Uncle Sam Pushes E-Textbooks, But Students Push Back

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

In 2009 California’s then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launched an initiative to replace printed textbooks with digital versions. He solicited feedback, and the man known as The Terminator got it in spades. Students flunked the format and wanted their paper books back.(See Students Give E-Textbooks a Failing Grade)

Since then, similar thumbs-down reactions have come in from schools in many other states, causing administrators to rethink e-book larnin’. But that didn’t stop Education Secretary Arne Duncan from pronouncing recently that “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.”

Author Justin Hollander, an assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, countered with an op-ed piece in the New York Times. “Such technologies certainly have their place,” he wrote. “But Secretary Duncan is threatening to light a bonfire to a tried-and-true technology — good old paper — that has been the foundation for one of the great educational systems on the planet. And while e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous.”

Details in Long Live Paper. And for an analysis of the cognitive challenges to reading e-books, see The Medium is the Screen. The Message is Distraction

Richard Curtis

4 thoughts on “Uncle Sam Pushes E-Textbooks, But Students Push Back

  1. Ken E Baker

    I wonder if the students are pushing back at the concept of an ereader, with its dull grey screen with low resolution and flashing refresh rates. Part of me is wondering if they would rather use an iPad or something flashier – form over function, in this case. Teenagers are usually one of the first groups to embrace new forms of technology in every day life, so I am struggling to see why this would not catch on. Perhaps poor implementation by educators?

  2. James Moushon

    Publishers need to start thinking digital and not copies of their paper books. Digital lets you interact and connect with other people and other ebooks. And you can use software tools like wordprocessors, databases and spreadsheet to do something with the information.

  3. christian kaefer

    To Ken’s question, my answer is very focused and based on observations and comments from my 18 year old. He spent 4 years at a high school here in northern New Jersey that had access to ebooks and associated technology. So as a freshman [2008] they were presented with 2008 material which is light years behind 2012. That set the tone both for the teachers and the students. Also the way adoption cycles go, they did not get new editions for any textbooks before he graduated [2012]. So simply looking at the timeline, it makes sense at least to me that the students wanted the paper back.
    Also, having spent many years at MHE, what we put out as an ebook in 2008/2009 is certainly different than what is being released today.
    I would not necessarily say a poor implementation by the educators but rather look at it a bit broader in that it was basically v1 of ebooks, v1 of technology and v1 of educators trying to understand how to use the new tools in an environment that has not had any real descriptiveness to it for a long time.

    1. Richard CurtisRichard Curtis Post author

      @Christian Keefer

      A very wise observation. We’re all so deeply immersed in (and intoxicated by) the digital revolution that it’s hard to realize that one day we will look back at this time and shake our heads over the primitivism of the early 21st century.

      Thanks, Christian. I just learned something!



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