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The Digital Textbook Divide

April 15, 2013

The Digital Textbook Divide

by Mike Sheffey

Online and digital textbooks are a growing resource for college students. They can be cheap, interactive, fun and sometimes more useful than their traditional predecessors. And now there is a surge of technology for professors to use as well, including ways to digitally check if their students are reading the assigned material.

I personally have only used digital textbooks as accompaniments to hardcover books but the concept of an entirely digital book is enticing. Only having to carry around a tablet or laptop is a great thing for students burdened by long walks across campus with clunky book bags. But when I’m assigned a reading, I assume that the teacher trusts that I’ll do it – not that I necessarily have to but because it will benefit me in the long run. I think that checking via software forces students to do something that a good student would already do. And I think that most college students aren't attending college to NOT do their assignments; it’s not a cheap investment to just sit around!

Honor codes at most colleges deal with assignments, cheating, etc. The idea is great but its execution comes across a bit untrusting from professors. It may also not be the best way to keep tabs on student learning. For some, this kind of checking could benefit them but students have their own unique study methods and could do poorly on the online checks but still ace tests. Programs like CourseSmart (one of the online data collecting programs) could be useful to chart progress overall but to place grades or too much merit in the technology conveys a message to students that professors don’t trust their commitment to coursework. People learn different ways and should be given the opportunity to study, read and work the way that is best for them.

Overall, the idea of digital textbooks is a great one if used properly: as an additional resource and not a primary way of determining student learning. Other resources, quizzes and methods should be used as well to provide a balance in various learning styles. What has your experience with digital textbooks been?

Mike Sheffey is a junior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.


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