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E-Texts

For my first blog entry, I want to share an editorial that was written by Nicholas Carr and first published in the Dallas Morning News on August 5, 2011. You can find the text of the editorial here: http://www.macon.com/schools-beware-the-e-book-bandwagon.html
Let me start with a disclaimer that I am a fan of Nicholas Carr. This link will open a webpage containing a quick biography of him: http://www.nicholasgcarr.com
I have been struck by his thoughts about how recent changes in technology are affecting brain development. What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains is amazing and scary all at once. It is also controversial and not universally accepted.
Contrast Carr’s editorial with Governor Rick Perry’s call (reported April 7, 2010) to do away with all paper textbooks by 2014: http://www.nbcdfw.com/Gov-Perry-Wants-School-Texts-to-be-Online-Only-by-2014.html
Clearly, Texas is not the only state looking at doing away with paper texts. And I will agree with some of the points that Governor Perry makes, such as subject content changing more quickly than current production of paper texts can support.
However, I am struck more by Carr’s message that electronic media can negatively impact the way students interact with text. I am really thinking about how this might be true for students who will not be dealing with the text in any visual manner. If students are moving from one visual media to another (traditional print books to print on an electronic device) and are having issues scanning, exploring, interacting with text, how much more difficult might it be for a student who is having to take the information that was created visually and deal with it in a “second-hand” format, such as an audio file?
Clearly, for some students, moving from print text in books to print text in electronic readers is no problem. And for students with low vision, it may be a wonderful solution in terms of adjusting font size, lighting, portability, etc. For some struggling readers, having the option of having both text and audio versions of the text may support reading.
But braille formats exist for a reason: to enhance reading comprehension and interaction with the text. They help inform the reader about what is coming up, help the reader understand changes in emphasis, changes in style, give cues as to the type of writing, etc.
Take this example from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for 7th Grade Language Arts. This is from the section on reading: http://ritter.tea.texas.gov.html
“(4) Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Poetry. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the structure and elements of poetry and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to analyze the importance of graphical elements (e.g., capital letters, line length, word position) on the meaning of a poem. “
What is the impact of having auditory text only for a reader to successfully achieve this skill?
I do believe that an argument must be made for keeping paper textbooks, especially for students who use braille. Even electronic readers with refreshable braille cells only give limited line information; the affordable technology isn’t there for full page text at this time.
I have other opinions about issues with the use of electronic textbooks and electronic multimedia learning products that I hope to explore in future blog postings.

Jim Durkel
APH Materials, VI Registration & Deafblind Census
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach
Teaching Business Software Applications
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