the virtues of a submarine with those of a helicopter and you’ll see what I mean.
Neither is it fair to condemn the book just because its content may go out of date. Data in a web-page, a blog post or even a tweet are just as likely to go out of date, and for the same reasons, with no likelier promise of edits to correct these.
What are the benefits and drawbacks?
The rate of use of paper throughout the world is now higher than ever; it rages wildly and at a mounting pace. But it’s not the book, textbook, printed educational literature or school note-pad that is mainly to blame for the burgeoning rate of paper production. Advertising, and the wasteful packaging of goods, contribute to more than half the global consumption of paper.
This does not detract from the volume of paper consumed for educational purposes. It is huge. A recent article on campus sustainability and paper consumption by Clark University, reported that 720 trees are harvested each year to supply printer/copy paper for that establishment alone. It may be just a leaf in a tome, but I have an eye for conservation, and that fact leaves me pondering.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach states, in her September video, that by the year 2020, knowledge could be doubling every 72 hours.
She claims that by that time, there will be no place for the book in schools, as it would be impossible for it to keep pace with the rate of knowledge growth. Setting aside issues of relevance to the school curriculum, knowledge delivered at its predicted rate of creation by 2020 couldn’t possibly be accomplished in book form. I wonder if any data management system could ever deliver knowledge at such a rate - and for what purpose.
Pictures, images and diagrams
In the twentieth century, advances in the printing industry brought vibrant colour to illustrations in books. Only in the last 15 to 20 years has such quality of detail and colour been viewable on the computer screen.
The digital device has the edge on the book, with the use of diagrammatic sequence, melting images, moving images or other animated schema. Especially in student learning, there is a growing need for the use of visual images as learning tools to promote student understanding.
Videos in particular can provide amazingly detailed imagery. With the animation technology available today, it is possible to view a 3D virtual journey through the chambers of the human heart, or to observe the journey through the intake and exhaust valves of the internal combustion engine.
As David Whitehead said in his speech on strategies for improving literacy, simply asking students to imagine (as a thinking/learning tool) may not be as successful as it was in the past.
One might be forgiven for thinking that this may be as a result of the use of explicit animated imagery, rather than other teaching tools that are perhaps more likely to exercise the imagination of young minds. For as limited as a book may be in depicting complex concepts in pictures, its practiced use has the power to stimulate the imagination.
Visuals with text
When creating a learning resource, there is a tendency to overuse the features available to the digital resource designer. While acceptable and effective page design has become a well-established skill in textbook writing, the same cannot be said universally of digital learning resource design.
The misuse of PowerPoint as a learning tool highlights the vagaries of incorporating voice with text. Their joint use accompanying displayed images or diagrams in a learning resource causes cognitive overload in the learner. It is difficult to achieve this with a textbook. Verbal and written information simply cannot be presented simultaneously unless the teacher speaks while the learner is trying to read.
Copyright moves quick quick to music
One of the wonderful things about books is their ability to be shared.
A book, when first sold, can then be lent, gifted or sold again – the so-called first-sale doctrine.
But for the existence of that principle, libraries, second-hand book and CD stores, as well as video rental outlets would be illegal. Though there have been several attempts made over the decades to place restrictions on the resale of printed books, actions restricting the sharing of digital equivalents have moved more fiercely. It seems that even the publishers of printed resources may now wish to cash in on this idea.
It was suggested in The Future Of The Internet III that copyright protection technology may dominate content control in 2020. A little less than a third of expert opinion surveyed agreed that this was a likely scenario.
The tractable e-book
As I said at the start of this soliloquy, I like the book. But the thought of a digital replacement still excites me. I’ve yet to get my hands on an e-book, like the Amazon Kindle. As Jim Henderson says:
"For this to go, there has to be buy-in by the publishers."