Monday, January 25, 2010

A few strong cases for ditching the paper and letting books grow digital wings

More and more innovative educators see the value of conducting reading and writing digitally. Here are a few cases for those educators who have bought into going on a paper diet so they can Ditch Paper and Get to the Thinking Faster.

Joe's Non Netbook
Watch this video about a student who is frustrated as he encounters the extreme limitations of the outdated paper technology. This video was an impromptu exchange between Joe the student and @MrChase who teaches at Chris Lehmann's Science Leadership Academy. Think about if it is paper or digital that is more suited to meeting various learning styles and needs of students.

What Happens When You Combine A Phone and A Book?

It’s a really simple idea (essentially a cardboard box with an iPhone sized hole!) that combines print and technology beautifully.

What Happens When you Give a 3, 4, 8-Year-Old an iTouch?
I recently happened to come across all these pieces separately. Each of them addresses in a different way how a digital iTouch has become an engaging and preferred tool for student reading and writing. I don't think any of the creators knew about one another when crafting their pieces. They all make strong cases about the power of providing tech to students. The message that comes to mind strongly is the tactile experience that digital technology provides. When I hear folks reminisce about the "feel of the book" I think about how much richer the experience could be digitally. This first video does an amazing job of conveying this.

Why an iPhone could actually be good for your 3-year-old

Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone?

Marc Prensky shares how his four-year-old uses his iTouch for reading, writing, drawing and more.

What happens when you give a class of 8 year old children an iPod touch each?

In this video you see students using iTouches devices like it's second nature just like they do outside the classroom. They use the devices for reading, writing research and more using applications that are either free or much less expensive than the traditional textbook.

Devices to Take Textbooks Beyond Text

I am not a supporter of textbooks, but if educators can't break away from the outdated habit, digital is an improvement that is considered in this NY Times article. From the article: NEWSPAPERS and novels are moving briskly from paper to pixels, but textbooks have yet to find the perfect electronic home. Now there is a new approach that may adapt well to textbook pages: two-screen e-book readers with a traditional e-paper display on one screen and a liquid-crystal display on the other to render graphics like science animations in color.

Where do we go from here
Innovative educators are starting to take the charge to save our students from drowning in paper. They are doing this not by going out and purchasing new gadgets, but rather by embracing the technology which many our students already have access to in their homes whether it's a smartphone, iTouch, iPhone, etc. While we can provide some of this technology in school, the transformation really begins once we begin harnessing the power of the fourth screen to engage in their reading, writing, and thinking 21st century style


  1. Both my husband and I have iPhones and it didn't take long for our 4 year old and our 1 1/2 year old to get interested. On my word as an educator we did not show either of them how to turn it on or unlock it and we gave rather minimal guidance after that. Without any instruction my youngest mastered touch, swipe, knows what a play button is, and draws using multiple colors. My oldest loves the LightSaber app and regularly asks to play games like Topple. So far they really just play with the phones but I can see that the possibilities as an educational tool are endless.

  2. My cousins 2 year old received an Ipod touch for Christmas. I am amazed out how he knows how to navigate on it. I am interested to see though if it's going to help him develop more mentally. Samantha :-)

  3. I don't mean to be the rain on the parade, but these videos didn't seem very convincing. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for interactive, linkable, and socially discussable text, but I didn't see much of that in the field examples here.

    The iPhone + Book video looked like it was just an iPhone in a clunky book shell, with some kind of interactive game that, while looking pretty neat, had nothing to do with reading or even learning, as far as I could tell.

    Then there were the 4-year-olds touching the screen to pop bubble wrap. Was it actually a surprise that they were able to do this? What was the purpose of the experiment/demonstration?

    Even the class wielding iPod Touches struck me as odd. I don't own an iPod Touch myself, but from what I've gathered, the device only has a few hours of battery life with wifi, so students would have to keep them plugged in much of the time - that is unless it's just a novelty taken out occasionally for projects and not actually classroom-transforming as it should be. So if they'll be tethered to the wall, why not just get them a bunch of netbooks or actual laptops? They could view webpages more easily, actually watch videos that require Flash, run a greater variety of applications, and generally just do the things they would do on the iPod Touch, but faster and more easily. No one claims that devices like smartphones or the iPod Touch are better than using an actual computer - the primary advantage is it fits in your pocket. These students aren't on the go, so remind me again, why the iPod Touches?

    I'm not trying to be cynical, just honestly critical. I'm excited about the potential of these technologies as well. It just seems the field examples only demonstrate that these educators aren't quite getting it. Or am I missing something?

  4. Chris, thank you for the feedback. To respond to some of your points I think the biggest case for digital media is the things that you’re all for, “interactive, linkable, and socially discussable text.” The reader has ownership of his/her reading and can actually turn what used to be a passive, one way experience into a conversation. That’s huge! That alone makes the case. Then to address why iTouch, my philosophy is the tool doesn’t matter. I don’t care if it’s an iTouch, a Netbook, or a Smartphone. All are very powerful and a variety of platforms can achieve the same goal. My outlook is that it would be an amazing cost saver if schools stopped focusing on one-size-fits-all and banning and let kids bring their own digital devices to school. Whatever device they have is fine. Kids can read from their iPhones, iTouches, laptops, netbooks, Smartphones etc. For those who don’t have, the school can supplement, but opening the doors to personally owned devices provides thousands of dollars of resources to all schools. If we let students use their own devices supplemented by devices from the school as needed, students would also instantly have access to an endless amount of resources and materials right at their fingertips. A personal library for every child at an incredible fraction of the cost of the funds this would require if this was actual printed material.

    Regarding the examples, I loved the impromptu conversation recorded at the Science Leadership Academy in “Joe’s Non-Netbook.” I thought that was fantastic and clearly demonstrated the value of digital over text. I took the bubble wrap example as a symbolic demonstration of the idea that even something as simple as popping bubbles moved digital becomes much more interesting. I personally like the iPhone book. To me the idea was just kind of bringing the book to life and making it interactive. That said, if you have other examples, please share. I’d love to include in a follow up post.


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