Is Digital Democratic?

images.jpgFOR SEVERAL DECADES, textbook publishers followed the same basic model: Pitch a hefty tome of knowledge to faculty for inclusion in lesson plans; charge students an equally hefty sum; revise and update its content as needed every few years. Repeat. But the last several years have seen a shift at colleges and universities—one that has more recently turned tectonic.

In a way, the evolution of the textbook has mirrored that in every other industry. Ownership has given way to rentals, and analog to digital. Within the broad strokes of that transition, though, lie divergent ideas about not just what learning should look like in the 21st century but how affordable to make it. …

This article in Wired Magazine  by Brian Barrett develops and comments on the recent transformation of school textbooks.

But more technology doesn’t always mean better results. Within K-12 learning environments, the digital divide means that students in low-income and rural households have less access to reliable internet and fewer connected devices on which to complete the online portions of their homework. …

“We are finding that even though undergraduates prefer to read digitally, these preferences aren’t actually showing positive or even equalness in terms of effect on comprehension,” says Lauren Singer Trakhman, who studies reading comprehension at the University of Maryland’s Disciplined and Learning Research Laboratory. “When it comes to things like pulling details, key facts, numbers, and figures, participants are doing a lot better after reading in print.”

Not only do students retain less when reading digitally, Trakhman says, they’re more likely to overestimate how well they comprehended the material. And that’s before you take into account that students reading a textbook on a device do so amid a barrage of notifications that pull them away from the material. Even without those additional distractions, which Trakhman rules out in her research, students read more quickly and less deeply. They reread sentences less. And even when an ebook layout mimics that of a physical textbook, they move around the page less, potentially missing important diagrams, sidebars, or other supporting materials.

“Digital text, digital work, is often engaged with at a lower level of attention.”

images-1.jpgI believe the same cautionary statements can be applied to reading novels on a digital platform and when you stop to consider the efficacy of listening to books on tape, it’s “Katy Bar the Door.” It’s not a matter of how comforting a real book smells or how satisfying flipping pages is, rather it’s a matter of comprehension.

This probably sounds strange coming from an old codger who relies of making the print bigger and bigger on his iPad and who isn’t too proud to let Marvin read aloud so as to reinforce what my weeping eyes try to read, but that doesn’t make it untrue, nor does it remove the real concern that conversion to all digital suggests.

Will the advent of future technology return civilization to a time when education and advancement become the sole purview of the rich and influential and the great mass of society will be subjugated through ignorance and poverty?

Gosh, does that sound too Republican?

 

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