Thursday, September 30, 2010

Parents and Teachers Need to Embrace Digital Reading and New Technology

Imagine a world where a book can be with you anywhere. You could conjure it up, no physical book needed, any blank space or place will do, a table, a wall, a piece of paper or thin air against a blue sky. I think that day is coming. A Berkeley University study published in 2003 explains how knowledge is expanding exponentially. Where are we going to publish all of this information? Paper and ink makes less and less sense. So what about the paper and ink book? I love the touch and feel of books, to have the words in hand, like viewing an original painting connects you with the artist, the book with the author. But the current world demands new thought about books and reading and perhaps we will find that different modalities of books, print, audio, digital will serve varied purposes and offer readers their preference and interesting choices. A study by Scholastic Books as reported in the New York Times states that 57% of school aged children are interested in reading digital books and that 25 percent of students surveyed had read a digital book. So what is the problem? Somehow the tenor of this article makes it sound as if parents feel that technology is the enemy, reminiscent of parental reactions in the past to: in the 30's and 40's radio and motion pictures, in the 50's and 60's TV and Rock and Roll and cracks in traditional values, in the 70's- Pong, and a breaking with traditional values and in the 80's Super Mario Brothers and other games, and home computers becoming ubiquitous. Then came the more threatening, interpersonal interactive iterations of technology like email, high powered Internet service, intersecting platforms of delivery between cell phones and PCs. I am sure the list will continue to grow. Every decade seems to have technological advances that scare parents. I am sure the light bulb did the same in its day. So how far a field have I gotten from my first few sentences about digital books? Not far, I feel fear may be blocking an unfettered discussion of the incredible possibilities that digital books can bring to our society. As a professor, who teaches teachers and grad students, and as a parent I feel compelled to weigh in on this most important and urgent issue. Parents and teachers technology is not our enemy, it is our friend. I would like to clarify this statement by saying that many technological advances and applications are so new to the world that their potential problems and applications need to be tinkered with as we all get swept along. Our concerns of cyber bullying, lurking Internet stalkers, and Internet identity theft and fraud, all serious issues, that were somehow unforeseen, will be the new focus of legislation and constitutional debate. Yes these aspect of technology are rightfully scary, especially to parents. Playing video games, as other aspects of a child's life, like sports, TV watching and hobbies should be scheduled with thoughtful guidence by parents or guardians. But the idea of parents being afraid of technology as being too much of distraction for children may need revisiting. Like it or not technology is the fabric of our modern existence, and yes it continues to change things radically. So I was a little dismayed when the New York times article stated, "But many parents surveyed also expressed deep concerns about the distractions of video games, cellphones and television in their children’s lives. They also wondered if the modern multi-tasking adolescent had the patience to become engrossed in a long novel." I found this statement funny in a way. Students today do and accomplish so much. They do multi-task and yes, they still find time to read. I would like to dispel this deep concern with fact, according to a National Educational Association Study in 2009 as reported by the National Endowment for the Arts, more young adults are reading good literature than ever before, and I quote:

-Demographics of literature readers

-Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18-24 year olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20 percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.

-Since 2002, reading has increased at the sharpest rate (+20 percent) among Hispanic Americans, Reading rates have increased among African Americans by 15 percent, and among Whites at an eight percent rate of increase.

-For the first time in the survey's history, literary reading has increased among both men and women. Literary reading rates have grown or held steady for adults of all education levels. (NEA,2009).

If I had to guess, I would say that within the next five years most school aged children are going to be reading online, digital books either from handheld devices or on their laptops. Further, I believe that this shift will bring about a leveler playing field as
more schools are legally mandated to go digital with their text booksthere will also have to be equal access to those textbooks afforded to every student. Potentially required digital media textbooks and books for public school students could help lessen and even erase the digital divide which currently exists between the rich and the poor. So I am excited about technology, bring it on. But as teachers and parents let us recognize that we must be good stewards of this technology. Martha Stone Wiske, Co-Director of the Educational Technology Center wrote a wonderful article exploring how the use of technology requires a shift away from traditional teaching methods, she states that,
" To change school practice, curriculum goals and materials, assessment policies, and teacher
development must shift. Without these changes, a new technology will merely be used to enact traditional practices(2010, p73).
So let us look at our school aged children and celebrate their attraction to technology and let us become educated in how digital books, and the myriad of technology in use can raise all boats!