Are printed textbooks obsolete?

Are there good reasons to keep them around or is it necessary to get involved with digital environments? A TED conversation.

What are the pros and cons of paper vs. digital resources for learning? Assuming equal access to computers, is digital necessarily better? Will we be losing anything if we give up the hard copies? Should schools (and textbook companies) focus their resources on creating and using rich digital environments that support 21st century learning?

  • Feb 27 2011: To me the biggest con is the most obvious one – the cost involved in actually digitizing all existing material, and also accessing readers that are as functional as traditional books.
    If by digitize, you mean convert to a PDF, and allow someone to use on a traditional Desktop/Notebook/Netbook, then I would side with traditional books.However, today this is not the real question of importance. With the multitude of ebook readers, and tablets, a form factor that is as convenient as a regular book is now available – with the obvious advantage of not requiring space and extremely long lifespan. These make it more convenient to transport books, and actually also makes it more convenient to read them. One can doodle, make notes and anything else with these technologies as well.The only cons are that it will take some time until this type of device is commonplace, and until then the solution is expensive (though it works out, if actual book costs are reduced to the extent they actually should). As long as a reasonably large portion of the reference material is digitized, there is no other negative I can see.The major hurdle before going fully digital, is that the vast troves of paper content needs to be digitized.
  • Feb 18 2011: Texts are vitally necessary- you cannot make handwritten notes in the margins of digital material. While I abhor the money-making publishing trap- I do think texts are important. I tell my students to go online and get whatever edition they can – cheap. And then they can write all over it! I also like hardcopy books to teach with-although I keep grades online.
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    Alvaro Cevallos

    Feb 17 2011: the world is moving towards digital materials, but we had to remeber that digital materials are still expesive in under-developed and developing nations, which make the book a more cheap fountain of information and learning. Also you can’t donate a digital book, but you can donate a paper one. Of course you can print the digital material, but will only create more waste.

    and besides, i cant take a digital reader to the beach without the fear of sand, water or even battery issues. if I lose or break a book, that ok if not that expensive, if tit broken I can still read it!, but what about if a lose or break my iPad or Kindle? And isen’t the most fun part of been a reader is to go to kill time a library or book shop?books will stay with us still for a really long time…
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    Feb 17 2011: It is unfortunate that the textbook game is overwhelmingly about money and profitability. At this point, however, print textbooks are not quite obsolete. The overall trend seems to be moving to a digital educational format. But while I myself loved my textbooks and probably would have struggled learning biochem on a kindle, the issue is more about the content rather than the format of information. Digital formats allow great potential of manipulation and editing (not always bad) whereas the physical tactile format allows for interaction and engagement.The solution really just lies in finding the educational balance and the monetary balance. Kids needs to be engaged with their books and pens but a smartboard allows for tremendous volumes of information to be displayed at will. And textbook publishers need to reinvent the application of their educational tools to provide information in either format.I also don’t believe we are heading into a state of all digital format overnight. These new innovative tools aren’t always thrown into a classroom immediately but rather introduced slowly and systematically. Not every school and district gets the newest toy and therefore trial and error have a lot to do with the process. I don’t fear that one day we’ll wake up and every single kid has an iPad 8 and no use for a number 2 pencil. I think balance between the two will be discovered at the greatest learning benefits of our kids.
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    Feb 17 2011: So long as profit’s the name of the game, it doesn’t matter if they’re obsolete (or worse, inaccurate). I’m with Daniel and Ken – the industry won’t allow them to die off.Plus, considering that trees and books (given proper logging and recycling practices) are sustainable resources whereas electronics aren’t, I’d pick physical books over digital ones every day of the week. Yes, digital is easier and way, way cheaper, but in the end, print will win out. As for which is better, it just depends on how you interact with the text — lots of people like underlining and writing notes in the margins. Not that you can’t do that with a digital copy, but some people like the physical act of writing thoughts down.
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    Feb 17 2011: One point of interest that doesn’t address the question specifically:The schools are fighting to keep paper texts alive, as they are a huge source of revenue creation. Even in these times of budget cutbacks, schools are finding the money to invest in new bookstores. Bookstores are cash-cows.
  • Feb 17 2011: Absolutely. If you find an error in a print, what happens? You sell another addition.If you find an error in a digital copy (preferably hosted on the internet as not to need copies) then you change the original and update any available.From health concerns for children’s backs to teaching them how to live in the world they are to inherent…The problem is… the industry won’t let them be obsolete.

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