Textbooks should soon be obsolete? Not so fast; here’s why
It is vital that government, business – indeed, all of society – remain engaged to ensure that children get the education they deserve, and employers get the educated workforce they need.
From John D. Williams, President and CEO of Domtar
I read with great interest about U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent visit to Charlotte. I congratulate the Secretary for the progress he has made during his time in office. While I appreciate Secretary Duncan’s recognition of the tasks that lie ahead, and the many challenges facing the country’s education system, I must take exception to a comment he made in a recent speech to the National Press Club that “over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.”
Since being named president and CEO of Domtar, one of North America’s largest producers of business, office, printing and publishing papers, I have worked hard to promote a reasonable balance of “pixels and print.” Statements that textbooks should be made obsolete create a false choice. The reality is that paper textbooks and electronic devices, when used together, offer the best chances for success in educating a student.
Considerable research has been done on paper’s educational value, suggesting that most students learn better when reading from a paper book than from a computer screen. Consider:
- Cambridge University researchers studied the efficacy of learning on screen compared with paper, and concluded that paper is a better tool for fully assimilating information. They based this conclusion on a number of factors ranging from the ease and speed of visually locating content on a printed page compared with a screen, to the distractions of reading online, and the functionality of a screen-based document compared to a printed version (e.g. note taking, document sharing).
- A recent Kindle DX pilot project, sponsored by Amazon at seven U.S. universities, yielded interesting findings. At the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, 75 to 80 percent of participating MBA students said they would not recommend the Kindle for in-class learning. Michael Koenig, Darden’s director of MBA operations, explained that the students felt the eReader was too rigid for use in the fast-paced classroom environment, noting that you can’t move between pages, documents, charts and graphs simply or easily enough compared with the paper alternatives.
- At Wayne State University, researchers found that reading on paper is actually 10 to 30 percent faster than reading online, in part because it is easier to track where the reader is on the page.
- A recent New York Times article about parents in Silicon Valley showed that many prefer the teaching properties of traditional paper tools over electronics. In fact, one of the favored institutions in the area, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, has a reigning philosophy that computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.
It is vital that government, business – indeed, all of society – remain engaged to ensure that children get the education they deserve, and employers get the educated workforce they need. Our operational headquarters are in Fort Mill, and we’re proud of our donations to Classroom Central. We’re also proud of our collaboration with Natural Logic Inc. to help people decide when to print materials and when to read them on a screen, part of our effort to contribute to the debate around the role of paper in a digital age. And I’m proud of our effort to work with the Rainforest Alliance, the World Wildlife Fund and other environmental groups so that we have a remarkably green story to tell.