Friday, December 19, 2008

Let Me Count The Ways

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
A Bookcase on the Scrapheap
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Neither is it fair to condemn the book just because its content may go out of date. Data in a web-page, a blog post or even a tweet are just as likely to go out of date, and for the same reasons, with no likelier promise of edits to correct these.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.

More trees

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.

Burgeoning content

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."

Haere rā – Farewell


Paul C said...

I am amazed at how digital memory has enabled Ipods and computers to carry so much information. We bloggers are doing a lot of reading and communicating in paperless cyberspace. With great technology like Kindle that has a very clear interface I can say with excitement that a paperless classroom might be a very good thing in the future.

Anonymous said...

I have to say Ken, that I didn't expect this post to take me to a positive position for the Kindle. I was all set to defend the love of traditional books and also, the new digital model, the Kindle. I haven't dumped my library, but I now only buy books I can't get on my Kindle, mostly education books. Novels and non fiction texts can be found on the Kindle.
I got mine in the very first group, as soon as I watched an interview with Jeff Bezoes unveil them. 15 minutes into the interview I was clicking to for information and then another 15 minutes to commit the initial $400.00. I have never regretted the cost.
I will bet that an updated version is ready for us soon.
It's wonderful but I don't know what page I'm on. No page numbers.
Anyway, you can't have everything.
Have a great holiday,

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I got a Palm Pilot as an organizational tool. Soon after I found a free book reader for it and started reading on it. Very quickly after that I paid about $15 for the Pro version of the reader... I could bookmark, highlight text, and add notes to the pages. I could touch a word and search its' meaning with the full Collegiate Websters dictionary purchased & stored in this tiny machine. I could read in the line-up at the grocery store, waiting to meet someone, and at a coffee shop because I always had my book with me.
I read this way all the time until my little digital device died on me. I recently got an iphone & this weekend I'm book shopping... Online for a digital novel. I can't wait to jump into a good book & read it on my phone. The paper book will be around for a long time yet, but digital books are a wonderful, usefu and paperless form of books that will grow in popularity.

Just recently

Tom Haskins said...

I've been espousing a different critique of books than those you've covered here, even while I'm serious book-lover with a library of 3000 titles and 7 books checked out of the local library at the moment. Ink on paper is "read only", not "read/write". I cannot copy/paste text, link from my digital content to any part of it, bookmark a page in it for online reference, tag any portion of it where it will show up with every other paragraph I've applied the same tag to. I'm thrilled that my Firefox browser offers the option of "Printout as PDF" when I act as if I'm going to commit some ink to paper. Adobe Reader now lets me select text from PDF's I've saved and return what I was reading online to my read/write space.

I share the concerns you've raised about paper usage, impact on trees, and distributing the increasing volume of new information. I've read where Google Labs is digitizing a phenomenal number of books so that the artificial intelligence they're developing can read those books, and come up answers to Web 3.0/semantic web queries informed by what was read by the AI. They expect us to, in the near future, be googling questions like "what are typical motivations underlying college student procrastination?" and get answers from books on motivational, behavioral and educational psychology. So ink on paper is not flawed for its lack of read/write capability, but also it's lack of readability by AI.

Laurie said...

Hi Ken,

In the U.S. it is not unusual for text book content to be determined by a few states that order large volumes of text books. Coupled with the fact that most school texts present watered down versions of history, or static examples of math, or require constant updating (and repurchasing) to stay current with science, it makes sense for school texts to navigate away from paper into the digital realm.

I am also an advocate of collaboratively created "texts", such as "info wikis" – wikis as course texts created by a variety and number of teachers. In addition, the multimedia capabilities of the Internet feed into how many students engage with information.

With all that said, there will always be some kids and adults who prefer engaging with information in physical book format. And children's picture books provide an opportunity for magical imagining and gathering 'round that I, for one, am not yet prepared to surrender to the Internet.

On the other hand, I LOVE my physical books, especially historical biographies and autobiographies, as well as some fiction, and books about the brain.

Now when Apple comes out with a 5x8 (or something about that size) touch screen that will fit in my handbag…

All the best for this holiday season!
Cheers, Laurie

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koutou
Tēnā koutou
Tēnā koutou katoa

Kia ora Paul
Yes the need to have a tractible scribble pad as well as book interface is right there in the classroom.

My dream is to have device that I don't need to type on. I've yet to get my hands on a Kindle - some day soon!

Haere mai Bonnie
I found this post difficult to write, and I appreciate you mentioning that it didn't go down the pathway you expected.

When I was putting it together I recalled your comment about the Kindle. You'd just become a proud owner of a new Amazon Kindle at that time. I do believe there is a new version out now.

Haere mai Dave
Thanks for your email. What a hoot about your new iphone. But, hey, it is significant that your comment was one of the first you made on an iphone.

I've yet to find out how to edit comments in Blogger - still new to all this blog technology :-)

(Anybody know how to edit comments in Blogger?)

When I find out I'll tidy up your comment. Thanks for the seasons greetings - likewise, you have a great relaxing time over the festive season.

Tēnā koe Tom
Interesting what you say about AI not getting access to printed books. I guess there's hope for the old brain yet! I'd like to learn what AI makes of a novel. We are on the brink of being able to have reasoned conversations with AI - I find this awesomely fascinating, more so than astronomy today.

But, I'm sure that AI of the near future may well be able to scan the script-written word, perhaps directly as you or I would by simply looking at it.

Kia ora Laurie
I use Wikipedia all the time. I even use it in links on my post. It has the additional feature when I use it as I have Apture installed on my blog at the moment. I'm still reviewing animated links though.

My wife is a great book-lover (I'm a bit that way too). Linda reads more than I do - she reads a lot of historical novels. She's now into genealogy and reads more from the Internet than ever before because of that. The amount of reading I do from the screen has soared since I started blogging; it must easily compete with all the other reading that I do.

All the best of the season to you all.