The Death of Textbooks?

12/26/2015

I really enjoyed reading this article. I felt like it brought balanced perspectives to the issue at hand– what is the value of digital learning, and is it worthy enough to replace traditional textbooks? I mostly enjoyed that the author’s perspective seemed to be that of a mid-twenty year old. I think this is valuable because, although this person may not be in school currently, I would imagine that he recently was, which gives him more of a credible voice in this argument compared to the people working for the publishing companies, who seem all but connected to current issues in teaching and learning. Considering my resistance of technology in the classroom, I empathized with the author during the following section of the article, “And it quickly became evident that these men expected us to marvel at the company’s developments because, as soon as they noticed our eyes weren’t lighting up, they balked: “I don’t think you understand how groundbreaking this is,” one of them said.”

I am glad the author clarified what digital learning was, because at first, I would have thought it was just an electronic textbook. In reality though, digital learning is much broader: “software that adapts to the ways in which individual students acquire information, and other forms of virtual education content”. The author then goes into describing how these digital learning materials are completely taking over how classes are conducted. I believe this is true in some areas, but definitely not in classrooms that lack access to these materials.

However, I am sure there are some digital requirements put forth by administration that teachers in these schools must still meet. This brings up a good point– many stipulations are required by others, whether a teacher is mandating a student to complete a task in a certain way, or the principle is mandating a teacher to complete a task in a certain way. The same holds true with textbooks. Students do not have a choice. This allows publishing companies a lot of power in controlling what is available and at what price. As a student, this can be very frustrating. As the article explains, some teachers require a mix of media for their courses. When the type of media has an “expiration date,” students are required to pay higher prices for new editions instead of  being able to get used versions. This is another way the publishing companies have control.

I thought the best part of this article explained what “blended-learning” is and how digital learning can best assist in this kind of learning. Blended-learning incorporates digital learning, which can result in artificial intelligence, in a way that compliments a teacher but still allows he or she to do what they do best. As a student-teacher, I am already acknowledging how difficult it can be to differentiate instruction and cater to the true needs of each individual student. The article informed me that there are now digital learning software and programs that “the material itself can actually study a student’s learning habits and adjust [to the student’s knowledge and skill set] in real time”. The program being spoken about, ALEKS, can actually customize questions and content based on how previous questions have challenged the student. A student will not be able to move on until they have a solid understanding of more foundational skills. To be able to do this for every student in a whole class (at a rate in which this program can do) would be a teacher’s dream I am sure! Other software was described as being able to “streamline the process of analyzing and reviewing a text”. This sounds like a well-need form of extra support that would allow students to better comprehend complex texts.

In this way, teachers and technology can coexist. Even after all the rave, the author reminded us to consider an important question, “How long before artificial intelligence outweighs what a human teacher is able to do?”. I think human interaction in education is critical. This is obviously my opinion, and I believe I hold this opinion because it is my preference in learning. Then there is the issue of “screen-time” and the detrimental side-effects of it. Not only could it be poor for their physical health, but one teacher in the article even claimed that her students remember much less from reading on a screen compared to reading in a traditional text.

I was impressed with the description of capabilities these programs have. The author states, “What was once a teaching model is transforming into a learning model,” and I agree with this, however, the teaching model needs to continuously be improved upon so that the teaching role remains in demand. The programs will be a success if they continue to be relevant (aligned with standards) and personalized to each student’s current knowledge and progress. I look forward to the opportunity to try a blended-learning approach in my future classroom.

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