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The classroom as we know it is undergoing dramatic changes in the information age. New technologies have always been introduced into the classroom such as overhead projectors, televisions, and even instructor-operated computers, but they never significantly affected the process or the experience of teaching and learning. However, individual computers and the advent of digital textbooks have emerged to reshape and redefine the classroom. Many debate the effects of e-books and the Internet on students and the overall impact that it will have on the educational system as a whole. While keeping up to date with technology is an important aspect of growing up in the digital age, some traditional forms of teaching seem to benefit the individual student in ways that computers cannot imitate.
The invention of the computer and the Internet has allowed enormous amounts of information to be accessed. This influx of information and the current rise of interactivity on the Web attract many schools eager to teach their students in a more modern fashion. The race to become a technologically advanced school has also resulted in a market push for items such as electronic textbooks and other interactive learning supplements. The information age definitely calls for a technologically based learning experience; however, many debate about how far technology should be allowed to penetrate into the classroom. Neil Postman's book, Technopoly, warns that technology produces winners and losers, and that sometimes the winner does not become clear until the loser has disappeared (Butler, 1). If this is the case, it is highly important that the affects of integrating a modern technologically advanced classroom equipped with individual laptops and e-books are studied before they are imposed upon innocent children.
The debate against the implementation of electronic textbooks and the digital classroom has many elements. One of the hardest things to prove to educators and academics is the true effectiveness and advantages of e-books compared to other forms of learning. The U.S. National Science Board of Science and Engineering Indicators stated in 1998 that, “the fundamental dilemma of computer-based instruction and other IT-based educational technologies is that their cost effectiveness compared to other forms of instruction-for example, smaller class sizes, self-paced learning, peer teaching, small group learning, innovative curricula, and in class tutors-has never been proven” (Alliance, 1). It appears that in order for e-books and other technologies to enter the classroom they must prove that they have distinct advantages over traditional forms of learning, and currently there is no such proof.
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Another aspect of the debate against e-books is the potential physical and emotional side effects that may stem from overexposure to the computer screen and the act of computing. A 1998 study published in the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society found that a decline in speed and accuracy and increased fatigue were all results of reading from a screen rather than print (Butler, 2). Problems with visual and brain development as well as a lack of social interaction are also some side effects associated with increased exposure to the computer screen (2).
The Alliance for Childhood published a book on computer use in childhood entitled, Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers and Childhood. This book criticizes parents for using the Internet as a babysitter, and big business for attempting to increase sales at the children's expense. The book claims that computer-based learning is detrimental to both the physical and emotional developmental needs of children. The push to transform children into tech-geniuses has resulted in a lack of childhood. The book states that the very basics of life and nature and the exploration of these entities is an inherent part of childhood, “children, too, need time to play with the most fundamental qualities and questions of nature- to 'live' them with their whole beings: body, heart, mind, and soul” (Alliance, 3). Tech-driven education can also inhibit the creative process of a child's imagination, and consequently the ability to think outside of the box to explore new possibilities and new ways of thinking and living.
Another argument stresses that the computer cannot fix the issues that are already embedded in the education system. The enormous amount of information is a wonderful resource, but how can one be assured that the students will be able to make any sense of it? Furthermore, education is not just about preparing one for the workforce, but also about instilling teamwork and interpersonal skills that will improve student's ability to live in their communities and culture. When students are focused on a computer screen and a virtual reality world sometimes they fail to live in their own world and experience its pleasures (Monke, 3).
However, many software companies are eager to jump into the market of electronic textbooks. Companies such as DigitalOwl, VersaWare, WizeUp.com, and MetaText currently supply electronic textbooks. Many schools are also showing a deep interest in the market. DigitalOwl launched a digital textbook initiative in Florida, and has received many inquiries from schools throughout the U.S. The software companies insist that the new generation of students, the Net Generation or N-Gen, are already more adapted to on-screen reading than those who have traditionally read from print. (Butler, 3). Digital learning is, therefore, a perfect fit for kids who have grown up with the Internet.
David Gray, founder of New York City-based WizeUp.com asserts that e-textbooks have many valuable advantages to both students and teachers, “e-textbooks allow for electronic bookmaking and highlighting, keyword searches, electronic mail, links to Web resources related to the topic, and ways for teachers to customize information for their class” (Butler, 2). Furthermore, current textbooks become outdated quickly whereas digital textbooks can be updated and inexpensively replaced. One of the biggest advantages of digital learning is the combination of text, video, sound, and multimedia all on one CD. Proponents of e-textbooks argue that this form accommodates children who have different learning styles (West, 2).
Each side of the argument makes very valid points concerning the implementation of e-textbooks, but the best solution may be a compromise. In order to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the digital classroom it is important to think about what will be lost as much as what will be gained, “through such careful thought we may find that we are giving up opportunities to develop the very qualities whose absence in our students most worries us” (Monke, 4). Therefore, educators must strike a careful balance between technology and hands-on person-to-person learning.
One solution is to integrate the technology in a lecture or instruction period, but not to have any one form dominate the learning process. Technology can compliment, rather than replace, books. Exposure to new technology is very important in a world that is becoming increasingly divided between “haves” and “have-nots.” It is vital that our children are not left behind, but there must be something said for the appreciation of the human experience and development. E-textbooks may or may not possess harmful side effects in the children that it is attempting to educate; it is vital the future of the children that steps be taken to ensure their safety while providing them a modern education.
The rise of the Internet has been supplemented with an increase in the demand for a more technological up to date educational system. One of the current trends is the e-textbook, which many fear will replace the traditional print textbook. Some argue that the digital era has harmful side effects on the minds and bodies of children, and that careful study of these effects must be made before implementing a completely digital learning environment. Others, especially in the software business, cite the many advantages of e-books and a technological education. They argue that the huge amount of information and the wide range of multimedia learning experiences can enhance the experiences of student enabling them to become involved in the material. Whatever the case, society seems to possess one duty and that is the protection of its children. A careful balance must be sought in order to teach the children about living as well as learning.
Alliance for Childhood. (9/11/00).
Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers and Childhood [online].
Butler, Wendy. Ebooks in the Classroom [online].
Monke, Lowell. (10/97). The Web & The Plow [online].
West, Peter. Reads Like a Book [online].