Why You Should (And Shouldn’t) Use Digital Textbooks

download (1)The challenge of balancing paperwork, overflowing email inboxes, organized digital files and synchronizing contacts is an ever-present battle in the modern workplace and school. It therefore seems odd that we challenge school age students to do all of the above in addition to organizing exercise books, textbooks and handouts. To then add pressure we provide a measurement of their abilities in a tool as crude as the letters A to E which gets forwarded without their prior knowledge or consultation to their supervisors.

If the digital age is supposed to simplify our lives I suppose it is yet to dawn fully.

The breaking dawn of digitization in schools leaves us in the twilight between traditional exercise books and fully digital content. This is further exasperated by students carrying both notebook computers and exercise books. While the complete digitization of education seems to be the future there are barriers to this state some of which may even be desirable.

Why Go Digital?

The top level answer is simple… it is the future.

While workplaces across almost all industries continue to integrate technology into their workflow the capacity to operate in that environment is becoming a core skill. It is essential that schools prepare students for the world in which they will enter rather than the world of the past. Through something as comprehensive as digital workbooks students develop those skills which will be the assumed knowledge of the future.

Second tier answers might include:

  • Ease of marking
  • Transparency between student, teacher and parents when all parties have shared access.
  • Prevention of permanent loss through bags being left on busses, etc or even temporary loss “I forgot my books today” or “I packed for the wrong day”.

Arguments Against Digital

Arguing the alternate perspective can be lead through two key points.

High stakes, end of schooling examinations are hand written responses. Through moving to fully digitized models of school work students will be significantly disadvantaged when it comes to these pen and paper examinations which influence career choices significantly.
Writing is not a dead skill. To claim digital as the future and remove all opportunities to practice writing is at best one sided and short sighted. While it is true that we write less today than 30 years ago it is still a significant communication tool that students need to be able to do.

Until high stakes examinations for students are fully online and writing is relegated to the “nice but unnecessary” category students need to build skills in handwriting. Obviously schools are the place where these skills need to be developed.

Why Education?

Concluding with such a deep question may seem a little out of place when reflecting on other questions that seem so operational yet clarity in answers to the big questions makes the answers to little questions easy. It is my claim;

“The task of education is to enable students to more fully engage in their own lives and society.”

Full engagement in life is no small task, nor is preparing young people for this adventure. The challenge here is that when we return to the smaller question of digital or hard copy work both perspectives remain valid. Full engagement in life requires penmanship and touch typing, organisation skills physically and digitally as well as user comfort on and offline.

So long as we continue to experience this dichotomy of lives the challenge to and expectation of educational institutions will quite rightly be to prepare students to engage in the online and offline worlds simultaneously.

While I am not happy about it the difficulty of balancing books and files seems like an appropriate reality for some time to come.


  1. Antonia Bralic

    October 28, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    I feel like the problem with usage of digital textbooks is an important issue that deserves much more attention – as long as we have a huge percentage of students (and workers) printing out e-books and reading them in that form, we have a serious problem with e-learning implementation.

  2. Michael

    October 30, 2013 at 6:28 am

    In my opinion if the end game is just digitizing school and it’s associated work, then the true power of the digital age is missed. Students and educators should be harnessing the power and new abilities to begin making their own textbooks as well as push beyond the multiple choice & short answer test.

  3. Fred Stielow

    October 30, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Discussions on digital textbooks continue to be bandied. In point of fact, debate is moot. The genre has clearly entered the scene and will be assigned; moreover, new generations of Born-Web students are growing up with expectations for post-print apps. The more interesting question would be to move away from the textbook as trope. What are the most effective forms of electronic course materials for the 21st century? Do the canned and didactic approaches inherent to textbooks meet advanced educational challenges. Should such formats be relegated to training and general-education redress? Indeed, where is the peer-reviewed scholarship or address for evolving Web methodologies that still project as requisite for upper-division and graduate studies?