Physical textbooks are physical burdens

September 27, 2018 — by Mathew Luo

Reporter analyzes the cons of carrying physical textbooks.

Textbooks are dying. The e-revolution has rightfully replaced these expensive, clunky and antiquated teaching materials. Saratoga High, too, should switch to digital to increase efficiency and better cater to students’ needs.

Even the largest print publishers worldwide, McGraw Hill and Preston, are switching to a digital system to supply the growing demand for ebooks. Online resources and open-source resources are commonly used for teaching, and most educational material at school seems to increasingly come in the form of printouts and online materials, not from physical textbooks.

Once a supplement to textbooks, e-materials and printouts have nearly replaced textbooks in all ways except for in-class use. The only major role that textbooks play is providing novels for English classes. These books should be kept in their physical form.

In science courses, however, textbooks are almost exclusively used as collections of problem sets. In history class, they play a larger role, often providing small passages to supplement note packets or in-class materials.

These roles are too small to consider continuing to use physical textbooks.

E-textbooks last forever, are cheaper, more portable and more easily updated than regular print textbooks.

In addition, the process of replacing student textbooks with e-copies will allow all classes to enjoy class copies of textbooks and allow students who want to continue using print textbooks to rent them.

The switch would also free up locker space and allow students to access the textbook anywhere with a computer or phone. Students wouldn’t even need internet access if the textbooks were downloaded onto their devices.

Little controversy remains about the switch from physical textbooks to digital textbooks. The sentimentality and nostalgia often associated with physical books is not generally extended to textbooks, and screen reading fatigue reduces to a non-issue with proper lighting, blue light filtration and good reading posture.

In fact, the greatest evidence against digital textbooks comes from research conducted by SAGE Journals demonstrating that physical reading as opposed to digital reading translates to slightly higher retention. In practice, this may manifest through an association with  the distractions of electronic devices.

However, textbook reading is often used as a supplemental tool to other teaching methods, and in the case of science classes, used as a collection of problem sets. The slightly greater retention of reading print textbooks and the danger of distraction are not reasons enough to warrant lugging around physical copies.

Finally, some argue that spending too much time on electronic devices is detrimental to student health and learning. Yet greater time spent on a device will not hinder a responsible student; vice versa, a physical textbook provides no benefits to an irresponsible student anyway.

The switch to digital rids students of the burden of caring for, using and carrying textbooks. The transition from physical to digital will also be smooth; keeping all classes stocked with class sets of textbooks and allowing physical textbooks to be rented to students that want them are just two effects that will ensure a smooth transition to digital access.

With the myriad of benefits digital textbooks provide, all schools should take the plunge into the electronic age.

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