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Are We Declaring the Wrong War

Last Wednesday, The New York Times posted an op-Ed piece by Justin Hollander. The Tufts University professor drew attention to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's declaration of “war on paper textbooks,” and his call to replace them with a “..variety of digital-learning technologies, like e-readers and multimedia Web sites.”

Hollander continues,

Such technologies certainly have their place. But Secretary Duncan is threatening to light a bonfire to a tried-and-true technology — good old paper — that has been the foundation for one of the great educational systems on the planet.1

This common reaction to our move to digital and networked education is yet another exasperating example of our apparent need to define education by where it happens and the objects we handle to accomplish it. The assumption persists that education is to be administered through the proper and efficient application of technologies, regardless of their century of origin –– and that the publishing industry is best qualified to prepare and distribute the services of those technologies.

What's at stake is not what children carry into their classrooms, but it's the experiences that they take part in and what they carry away from those experiences.

My hope is that Secretary Duncan's war is not with paper, but with a one-way street style of education that revers the source and delivery of knowledge at the expense of our students' essential partnership and investment as they learn and master the practices of lifelong learning.

 

1 Hollander, J. (2012, October 10). Long Live Paper. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/10/opinion/long-live-paper.html?_r=0

 

 

Comments

  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    Educational issues aside, he *should* be at war with paper. It’s inefficient, expensive, bulky, environmentally harmful, and flammable. It degrades quickly, cannot be exposed to even a small amount of water, breaks and tears, and cannot be washed. The search feature is terrible, you have to use real paste to cut and paste, and there’s no spell-check (plus, if you make an error, you have to use white fluid on the reading surface). Digital is the way to go. Even without all the educational benefits, digital is the way to go.

    • http://idave.us David Warlick

      @Stephen Downes, Yes, but you don’t have to plug paper into a wall, it doesn’t hurt your eyes, it doesn’t require an installment plan, you can believe almost anything written there, and you won’t severely damage your reputation through carelessness. ..and forgive me for playing this card, but, ” What if the power goes out?”

      Sorry for the hyperbole, but when promoting change in how we educate our children, we really can’t put “education aside.” Knowledge, in a published print world goes in one direction. Somebody knows it, somebody writes it, somebody edits it, somebody decides if there is a large and accepting readership to warrant its publishing, somebody prints it, somebody distributes it, and somebody reads and assumes its validity and value. This way of teaching our children in a time of rapid change is not only irrelevant, but it teaches them the wrong lessons about learning.

      A digital, networked and information abundant environment makes learners an equal partner in their education, learning not only valuable knowledge and skills, but also learning the value of their own learning skills.

      We use to learn knowledge so we’d know. Now we learn knowledge so that we know where to start.

      • http://htt Stephen Downes

        @David Warlick,

        > Yes, but you don’t have to plug paper into a wall

        True. Paper consumes vast amounts of power at the production stage, but consumes only space at the consumption stage

        > it doesn’t hurt your eyes

        Neither does digital any more. It’s not 1995 you know.

        > it doesn’t require an installment plan

        Neither does digital. Again, it’s 1995 any more. Used computers are nearly free. An eBook reader costs less than the books you get on it for free. A high-quality computer or laptop costs the same as a dozen hardback books.

        > you can believe almost anything written there

        On paper? Seriously? Arte you kidding?

        > and you won’t severely damage your reputation through carelessness.

        Tell that to the person who wrote the ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ headline – and then couldn’t correct it!

        > and forgive me for playing this card, but, ” What if the power goes out?”

        Well, it’s like if the lights go out when you’re reading paper. There’s not much of anything you can do during a blackout.

        Though that said, most of my devices work really well offline, battery life is greatly improved, and since I have several terabyte hard drives (cost: $150 or so – equivalent to 4.5 million books) I have plenty to read.

        > Sorry for the hyperbole, but when promoting change in how we educate our children, we really can’t put “education aside.”

        You misunderstood me. What I was saying was “not even counting all the educational advantages of digital, of which there are many, here are some practical considerations”.

