Will textbooks soon disappear? Posters on college campuses are now encouraging students to buy some of their textbooks online: a semester’’s access for half the price of the book. And for several years, we have seen some Kansas high schools brag that they are going paperless. Their students will do all their work on laptops and palm pilots.
Reading an ““e-Text”” on a digital screen presents the image of being techno-savvy. Sadly, it doesn’’t work. And students and parents may learn too late that they have wasted good money for bad technology.
More than 15 years ago, industrial psychologists discovered that we read computer screens nearly 30 percent slower than we read print. This is due to our eye physiology, and to the poor resolution of the media. And the new HDTV will fall far short of solving the problem.
We also comprehend less. Researchers have found our retention is 30 percent lower when we read material online rather than in print.
The message for hi-tech schools is simple. If students are forced to do all classwork at these lower rates of speed and comprehension, they will need five years to comprehend the same material they would learn by reading conventional textbooks in four years.
This should be no surprise to most of the reading public. E-books came out in the trade market——that is the mystery and romance novels––over a decade ago. The experiment was a failure. Few people could read over 20 to 30 pages before the eyestrain became unbearable. So we use the Web and CDs for searching directory information. But we need the printed page when it comes to extended reading, from English literature to that biology textbook.
So what do we usually do when we find material online? We print it off. And that is exactly what the students at the hi-tech high schools are doing...printing off their literature and textbooks at home. The schools can brag they are saving money on paper textbooks, but they are only shifting the cost to the home.
When students print off their e-textbooks, the cost in time, inkjet cartridges and paper easily wipes out any savings. The self-published product is shoddy and actually more expensive than a professionally published text. And it doesn’t get cycled through other students.
While some high schools want to appear ultra-modern by adopting this technology, why would college book dealers want to push e-Texts at half-price? Simply, the publisher makes a profit from the sale of a new book the first semester. After that, the resale of used books takes away their market. If they can sell students an online version, the student’’s access to the book ends at the end of the semester. And there is no copy left to be resold and erode their market.
The student’s bill for new eyeglasses — is not their problem.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.