Zero tolerance for print

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.

16 thoughts on “Zero tolerance for print

  1. KiltBear

    I think it’s amazingly forward looking. It’s FOUR YEARS away. That’s a very long time in this arena. What we have now might not be perfect, but between now and then, folks will be focusing on its shortcomings and fixing them.

  2. Kelly Roberts

    Amazingly forward-thinking? What a joke. This is more garbage rhetoric from education-slashing politicians who buy into (or pretend to buy into) the new age technobabble about there being a fundamental “mismatch between institutions of higher education and digital natives on the goals and dynamics of education,” a mismatch that, naturally, trickles down to secondary school. I wrote about that particular fantasy here:

    It’s lots of fun for the rich kids (think of Cushing Academy’s complete purging of books from the library), but we’re talking about public schools here. What about the kids who can’t afford the devices needed to read the damn textbooks?

    The textbook monopoly needs to be broken, once and for all, and digital texts can be leveraged to accomplish this. But instead of having the guts to tackle the problem, politicians make moves to shift said monopoly into different, hipper hands. You’re so cutting-edge, Florida!

  3. Durell Flood

    So…reality’s somewhere between outlawing of books and giving them up in lack of use.

    Can the students hand-copy books? Hmmm…

  4. KiltBear

    Kelly: hardcover books are expensive. Once you buy them, they can’t be updated. The real hard costs of books and their distribution get transferred to the reading device. Advanced technological capabilities are quickly commoditized. Amazon is getting closer to giving Kindles away.

    It’s more likely to cut costs than increase them. I imagine it will make access to the latest text books with the latest science, history, and economics more easily accessible to everyone. It will probably also help ease the effect of places like Texas forcing everyone else to deal with their requirements on textbook content.

  5. Evan Morris

    Heels (not heals). Just a typo, but it jumps out.

    I still use a Latin dictionary I was given in 9th grade (when dinosaurs roamed the earth). Good luck holding onto that Kindle book.

    I doubt that textbook publishers will let the per-unit cost fall much from the hardcover price, and I’m sure there will be a one-year life to these things. And how many parents are going to go to the trouble of “leafing through” Junior’s biology or history “book” to get a sense of what’s being taught (for better or worse).

    I remember sitting at the dining-room table with my son and working out math problems, side by side. That’s gonna bit a bit harder.


    “Politicians are usually sticks in the mud” – if only. Sticks can’t pass legislation to tinker with something best left to educators. In this case they aren’t stick-in-the-muds either :-). Thanks for the writing, very to the point as ever. Bob Corrick.

  7. Apps 55753818692 627104583 0b0dfbd922f76e8f53b6822

    I’m curious if the assumption by Florida lawmakers is based on inside knowledge of what e-textbooks “might” cost in the future. Until you can unbundle “chapters” from a textbook, like singles from an album, not much is going to change in terms of savings. Publishers will continue to demand premium contracts. A more interesting thought would be to imagine “teachers” as authors of supplemental texts and readings. Think “Khan” academy goes on-campus and into the classroom.

    As for the “learning” styles, it goes both ways. My son does his chemistry homework with textbook and iPad (interactive periodic table app) side by side today.



    I had the experience lately of using two different university campuses in Ireland, and of returning to higher education for some years. The world of higher level education I encountered was one which was struggling to come to term with this new method of distribution of course material to students. I wrote about it in a couple of blog entries I wrote. The entries were entitled ‘Top Student’, and ‘Honey Bees’, which you can find in the month of April at my blog.

