Should Tablets Replace Textbooks In K-12 Schools Essay

This post is part of a new blog series where two authors present the pro and con side of a relevant topic – this week, that topic is tablets versus textbooks in the classroom. If you like (or dislike) the format, or just want to get involved in the conversation, please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page!


by Kacey Templin

Technology use in the classroom has been evolving since the beginning of formalized education. Radio in the 1920s heralded the introduction of on-air classes. Lantern slides, first introduced in 1870, were succeeded by the invention of the overhead projector in 1930. Videotapes shook up the education world in 1951, then the handheld calculator in 1972, then the first personal computer in 1981, and so on. It is natural for classrooms to adopt advancing technology as it enhances the education of the student. The introduction of the tablet provides a new and valuable way for students to communicate, study, and learn, and should be integrated into daily educational practices of American students.

In a 2012 survey conducted by PBS LearningMedia, 81% of teachers felt that tablets enriched classroom education, regardless of grade level, classroom education of the student population, and types of communities. This is not an unwarranted notion. According to the US Department of Education, technology-based instruction can reduce the time students take to reach a learning objective by 30-80%. What’s more is that multiple studies corroborate with the finding that tablets positively influence education. A 2011 study by the University of California Irvine found that medical students equipped with iPads scored 23% higher on national exams than previously unequipped classes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt found that middle schools students using tablets in Riverside, California improved their math scores by 20% over the course of the year compared to students using traditional textbooks. Fifth graders who regularly played Motion Math (an iPad game designed to help with fundamental math skills) over the course of 5 days increased tests score by 15% on average. Integrating tablets into classrooms across the country can unlock massive educational potential inherent in students.

Switching from textbooks to tablets can also be an environmentally friendly choice. Producing a Kindle creates the same CO2 as 30 books, reducing the environmental costs of education. When schools make the switch, paper waste from textbook printing is eliminated. Children can store their e-books, notes, and projects all on one device. Not only this, physical textbooks are no longer made obsolete when new editions are released. A student can download the most up-to-date information in a simple 5-minute update rather than tossing out the old version and purchasing the new.

With e-books you get the educational material, plus the use of the internet and other helpful tools in one location. If a student is unsure about a word or the validity of a statement, they can look it up instantly using Google. Students can utilize social media platforms to post assignments, hold discussions, and give feedback (with teacher guidance). Students can take pictures or make movies, then upload them directly to their assignments on the same screen. If a student has a question or concern, they can send an email to the teacher on the same device they’re reading their textbook.

There is an argument that tablets are more expensive to purchase than textbooks. In 2012, the Federal Communication Commission found that K-12 school districts spend more than $8 billion per year on textbooks. When the FCC evaluated side-by-side costs of traditional learning versus “new” learning, they found that schools ended up saving an average of $250 per student per year if they moved to digital textbooks. This included the costs associated with digital content, devices, technology, and connectivity. Tablets are also continuing to become more and more affordable, some even as inexpensive as $120. What accounts for the larger savings is the cost of e-books, which cost 50-60% less than traditional textbooks. Less money spent on books allows schools to relieve other educational needs.

E-books are less expensive and convenient, and they’re also better for back health. A study conducted by the University of California showed that typical backpack loads with traditional textbooks place heavy compression on the discs of the spine and exacerbates the curvature of the lower spine. Heavy backpacks can also decrease the range of motion in the ligaments and muscles attached to the spine, which can cause reduced neck and shoulder movement. The 2010 study found that children commonly carry backpacks that weigh between 10% to 22% of their bodyweight. It’s easy to see why a 1 to 2-pound tablet would be a much safer alternative to heavy textbooks.

Today, one third of middle and high school students are using mobile devices issued by their schools. There is strong evidence to support that these devices are improving the education of these students, and changing the face of learning in America for the better. Although tablets cannot and should not replace all forms of teaching, they can create a customized and enhanced learning experience for the user. The tablet is the next step the evolution of education, and will be the stepping stone for further enhancement in the decades to come.


By Alana Hackes

It’s 2017 and the use of the internet as well as the technology that connects people to it is at an all-time high. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2013 that “71 percent of the U.S. population age 3 and over used the Internet.” As the use of technology has grown, so has the use of technology in the classrooms. Ed Tech Magazine did a survey on technology use in the classroom and found that 90% of classrooms had a personal computer or PC, 59% had interactive whiteboards, and 35% had tablets/electronic readers available in the classroom. As technology becomes more and more available in the classroom, teachers have to consider the consequences of having technology as part of the learning process.

