Maggie Boylan, Staff Writer
The influx of digital technology in classrooms nationwide has escalated conversations about whether its time to literally turn the page and become a paperless society where the power of words are taught in an electronic setting void of textbooks. It’s a conversation that educators and students can no longer avoid regardless of their outlook on the love affair with print or technology.
Most elementary school teachers have, at one point, confiscated a note covertly passed from one classmate to the other. That innocent form of communication has morphed into the omnipresent iPhone and other devices that have captured the attention of students in and out of the classroom.
No longer is the content limited to discreet hand-exchanged notes; today, technological advances have revolutionized the capabilities of a classroom education ranging from pre-school to the university level, according to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and these changes will continue.
“Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete, “ Duncan said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. Instead of textbooks, schools will use electronic readers and tablets and students will turn in most of their homework digitally.
Why? The high cost of textbooks. “Hardback high-school textbooks cost an average of about $105, and a freshman might need five of them,” said Albert Greco, a former high-school principal quoted in a Wall Street Journal article about interactive iPad textbooks.
Many school districts in the U.S. and Texas have taken steps to adopt technology in their classrooms including the Irving Independent School District. According to the Texas Education Agency, Irving began providing technology to its students in 2001 to give all students, no matter their socioeconomic background, access to digital technology. “Because of the number of low-income families in our district,” said Alice Owen, executive directory of Technology at Irving ISD, “We decided that if the schools did not provide the technology, our students may not have an opportunity to learn. We now have close to 10,000 laptops in the hands of students that go home every day.”
Because of the easy access most students have to online textbooks from their laptops, the need for actual textbooks is dwindling.
According to Irving Weekly, an online news source, Irving is one of 23 districts asked to participate in the Texas High Schools Consortium. The consortium assists in the development of innovative, next-generation learning standards and will make recommendations for digital learning, learning standards, multiple assessments, and local control.
Students in both high school and college are facing the reality of going paperless. A random survey of several UD students showed that paper certainly remains popular.
Asked what she thought about phasing out paper and transitioning to digital learning, junior Julia Rossini said, “I think paperless assignments are great and I love turning in assignments digitally, but I don’t like reading digitally because it’s hard on the eyes. It really takes away from the tangibility of paper.”
Many students share that sentiment about the “tangibility” of paper. The convenience of going digital cannot be denied, yet paper provides a certain satisfaction that digital devices can’t. As Justin Hollander contends in his article, Long Live Paper,” paper has been the foundation upon which education systems have relied for ages. The complete extraction of it from our educational experience would no doubt have some ramifications, he says, and adds: “While e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous.”
Hollander said the danger of going paperless is that society would become dependent on digital devices that he said are not trustworthy because society has yet to discover the disadvantages of going digital.
One student thinks going digital would increasingly distract students from their work. Joe Giallombardo, a junior at UD, said: “People will be learning a lot less and no one will pay attention to what he or she is reading … There is a more authentic connection with a material book. We are tangible beings, our communicative skills are so involved in touch.”
Barbara Khirallah, an education professor at UD, disagrees with the suggestion that technology hinders learning.
“I am a proponent of technology and I love the opportunities it provides,” Khirallah said. She said digital books do not interfere with the learning experience and that students will always find ways to be distracted, with or without technology.
Khirallah said youngsters — kindergarten through third grade – do need “physical objects” for learning and that digital devices should be kept to a minimum. Still, she embraces change in the classrooms and the learning environment. “Every age has its own technology and teachers must adapt to it,” said Khirallah.