Textbook Design and the Digital Textbook

I enjoy reading. I never did until after I had my first child and I was at home all day. Daytime television is horrible and how many times can I watch rich women argue with each other about the appropriate way to greet someone at a dinner party?

I began my adult reading life with physical books.

An avid Amazon shopper anyway my Prime membership was paying for itself with every new book purchase. (My husband and I are obsessed with book shopping and have an extensive home library.)

But after a year of constantly buying new books I decided to begin trying digital books. It took some getting used to but I have come to actually really like digital books. I am that rare person who is fine either way. A physical book has a slight edge but a digital book follows me around everywhere. Going to the playground? It’s there. Going to the doctor’s office? It’s there. Going away for the weekend? It’s there. I really like that convenience.

As I got used to digital books I tried digital research material. I tried some free books on various subjects to see if I could stand doing research from a digital material.

No. That is a resounding no.

When I research, I like a chaos method. I have tons of sticky notes and folded corners. My finger scans the pages as I read, helping me keep my spot and making mental images for later reference.

My digital reading platform is a tablet.

It doesn’t have any special tools for research which might be one of my problems but I’m not about to spend money on something that I don’t think I will like or use. But I can’t ever remember where I found anything. I can’t mark the pages. I can’t leave sticky notes. I can’t use my finger to read because it constantly wants to swipe the page.

I apply this logic to students. Why are school districts forcing students to use digital textbooks?

The number one reason you will always hear or read is that it saves the school districts money. Textbook companies sell the districts a license for say five years and the textbook is available. Every textbook comes with additional resource such as workbooks and they are provided and are digital as well. Schools also do not have to have the same amount of physical space to store textbooks during the summer.

The second reason is the idea that young people love technology and need to be exposed to it. Although I think that all people love a certain amount of technology I think it is rather sad to think that by exposing students to digital textbooks we are servicing their future. As if there is never going to be a need to use our hands or our eyes or have hand-eye coordination.

Every study I’ve read focuses on reading comprehension but why not simply do a poll. Ask the students directly after allowing them to use a physical textbook and a digital textbook, “Which do you like?”

I would place my money on the physical book.

I can’t prove that hypothesis but as annoying as some of those textbooks are students would probably pick the physical book if given the option.

Something to consider is that even though districts are buying the textbook, most do not buy additional software needed to really make those digital books be the best they can be. Pinching pennies.

And how cost effective is when students are constantly dropping them and need the screens replaced? Textbooks are lost all the time. Which is more cost effective to replace? One textbook or one iPad/tablet?

Don’t forget about the larger tech crew a school now has to employ to work on connectivity and security as well as repairs.

Finally, many textbook features cannot be accessed unless the students have internet. As odd as it seems to many of us there are plenty of people in this country who do not have internet access. How can students be expected to complete class assignments if they cannot access their assignments? Now you have run into an equitable access problem which if the student wanted to could be pursued beyond discussions with the classroom teacher.

All of this is in reaction to a MindShift article from last week, A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Paper?

The article brought up most of what I have already discussed. They pointed out that there is still so little academic research done of comprehension that everyone could argue their preference. Digital, or paper?

When I taught I had old textbooks.

They were ugly and the least student friendly textbooks you could get. I’m not sure what the editors were thinking with that version. After I attended the textbook adoption for my department I began to use the updated version of our textbook. Almost everything was the exact same thing. There were so few changes to the text it wasn’t worth trying to compare the two but a map and a few pictures were different. The reason I switch though is because the company must have realized how bad the old books were that they did a complete redesign.

Paragraphs existed rather than one giant blog. There was color! When I showed it to my students and told them they could use it during class they were excited. Every student that tried it out loved it. They were jealous that they didn’t get to use it. It really would have simplified their lives.

The amazing thing to me was that it was a print book. What made the difference was the design. Color pictures, color differentiating chapters and unit reviews, bolded and italicized words, putting vocabulary words and definitions in the margins, easy to read maps, beautiful pictures.

The design was what made the book easier to use. The design is what made the book something students responded to.

Do students get the same reaction from a digital experience? Because that experience, when you like looking at what you have to study, is what makes learn

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