Politicians are usually sticks in the mud, technologywise, but that certainly wasn’t the case down in Tallahassee this week. Florida legislators closed their eyes, clicked their heels, and took a giant leap forward into the Information Age, passing a budget measure that bans printed textbooks from schools starting in the 2015-16 school year. That’s right: four years from now it will be against the law to give a kid a printed book in a Florida school. One lawmaker said the bill was intended to “meet the students where they are in their learning styles,” which means nothing but sounds warm and fuzzy.
I reported last week on a new study indicating that e-textbooks, despite some real advantages, aren’t very good at supporting the variety of “learning styles” that students actually employ in their studies, particularly when compared to printed editions. That research won’t be the last word on the subject, but it does show that we’re still a long way from understanding exactly what’s gained and lost when you shift from printed books to digital ones. Yet, as the moronic Florida bill shows, perception often matters more than reason when it comes to injecting new technologies into schools. E-textbooks are so obviously superior to printed ones – they’re digital, for crying out loud – that waiting for a rigorous evaluation would seem like a pathetic act of Ludditism.
But remember: When print is outlawed only outlaws will have print.