    Apart from anything else though, my biggest and most real fear from an education perspective, is that the physical infrastructure of the buildings themselves are being somewhat cut out of the loop, by the implementation of digital course material, as I see it. What most educational establishments need to understand, is that the library and traditional ‘reading areas’, may not be ideal environments in which to develop one’s brain. There should be a lot more intermediate areas within the physical campus which are designed for the same. I like to think of them as ‘breakout’ spaces. Spaces along the main corridors and thoroughfares, where one can open up a laptop and plug it in, on a resting platform suitable for standing. An area, where one can sit in a comfortable chair, and overhear the conversations happening around you, as you drift in and out of consciously getting through a page of a dull report. A bench outside the building, where one can reflect on the finer points of a difficult assignment. Or the semi-lit, semi-crowded, noisy rumble of a food hall after the peak activity of dinner time has ceased. These are all distinct environments, in addition to many others in which one may enjoy the use of paper and digital reading media, within the physical infrastructure of learning establishments.

    What I have observed however, is the tendency following the publication of digital versions of lecture notes etc – for students to ignore all of the above, and to restrict their ‘learning environment’ to merely that of a cramped apartment or living arrangement, where the un-washed cups and underwear simply pile up as a function of the lethargy brought about by the evolution of finger tip access to ‘information’ via flat screen notebook systems. That is the real casualty of paper. It is like when ‘video’ technology first came about in the 1980s, for a while people forgot about cinemas. Until suddenly, they remembered again, that there was more to the cinema, than just the screen and the movie.

  9. Joe Elwell

    This is site feedback, not comment on post. I don’t see an easy way to share your posts with my friends. An email or share function would be great. If its there and I dont see it then you might want to do some usability testing :-) thx Joe

  10. Karl Udy

    One of the big concerns about textbooks here in Hong Kong is the heavy bags that primary school kids have to carry, often exceeding 10kg in weight. E-books are going to eliminate that problem. I don’t see what the fuss is about not using books. Come the time the law is supposed to come into force I imagine that the use of e-books will be very common in classrooms. Banning textbooks sounds a little over the top though. The real question though is whether it will be e-readers or tablets that will dominate the classroom market.

  11. Bob

    A ban on printed books is truly frightening, but it is indicative of an institutional mindset among those who embrace the shibboleth of “21st Century Learning.” There are many in the educational establishment, from the classroom to the Halls of Power who view the printed book as obsolete.

  12. Michael Johnston

    The problems you ascribe to e-textbooks are a fundamental flaw of e-books generally; but because the nature of textbooks is so much different than, say, the latest Danielle Steel novel, the deficiencies are even more apparent. This because the resolution of illustrations are often poor and also because e-books are designed more for start-to-finish reading than for use a reference materials, where access is random rather than sequential. I learned this the hard when when two years ago I purchased a Kindle and several technical titles. Although the books I bought could be read sequentially, like most technical publications, they were designed for reference. I quickly saw the limitations and was immediately turned off. Since then I’ve not purchased any further e-book titles, and since then I’ve seen little advancement towards fixing the problems that are so evident to those who’ve actually tried to use e-readers for reference/textbook applications.

    The usability problems I’ve described, though, only scratch the surface of my objections to e-books generally. The privacy implications of using them, frankly, creep me out. (“We know what you’re reading and when you’re reading it.”) How long will it be before someone prominent has their private reading list with its potentially embarrassing list of titles exposed to the world? And would anyone care to wager on how long it will be before warrants are issued for the contents of someone’s e-reader? (“Ah, we see you purchased a copy of [Insert subversive tract here], can you explain that one, please?”)

  13. Jeri Hurd

    Yeah, I have to say (and I’m both an educator and an LMS), this could be a good thing. The people that put out Al Gore’s latest book, designed it specifically for the iPad (In fact, they helped design the iPad’s interface).

    I actually bought it just to get a look at it, and it does some great things, as far as interactivity, and they’re not even educators. More importantly, they are making the platform available to textbook publishers. Combine the platform with people who actually know something about educating children, and it has real potential, I think.

  14. Constance Campana

    The idea that children and young people will be using essentially the same technology to READ as they use to text, play games, etc. is a death-blow to thinking. But I teach incoming college freshmen, and that death-blow might have already happened.

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