Books, and by extension textbooks, have been around for centuries. Used as tools for storing, imparting, and creating knowledge, nothing else on earth has come close to replicating or surpassing their capabilities – until recently.
The personal computer came along, and yet even that was subpar to a physical book, but then soon afterwards devices known as “tablets” appeared. These are the real contenders for the throne of “best learning tool”, and they are slowly taking over and replacing the textbooks in many schools around the world. However, is this the right thing to do? Have all the options been seriously considered? The future of our children, even the world, rests in this single decision.
What advantages to tablets have? They are small, portable devices that can store gigabyte upon gigabyte of data, which translates into thousands of digital “books”, as well as a vast number of other things like photographs, videos, games, and other applications that can be used for learning purposes.
They can be used to complete, store, and submit homework, write tests, and even catch-up on missed classes. Furthermore, digital books, or ebooks, cost much less than physical copies of the same books. It makes sense considering how much paper, ink, and thus natural resources are saved. But this is pretty much as good as it gets right now.
Consider the advantages of textbooks. They do not cause any of the health problems the use of computers or tablets could cause, such as Repetitive Strain Injury, Carpal Tunnel, and Computer Vision Syndrome. They are also distraction free.
Textbooks don’t have other applications or games available at the tap of a finger to distract students, they can’t receive emails, and they don’t have access to the internet. Everyone with a phone knows how hard it is to ignore when it’s buzzing and flashing to grab your attention, and for the children it’s even harder – they are growing up in a world full of distractions: a constant bombardment of sounds, images, and information. Tablets only add to this, and therefore using them in a classroom could be detrimental to everyone involved unless special precautions are taken.
Adding to this, is the cost. Textbooks are cheap, whereas tablets are expensive. Also, for a school to incorporate tablets into their classes, infrastructure needs to be added, teachers and staff need to be trained, and the tablets actually have to be purchased and set up for classroom use.
This all takes an extreme amount of effort and money, whereas with a textbook all one needs is the book. Tablets, despite their drawbacks, have the potential to surpass textbooks in every way, but there is just one major problem – they also have the potential to be a huge disaster, unlike textbooks.
In many studies it has been found that learning with tablets is done far more quickly than learning with a textbook, which is fairly interesting, because it has also been found that people read printed text much faster than digital text.
At first glance, these are interesting results, but if analysed more in-depth, one would soon realise the fatal flaw – these tests weren’t done in a typical school environment. Instead, they were carefully controlled like any experiment is, and as such don’t in fact provide accurate results.
A typical child would be far more interested in the colourful and fun games than an ebook, and as personally experienced, providing tablets to children at school leads to what I would term “digital addiction”. They are constantly in search of their next hit of dopamine via something digital, which leads them to ignore all the “real-life” people and events around them.
In fact, the main issue of the textbooks versus tablets debate could be narrowed down to a simple factor: the schooling system. The schooling system has been the way it is for decades. Teachers still sit in classrooms and preach to a bunch of children, give hours worth of homework, and read from thick textbooks that haven’t been revised in years. Despite the advancements in nearly every other aspect of society, schooling remains fairly unchanged.
Even today with tablets being introduced as a learning tool, schools still retain the same method of teaching. In an increasingly digital age, this is wrong, but so is a move to over-reliance on technology. There should be a balance between the traditional and proven ways of teaching as well as new and upcoming methods – especially if we have the future of the children in mind. Why not ensure that they have every chance of success and prosperity?
The digital aspect of learning is still far from perfect. All the aforementioned negatives regarding tablets over textbooks still exist along with a plethora of others. However, with correct management and implementation, these negatives could be mitigated. For example, to increase attention span, instead of the textbooks being ebooks, morph them into fully interactive educational games that are actually fun to play and attention grabbing.
To eliminate the injuries and health issues, only incorporate tablets in certain areas and aspects of schooling, such as homework, while in others follow the example of countries such as Finland. Regarding infrastructure, by adopting the digital system over time, costs will be less of an issue, and the “one tablet per child” might need not apply, especially if the activities completed on a tablet could be completed on a computer.
In conclusion, the schooling system in the main proponent to the textbook versus tablet war, and either way, whichever tool used, schooling will always “succeed”. However, despite the negatives, tablets are the “textbooks” of the future – as long as new developments are made and proper research is conducted about the correct methodology to use, because without it, the schooling system is doomed to fail.
Tablets, however, are not textbooks – they are much more – and they shouldn’t be treated as such. They have far more capabilities. Despite this, the need for textbooks will never change, it’s just the format they’re in that will. Because textbooks and tablets are so different, and do different things, I would argue that there is room for both in the future.