Terminating Education?


This an open ended blog post that asks a few questions but doesn’t answer all of them, that’s where you come in!  I want to hear from you, so tweet, comment on the blog or email me as I’m sure this may ruffle a few feathers!

Today’s post is about Libraries, books and their relevence in learning today, if you haven’t heard about Governer Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech this week on the controversial topic of Digital textbooks, Here’s a snippet:

“Starting this fall with high school math and science, we will be the first state in the nation—the first state in the nation—to provide schools with a state-approved list of digital textbooks.

Think about this. Traditional hardbound textbooks are adopted in six-year cycles, so as soon as they are printed, then the next six years you don’t get the latest information. So just think about the last six years, all the things that happened. For instance, the Iraq war, the country’s first African-American president, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression or the decoding of the human genome and the list goes on and on. So all of this you wouldn’t
have in those textbooks. Discoveries, science and progress are happening so quickly.

So the bottom line is, I feel how can kids compete in the global economy when the information
the schools feed them is stale and is outdated and is old?

So digital textbooks will change, of course, all of that; they can be frequently updated to better prepare our student. And there will also be more opportunities for interactive learning and you know how exciting interactive action is. Students could read about a science experiment and then click onto a video and then see immediately a kind of demonstration of this science project.

This is what kids love and it will make them much more excited about learning. I know my kids have—I have four kids, so I know how much time they spend on the computer when they do their homework and the exciting stuff that they see when they study.

So I think that’s what we want to do here, just really upgrade all of this. The digital textbooks are good not only for the students’ achievement but they’re also good for the schools’ bottom line. And this is the important thing here. The average textbook costs up to $100.  So think about it, if each of California’s 2 million high school students use digital math and science books, that would mean that you could save the schools $300 to $400 million and that’s money that could be used for hiring more teachers or to make class sizes smaller. And if you expand this to additional textbooks, then you can save an additional few hundred million dollars.”

First a little imagination exercise:

Think of your typical library in your town or city, regardless of its construction it will be filled with row after row of books, probably similar to this picture:

Is this still how we access content in a digital world?

Books that are probably out of date, in a shabby condition or (if yours is a university library) covered in hand written notes and underlining.

Questions, Questions, Questions

When studying how often do you read a book cover to cover?

I’d wager that you will dive into the book get the quote or section needed and put it back on the shelf, where it will stay until the next person needs it. If no one else checks out the book what is its purpose? There are likely to be 100’s of books that are never checked out of the library creating rows upon rows of dead space.

If the majority of people use books merely as quick reference tool to pull out selected quotes, what benefit is a library?

How do we deal with library collections ageing ?

Collections are normally refreshed every six years or so, with every year that passes the books contained therein get more and more out of date.

How can we expect our students to excel if the books they read have information that is at best inaccurate, at worst irrelevant?

Access Denied?

Within education we have students with a wide range of abilities, but what help is a book to someone with a visual impairment?

Granted we have magnifiers to enlarge text, screen readers to read the text to them, but one can argue that this only differentiates a student with an impairment from their fellow students. With e-readers such as the plastics logics reader or Amazons Kindle range we can provide all students with the same learning tool that will allow each student to customise text size to their own preference, without singling them out as different.

Access when you need it?

When I was studying at university I remember having to get to the library as quick as possible after a seminar to ensure that I would be one of the lucky few to grab a copy of the text needed for an essay. Often libraries only have 5 or so copies of a particular book (especially when it comes to technical or classical texts), 5 books will not be able to support a class of 30, let alone an entire program.

Why should it be a case of survival of the fittest, just because I could get their first, does it mean that my learning was more important than others?

What about students with a physical disability, do we ignore them?
What about students with a visual Impairment, do we ignore them?

Why do we continue to invest in a medium that restricts learning and (by denying students access course texts) harms academic performance? With a digitised collection we can (with appropriate licences) supply enough texts to ensure that every learner is able to access the information relevant to their course and in a manner that suits each individuals needs.

I wholeheartedly agree with the Governor but I also think he hasn’t gone far enough: I think we should remove physical libraries from education.

Now that’s a controversial idea.

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