Hasta la (MS) Vista Baby

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to ditch textbooks in favour of Internet resources and other digital materials in Californian schools is a bold one, but it's hardly original. I'm a fan of Arnie as both an actor and politician, but I suspect on this occasion he is more interested in saving money than he is in raising the quality of learning on the US West Coast. True, digital material is easier to update and children do tend to have a natural affinity with gadgets and gizmos, notwithstanding all the rhetoric over Prensky's digital natives theory.

However, the cynical amongst us will point to California's state deficit of more than 24 billion dollars as the real inspiration behind Arnie's decision. But his decision may, and probably will, pay dividends of another kind in the future, providing he can drag the teachers along with him on his scheme. It will need to be more than just 'Hasta la (Microsoft) Vista, baby' for Arnie and his team, though. The use of digital media, and particularly social media such as Facebook and Twitter, must surely be the way forward to transform education in all sectors. But it should not be at the detriment of other forms of established, successful learning through more traditional methods. Books still have a place in pedagogy and probably always will have.

My research for the statewide project to wire the schools of South Dakota 7 years ago showed that digital technologies sit comfortably side by side with traditional media. We also found that learning is not transformed simply by the deployment of technology, but by its creative use to enhance learning opportunities and create new experiences. And only then, if the teachers will buy into it.

So Mr Terminator, whatever your motives, do forge ahead with your reforms, but please don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Relevant links:

Anthea Lipsett: Education by ebook branded a cheapskate scheme
Terry Freedman: Some pros and cons of online textbooks

Image source


James Clay said…
For me though within ten years EVERY book that has EVER been published will be available online (through digital libraries) I will still ensure that I have a Library full of books at my college.



Learners can make that choice about which media they wish to use to support their learning. If they want a book then fine, but they also have the choice to use an e-book or a digital resources or an online social network or a learning community...

For me learning technologies is all about as you say, enhancing and enriching experiences, not replacing them.

Robyn said…
Admire Arnie's sentiments, but I'm with you Steve, lots of students (especially the "mature" variety) have problems with screen reading, and many busy people like to have something to read while waiting for the kids football practise, the school bus, the train whatever, and unless you supply them with a really good eReader all they will do is print it out, which really defeats the purpose.
Bill said…
What Arnie fails to recognise is that people are not stupid and will see through this. The danger is that this will then breed cynicism amongst the teachers and pupils. This could have a significant impact and move forward practice of non IT enthusiasts in the teaching professions but will it be strategic and sustainable or accidental and piecemeal.

I was talking to some English lecturers yesterday about this who referred to research about the impact of using 'real' books with the smell and touch of real text which California seems to be ignoring.
The baby and bathwater concern is so pertinent to this decsion.
Robyn I agree with your comments and always think about a comment made at a reading conference about reading texts on screen. "Laptops may do the job of a book but would you sit on the toilet reading one of those for an hour?"
nlomax said…
Hang on a sec - what about the cost of supplying schools with laptops, accessories and anti-virus? Won't that cost more than books?
pauljinks said…
California is considering laying off 107,000 teachers if budget cuts are approved. This is part of the same cost-cutting that seeks to replace books with product placement, I mean laptops.

The headline may be exciting to edtechers but the reality is likely to be grim for the kids. My daughter would rather learn with 'gizmos' than books, certainly, but will she learn without sufficient motivated teachers?
Nick Sharratt said…
As has already been pointed out, I can't see this 'saving' money-at least short term. Technology costs, both the infrastructure and human resources to implement it...unless the thinking is that the ground work is established well enough to now just reap the savings. I'd doubt it, even in technologys leading edge in California.

As a dedicated follower of gadgets, I also agree with the view that 'real books' have a very special place in learning still - particularly old books which can convey a sense of history and import just from holding them. They also have a proven track record of being reslient media for very long periods-something technological options continually fail to do (doomsday book laser disk player anyone?)

I do think that future ebook readers using epaper will blur the experience of reading a book/screen sufficiently to remove that as a barrier - but again, I don't think the tech is there yet to not impact learning for some people. Eg the ebook readers at the moment provide a poor substitute to have pages from multiple books open at once and compare paragraphs/images from multiple sources, and the simple act of putting a bookmark to keep your place in a real book conveys much more utility than just finding your place again quickly - it also conveys how far through a book you are etc.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out though :-)

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