        > Knowledge, in a published print world goes in one direction…

        Yes, generally. There is a bi-directionality when one considers written or typed assignments, journals, artwork, and other paper-based student work. But these cannot really be reproduced or distributed on a wide scale, which limits how far a student’s work can reach.

        > A digital, networked and information abundant environment makes learners an equal partner in their education

        Well, it makes it possible. Digital can be used to impose discipline, order and compliance as easily as text. Some of the worst form of propaganda have been electronic media.

        > learning not only valuable knowledge and skills, but also learning the value of their own learning skills.

        Again, it makes this possible. Digital media can be used to devalue too – just ask victims of cyberbullying (not that this is somehow worse that in-person playground bullying – it’s not).

        But all in all I think you’re agreeing with me here. There should be a war on paper. Why?
        - because digital carries huge educational advantages
        - and in addition, it carries huge environmental and efficiency advantages

        > We use to learn knowledge so we’d know. Now we learn knowledge so that we know where to start.

        Well ‘knowing where to start’ is just another type of thing to know. But the gist of the slogan is accurate. In learning today, we are learning to learn and adapt, rather than to fit into a predefined environment.

        Paper fits the world of the predefined environment. That’s why it must be abandoned.

  • http://about.me/joachim Joachim Stroh

    It’s heavy as a brick, cannot be updated or upgraded, the annotation feature is permanent, it can contain mean scribbles, and doesn’t do well on collaboration. Digital is the way to go.

  • Courtney Block

    Dear Mr. Warlick,

    I do not see anything wrong with using paper or technology to teach our students. Many people say that paper is not green and it costs too much, but at the same time technology can be expensive and irreplaceable. I love reading paperback books, but I also like the convenience of my tablet. There are so many benefits to both sides. If he is at war with paper that is his opinion and his own debate.
    Having technology in the classroom would be an extraordinary experience with younger students. On the other hand the IPods and Laptops also could be a hassle. Plus with younger students they still are trying to grasp the idea of school! They do not need to be learning how to work a piece of technology.
    I see the benefits to good education in both! Books are there for life and no one has to worry about the material getting erased. Technology creates a new and fun way to learn with the convenience of not having to tote a big bag around. I think we just have to introduce technology at an appropriate age. This is to not overwhelm our students and give them a better learning experience. Really it is all up to the students what will help them learn better.

    Courtney Block

    • http://idave.us David Warlick

      @Courtney Block, Respectfully, we are all trying to grasp the idea of school. We are preparing a new generation of learners, within a new information environment, for a future that we can’t describe. All of this not only changes education, but it dramatically changes what it means to be educated.

      Learning to operate a piece of technology is part of schooling today, just like learning to operate pencil, paper, or scissors. It’s where the information is and where it will be.

  • Jasmane

    Paper or digital devices are both tools that support learning. I suppose the learner is the element most affected. It looks like educators will have to find a balance of what works for the ‘learner’ before a decision can be reached about going totally digital. using these tools where it is targeting the skills that needs to be mastered in the educational process, are of more value than the tools itself.

  • http://blog.idave.us/ David Warlick

    @Stephen Downes, I suspect that we agree on most everything here. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever heard you say or write, that I could disagree with. I was mostly, just messing with you.

    Perhaps I need to do like Leonard Hofstadter (The Big Bang Theory) and have signs to hold indicating that I’m being “Sarcastic” or “facetious” or “Waxing Hyperbole.”

    I’m just thrilled to have YOU commenting here.

    Would you mind signing my blog? ;-)

  • Rachel

    Hi! I am Rachel. I am in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I think schools should use both paper and digital technology. Writing material down always helps me remember things. I couldn’t imagine doing everything on a tablet for school. Great blog post!http://beaugezracheledm10.blogspot.com/

  • Marina

    I agree that digital is the way to go because it is much more reasonable. It is interesting and fun to learn with technology. However, I still rather read a book than my tablet, and I cherish writing letters. Can’t we live in a world where students are taught to use both? I say keep them both and let the student decide which they prefer.


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