Those who remember strapping on heavy backpacks full of textbooks before they trudged to school likely never imagined one handheld device could hold all that information and more.
Though it probably would have been welcomed and appreciated.
“Have you seen the size of textbooks lately?” asks Daphne Snook, director of curriculum, instruction and technology at Midd-West School District. “It is no exaggeration that measurements of these texts range from approximately one inch to around three inches thick. You can imagine what it is like for students to carry textbooks to and from classes, but imagine if you had to carry all of them home at night for homework.”
Enter electronic books, better known as eBooks.
With more than 50 electronic devices available for eBooks, the phenomenon of reading without holding a bound book is getting more popular by the day.
But is this good or bad for children?
The issue has both supporters and dissenters among educators.
“It’s coming, and I’m not sure how fast it’s coming,” said Sue Hoffman, an after-school and nonpublic school program manager with the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit.
“Technology is advancing in education at a very fast rate,” she said.
It is so fast, in fact, that Greg Clingham, a professor of English and director of the Bucknell University Press, said he’s not even sure if there are even any statistics yet on eBooks having an effect on learning.
“If you just think for a moment about the enormous proliferation of computer technology that has happened in the last five years and all its associated applications,” Clingham said, “the pace is so quick that people, before we even have a chance to kind of assess where we are at this moment, we’re in another moment.”
Though he is not aware of eBooks becoming a primary source of instruction in grade schools, he said, “I’m sure it will come.”
Kendal Rautzhan, of Lewisburg, is a nationally syndicated writer and lecturer on children’s literature. “Clearly there are environmental and monetary benefits to eBooks,” she said, “and unfortunately — in my opinion — they will probably rule some day too soon, for adults as well as children.”
“However,” she said, “as far as I’m concerned, nothing can replace a physical copy of a children’s book to be read aloud to a child.”
Illustrations are compromised when looking at a small computer screen, she said.
She thinks eBooks will compromise the “age-old tradition of hearing a great story told aloud. Humans are wired for storytelling, and I fail to see how eBooks can successfully fill that need for children.”
Patrons of the Thomas Beaver Free Library in Danville can download eBooks for free with their library card.
Most are read simply for enjoyment, said Bonnie White, library director. And most users are middle-aged or older.
Reading to your child is “extremely important,” White said. But, “the same can happen with an eBook.”
While a child does need to get “the sense of book literacy,” such as learning numbers from the page numbers, and page turning, as well as what is upside down and right-side up, once past the beginner reader stages, White said, “It probably doesn’t matter that much … I think the most important thing is if they read.”
The Selinsgrove Community Library also offers plenty of eBooks, available through its website.
“If eBooks encourage reading, then I think that is a good thing,” said Jennifer Johnston, library director.
“Each person is going to have their preference,” she added. “There will always be people, like myself, who will prefer the book that you hold in your hand that you can turn the page and experience it fully. Others will only want to read books on their Kindle or Nook. That’s the beauty of it, I guess — it gives people options.”
For some, like Rautzhan, however, there is a fear that eBooks will take over.
“It saddens me greatly to think that ‘real’ books, as we have always known them, may soon disappear,” she said.
Others, don’t believe that will be the case.
“Not everything they use is going to be electronic,” White said. “Not yet, anyway.”
No one can deny there are many benefits to eBooks, Clingham said, but they do require electricity, and thus, cannot be accessed in every circumstance people find themselves.
“I think there will always be print books, at least for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“I think people will perhaps think differently about books,” he said. “The book will not become a rare object, but a special object.”
In fact, even in the face of the eBook revolution, the number of print books being sold is rising, Clingham said.
“The more they buy electronic books, the more they buy print books,” he said. “It’s a strange psychology, but it’s true.”
The eBook industry may still be in its infancy, and despite uncertainties among educators, many are still including them in their schools and education programs so they aren’t left behind.
Hoffman wants to start an Amazon Kindle book club for the children involved in her after-school program. The Kindle is one of the more popular eBook reading devices.
She hopes these students, in grades 7 to 12, will be more encouraged to read, as the program will fit in with their already technology-stimulated lives.
There are more than 72,000 eBooks at the Susquehanna University Blough-Weis Library .
“The library has been purchasing eBooks, which can offer great cost savings when bought in large collections with a consortium of other libraries,” said Kathleen Gunning, director.
Students working on the university’s Global Opportunities programs can access the library’s online collections to learn more about and prepare for their U.S. or abroad experience.
In addition, the university offers a Follett’s Cafe Scribe eBook program, allowing students to highlight, take notes, form study groups and network with other students who are using it, according to Kevin McCarty, campus bookstore manager.
This year, the Bucknell University Press will produce all of its books in electronic book form and prepare them in files to go to many different e-reader handheld devices.
“From this year onward, all Bucknell University Press books will indeed be going into electronic format, but also in print,” Clingham said.
At the Midd-West School District, teachers do use electronic resources that complement the print textbooks, Snook said.
Features such as clickable vocabulary words and online narration, she said, are benefits for children.
“These features not included in a paper book would definitely enhance a child’s level of comprehension,” she said.
“Students could have all their content downloaded on one laptop,” she added, “which would take up less than one inch in their backpacks, weigh considerably less than a stack of textbooks, and be easily accessible.”
Or they could access all the information they need from the Internet in the evening at home.
In addition, print textbooks are out of date within a year or two after publication, Snook said, and electronic books can be updated easily.
But at the same time, CSIU’s Hoffman said, “We have to watch we don’t bore the kids with technology. They need that personal touch and acknowledgement. I still think you need a person there to tell them they’re doing good.”