21 December 2015

Data suggests print books making a comeback - does it matter for classrooms?

Just picked up this article in Quartz reporting Neilsen data suggesting the print books made a comeback last year, specifically buoyed by Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, adult coloring books, and (I don't understand this one) books authored by YouTube stars. http://qz.com/578025/against-all-odds-print-books-are-on-the-rise-again-in-the-us/

What's that mean for education? For the classroom? Is the next wave of innovation going to be a rejection of tech, where we all throw out our iPads and Chromebooks?

I think this change is in part a natural reaction to new technology - everyone bought a Kindle in the last decade, lots of people starts buying e-books, and then some users realized they didn't like the experience most of the time. Ever tried sharing an ebook with your friend? "Hey, I just read Malcom Gladwell's new book; so good! You oughta check it out! Want to borrow it?" Ebooks as a format aren't so great for reading to kids or as gifts for kids, either. Don't get me wrong, my kids LOVE interactive books/stories and their Leapfrog LeapReader books, but "I downloaded this book to my iPad for you" just doesn't give my daughter the same experience as going to the library and clutching tight her borrowed copy of Barbie Super Sparkle. 

I believe the increase in sales of physical books this past year represents a maturation of the digital, ebook market because it means that users and producers have figured out what digital books are and are not good for. With every new technology, there is a period where we kick the tires a bit (typing out everything on an iPad screen several years ago, for instance), and then decide the added cost/adaption/complication of implementation is not worth the gain. If the only reason you have your kids reading texts in the classroom on screens instead of paper is the savings on printing costs, I don't know if that's worth the loss in value of marking up and making a text your own as a reader. Users that bought an e-reader several years ago just to read (not annotate, share links, and highlight) their ebook might be going back they miss dog-earred pages, rustling pages, and the satisfaction of closing the book on that last page.

A few years ago when iPads were new in classrooms, I went to a session on apps for literacy for K-3 kids at a tech conference and was introduced to an app that was going to revolutionize letter-practice because kids could use their finger to change colors and even use a multi-color or sparkle "pen". You know what else kindergartens love? Real glitter, and tape, and markers, and stickers, and paint, and stuff they can bring home to their parents. It was a fun addition, but like this app, the bounce-back of print books is indicative that in some settings, we end up trying to use tech to fix things that we don't need to or shouldn't fix.

In summary, it makes sense to me (a person that much prefers reading books to print) that people are buying books again. And I also believe that physical textbooks will continue to be replaced as 1:1 device environments and e-texts become ubiquitous in the modern classroom. Why? It's because of what we need textbooks to be. 

The textbook was a great invention last century. One book with all of the info a student might conceivably need (for that course.) If all you want from a textbook for your students is examples, practice problems, and the answers to the odds in the back, you're probably going to be fine with any textbook from the last 20 years (so the book will at least acknowledge graphing calculators and the Internet), but we need more from our educational resources!

Our students need:
a resource with all the information that they need - some will need more or less supplemental or prior-skill material out of their "book"
a resource that brings in multimedia as the norm, not an add-on
a resource with tools kids can manipulate, be it geometric shapes on a coodinate plane, simple machines and force, or chunks of texts they can rechunk or number
a resource that is (almost) never outdated or obsolete because the district budget couldn't afford the new edition
a resource students can add to and collaborate with others to chronicle their learning alongside the "official" content
I do not believe that a desire for "experience" will ever be absent from the act of reading, so books might never disappear. However, the information communication demands in the classroom have and are changing, so while we will continue to build reading nooks in classrooms, our educational resources must change to reflect the speed, immersion, and flexibility with which we consume and publish in this century.

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Thanks for sharing!