29 September 2014
Textbooks, print or digital, represent an organized body of information on a subject. They are necessary for learning. Researchers and marketers continue trying to pin down the pros and cons of paper versus electronic reading. But for learning, paper seems to be better. Here are some reasons.
An article on wired.com (http://www.wired.com/2014/05/reading-on-screen-versus-paper/) notes that digital content introduces distractions and it’s more difficult to focus. Deep reading is associated with paper, while superficial reading and reading without the need for higher recall seems to be the realm of electronic devices. Paper seems to require and foster more sustained attention. Digital reading goes hand in hand with multitasking distractedness. Even when the Internet and ads are not part of the equation, scrolling interrupts focus.
Additionally, paper books also allow for different types of annotation: underlining and dog-earing and margin-scribbling, which for many people is fundamental to deep reading. Screen-reading software may allow annotations, but the process is far less tactile. Tactility is important. For years, I have been telling my students that a connection between the hand and the brain exist. When notes are handwritten the content is more apt to be recalled. Studies validated this, for example, “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand” (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/to-remember-a-lecture-better-take-notes-by-hand/361478/). Gesture (writing) and cognition are closely linked. To write we construct mental models of the text.
So for this week what is the “take-away?” Print books and books that allow note-taking (annotations) seem to be better for deep reading and ultimately for learning.
Nevertheless, as I indicated last week, we cannot ignore the advantages of digital for reaching broad audiences. However, physical printing is apparently here to stay. The two formats truly are complementary rather than competing technologies.
Making use of this complementary relationship, the National Agricultural Institute, uses a hybrid approach for textbooks in agriculture, food and natural resources. Advances in software and hardware allow print copies of textbooks, in and open format for note-taking, and with links to electronic resources, These textbooks can be produced and sold at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks.
Rick Parker, PhD
President, National Agricultural Institute

At the onset of the introduction of computers and information technology we were told that we’d become a “paperless society.” Today the “paperless society” remains largely a myth as page volume from printers was 2.98 trillion 2012, down slightly from 3.03 trillion in 2011. Over the next four years page volume is expected to remain around the 2012 level.

By the way, 3 trillion looks like this: 3,000,000,000,000 and assuming an 11 inch long piece of paper that would be just a little less than 521 million miles of paper! So what is going on?

Truth is, the advancements of software and hardware technology have made printing easier and more accessible. Printer vendors know this and they maintain that the explosion of digital content means more printing. So where does this fit with textbooks?

Currently, electronic textbooks are being touted as the next innovation for education. Some are making the switch but like the “paperless society,” this is not reality. Here are some facts:

Print is the preferred medium for learning. In a recent study of students, 65% said they preferred printed course materials, 74% reported learning better from print, and 72% said they printed some or all of digital materials — even though doing so cost more than simply using the digital content. Students reported that they found fewer distractions in printed materials. In addition, they said printed materials are easier to highlight and more manageable for locating and reviewing specific information when studying. Students also reported fewer headaches when reading from a physical page.

Obviously, one thing driving the apparent move to electronic textbooks (e-texts) is the cost of print textbooks. The National Association of College Stores (NACS) says the average college student will spend $655 on textbooks each year, but with a single textbook easily costing as much as $300, students often spend more. The American Enterprise Institute reports that college textbook prices are 812% higher than they were a little more than three decades ago! High school textbooks share the same issue of increasing prices.

So, what can be done? A move to all e-texts doesn’t seem to be the answer. At the National Agricultural Institute, we believe in a hybrid approach for textbooks in agriculture, food and natural resources. Making use of advances in software and hardware print copies of textbooks with links to electronic resource can be produced and sold at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks. Print and digital formats truly are complementary rather than competing technologies. More on this in the next blog. In the meantime, check out the textbooks we have produced: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/National_Ag_Inst


Rick Parker, PhD
President, National Agricultural Institute


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