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Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Paper?

With the unstoppable growth in technology and the development of computers and more advanced mobile devices, publishers have started making digital versions of books available that were once only available in print format. Today, it’s safe to say that almost every student has a computer, a tablet, a mobile device; at least two out of these three devices, or maybe even all three. With these devices, they are given easy access to the Internet where a vast amount of information can be contained and easily accessible. Textbooks, which were often found at libraries or bought in bookstores once before can now be purchased, downloaded, and copied by anyone who has access to the Internet. Does this mean the end of paper books? Does this mean libraries and bookstores will now have to shut down? Well, not quite. 

Despite the fact that digital books have a number of advantages over printed textbooks, some college students have been reluctant to adopt the former. At first one might have thought that it’s simply because some students are not used to digital textbooks, because throughout their school years they were taught using printed textbooks. However, when research was conducted in order to determine the reaction of students to the two forms of textbooks, everything boiled down to preferences. Some students prefer paper textbooks (print), and some just don't. There are good and bad aspects when it comes to working with either a digital textbook or a printed one in college. Read below to find out more.

The Pros of Paper Textbooks
  • Paper textbooks can last a long time if handled carefully. After using them, you can either lend or sell it back to get money. 
  • When you lose your place in a paper book, it’s far easier to find it again making use of the index or a bookmark. It’s more comfortable when you have the freedom of flipping to the index, then to some other pages, and then back to the initial page you were reading. This feature is absent in digital textbooks and not very comfortable. 
  • You can write notes and make highlights in print textbooks. Students say that the physical process effectively helps them understand and remember the material. This is also partly due to the tactile sensation you get from holding the book in your hand; the position of texts on each page, the thickness of the pages you've read, and the pages yet to read. 
  • Print textbooks are independent; they don’t require batteries or a charger, and you don’t need a password in order to use them.
The Cons
  • They’re quite bulky, heavy to carry, and take quite a lot of space in our bags and shelves. An average student uses over five textbooks a semester and having to carry them all the time can be quite discomforting. 
  • Paper textbooks come with environmental consequences. With updates being made routinely, new editions of textbooks are printed out frequently. The cost of production increases and the earth’s resources continuously diminish. 
  • Excess marking or highlights can reduce the buyback price of a textbook. Even though after using our textbooks we have the option of selling or lending them out, it’s not certain that someone will actually buy it. The probability of someone eventually purchasing it depends on the state of your textbook. 
  • Paper textbooks tend to cost a lot of money. An average student spends over $600-$1000 on books per academic year, and many of them might not even be needed during the next year. 

The Pros of Digital Textbooks
  • Digital textbooks are highly flexible; they're interactive and provide multimedia options. Some digital textbooks have interactive features that students can benefit from such as video clips, reference-linking, a built-in dictionary for words students might not understand, language options, and self-assessment opportunities for students, which they can use to test their abilities (kind of like homework). Let's not forget digital textbooks can be visually appealing. 
  • In comparison to printed textbooks, digital textbooks are more available around the clock. They enable printing on demand (thus saving paper), and it's easier to make copies of the text. Digital texts also make it easier to search and find information. 
  • Students can access their textbooks anywhere, even on their mobile devices and at any period of time. They're not as heavy as books and don't cause discomfort when carrying them. You can even store a countless number of books in a single computer/tablet/reader and can always go back to them some years later. 
  • In addition to its accessibility, digital textbooks are never out of stock, they don't have to be shipped, and, in some cases, no financial expenses are needed in order to have access to them. It's also quite impossible to damage or lose them. Check out O'Reilly's Open Books effort where you can get many of their books for free, like my first books (Java AWT Reference).
The Cons of Digital Textbooks
  • Students are easily distracted when it comes to using digital devices. A lot of us may have experienced this a number of times when, perhaps, we were reading something on the Internet and got tempted to click on an interesting story or video clip. One click leads to another, and before we know it, we find ourselves browsing funny videos of cute cats on YouTube. We look up two hours later to realize that we had completely forgotten about our primary objective. 
  • Digital textbooks are available to only those who have a computer, e-book reader, or a mobile device as well as stable access to the Internet. 
  • Some students who don't have enough experience working with a computer might have trouble understanding how the process works. They might also encounter problems with logging in the online textbook database whether through user-error or a fault of the online service. 
  • There's the high risk of suffering from eye strain or CVS (Computer Vision Syndrome). This occurs when you stare too long at the screen of an electronic device and this, more often than not, might lead to severe consequences.
A recent study showed that students who study with digital textbooks perform just as well as those who study with print textbooks. Thus, the dilemma doesn't lie in the ability to acquire knowledge successfully from either of the two. Each form of textbook comes with its pluses and challenges, so it's left for us to just decide which of the two suits us better. But then again, we can always just make use of both digital and paper textbooks

Disclosure: Java John Z's did not receive compensation for this post and is not responsible for prize fulfillment.
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