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The e-book debate

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Working in educational technology as I do, I've observed the recent trend toward e-readers and e-books with keen interest.  Are e-readers truly the wave of the future?  Are printed books really going to die? Although I'm an avid reader, I'm also a technology enthusiast, so I have welcomed the advent of e-books. However, when I bought my wife an Amazon Kindle last year, I didn't know how she would react.  My wife adores books.  Since I first met her in college -- where she was majoring in English literature -- I have always loved that about her.   We don't have enough bookshelves in the house to accommodate her ever-growing collection.  She seems to always have a magazine or a novel in her hand.  She's probably read a book since I started writing this post.

Working in educational technology as I do, I've observed the recent trend toward e-readers and e-books with keen interest.  Are e-readers truly the wave of the future?  Are printed books really going to die?

Although I'm an avid reader, I'm also a technology enthusiast, so I have welcomed the advent of e-books. However, when I bought my wife an Amazon Kindle last year, I didn't know how she would react.  My wife adores books.  Since I first met her in college -- where she was majoring in English literature -- I have always loved that about her.   We don't have enough bookshelves in the house to accommodate her ever-growing collection.  She seems to always have a magazine or a novel in her hand.  She's probably read a book since I started writing this post.

Knowing that she loved not only reading but actual, physical books, I was relieved when she exhibited genuine excitement as she handled the Kindle for the first time.  She quickly embraced her e-reader for its many advantages:  instant access to hundreds of thousands of books, the ability to read the first chapter of new books before buying them, a built-in dictionary. Although she loved her new device, she continued to buy and read "traditional" books as well.

I recently read an article about schools doing away with regular textbooks and replacing them with e-readers.  The argument is compelling.  First, there are economic reasons.  No more replacing lost or damaged textbooks.  No more outdated books needing updates every couple of years.  Sure, there are some initial set-up costs, but over time schools stand to save hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Besides, the price of these devices continues to go down.  Amazon just announced a Kindle model that will sell for $139 (yeah, I paid $360 for mine last year; that's what I get for being an early adopter).

But even more persuasive is the notion that e-readers can provide students with a richer learning experience because e-books can be accompanied with audio, video, and interactive graphics.  Imagine a student reading about Thomas Edison and being able to listen to one of his first phonograph recordings.  Or a science student exploring constellations with a swipe of a finger.  Today's student expects this type of engagement when learning.

I've witnessed this firsthand with my own children.  While they may show little interest in picking up a book and reading, when I pull out my iPad or smartphone, they magically become reading fanatics.  The younger ones love learning letters with colorful animations and games, and the older ones like reading books they can interact with.  I'm still not sure if I should push them toward reading old-school books, or simply accept the fact that we live in a different world now.

What do you think?  Should schools replace textbooks with e-readers?   Can e-books ultimately co-exist with the printed page?

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