The internet, and technology in general, has created a world where the answer to a question can be answered within seconds just by typing it into a search engine. With the click of a mouse, every question has an answer that is provided within articles and websites. There is more information available now than people have ever been able to access before. Having an abundance of information available to students instantly, however, doesn’t automatically result in higher test scores or a greater retention of knowledge. Ben Kesling wrote in his article, Technology in Classrooms Doesn’t Always Boost Education Results, OECD Says, that “we have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogues that make the most of technology; that adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.” The issue is that teachers aren’t trained in how to integrate technology into their lesson plans and in turn aren’t able to show their students how to effectively use technology for learning. Kesling suggests that it’s not enough to just give students access to an abundance of information, but rather that they need to be taught how to use that technology in the classroom.

Additionally, the use of tablets is accompanied by a variety of health problems. Prolonged use of tablets can lead to neck and back problems. The article, The Health Problems with Apple’s iPad and Other Tablet Computers reported that the way in which people hold their tablets, whether it be “in the lap with the tablet held with their hand, in the lap with the tablet resting against its case at the low angle position, on a table against the case at the low angle position, and on a table with the case at its high position” can likely cause neck pain when using a tablet for a long period of time (Wagner). The eyes are also affected by tablet use. People who frequently use tablets experience “eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and dry eyes,” according to American Optometric Association. These health effects can be harmful for students in the long-term as well as distracting if they experience them in the classroom.   

Despite the negative effects of tablets, health and education-wise, there’s plenty of research that suggests that the key is not to ban technology from education completely, but rather to have an even mix of both technology and traditional teaching. Researchers call it “blended learning” and this type of learning incorporates “both face-to-face and online learning opportunities” (U.S. Department of Education). The benefits of blended learning include improving “educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning, taking advantage of learning time outside of school hours, and reducing the cost of instructional materials, and better utilizing teacher time.” While technology can be beneficial to the learning process, it’s important to note that solely using technology will bring about better learning. It’s important to have a mixture of both technology and the teachers that teach students to use it effectively.

Well before the cleanup from Superstorm Sandy was in full swing, students could read about the weather system that slammed the East Coast in their textbooks.

Welcome to the new digital bookcase, where traditional ink-and-paper textbooks have given way to iPads and book bags are getting lighter. Publishers update students' books almost instantly with the latest events or research. Schools are increasingly looking to the hand-held tablets as a way to sustain students' interest, reward their achievements and, in some cases, actually keep per-student costs down.

"We must use technology to empower teachers and improve the way students learn," said Joel Klein, a former New York City schools' chief who now leads News Corp.'s education tablet program. "At its best, education technology will change the face of education by helping teachers manage the classroom and personalize instruction."

News Corp. introduced their Amplify tablet during a breakfast Wednesday at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. Priced at $299, the 10-inch unit runs on a school's wireless Internet system and comes with software for teachers to watch each student's activities, offer instant polls and provide anonymous quizzes to gauge student understanding.

Orders placed by June 30 will be ready for the start of the school year in the fall, officials at Rupert Murdoch's company said, adding yet another platform for schools to consider.

Putting a device in every student's hand is not a pie-in-the-sky dream. Some 2,000 schools already have partnered with Google to use its lightweight Chromebooks, which start at $199. Some 20 million students and teachers are already using them, company officials said.

And a study from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found that more than 40 percent of students or teachers use some sort of tablet in their Advanced Placement and National Writing Project classrooms.

"When you think about it, these are A.P. classes and National Writing Project classes, and 4 in 10 say they are using these devices," said Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. "That's 6 in 10 who aren't using them. We still have a lot of room for growth."

In coming years, growth seems to be the norm.

Christine Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council, has suggested replacing textbooks - they cost the city $100 million a year - with tablets. Schools in Los Angeles last month allocated $50 million to start buying tablets for every student; the project is expected to cost $500 million by the time it is completed. Schools in McAllen, Texas, distributed 6,800 Apple tablets last year at a cost of $20.5 million.

But it's not just the biggest school districts making the shift. The Eanes Independent School District in Austin is distributing more than 2,000 iPads to every student, from kindergarteners to high school seniors. The cost: $1.2 million.

Students, unlike some of their parents, aren't blinking.

"The biggest challenge is that they're growing up as digital natives, but when they get to the school door, they have to leave that at the door," said Scott Kinney, who trains teachers on how to use Discovery Education's products, which work on various platforms. "Kids are very comfortable with these things, so why aren't we reaching them in a way that's most beneficial to students?"

Discovery, the top digital content provider to U.S. schools, recognizes its potential to keep students interested with the most up-to-date material. For instance, it updated its science lessons for students in grades six through high school to incorporate Superstorm Sandy within weeks of its making landfall.

Students traced the path of the storm using digital maps, compared the changes in barometric pressure with wind speed and proposed cleanup plans for the region - even while cleanup crews were still working.

That fast turnaround is one of the main advantages of shifting to digital textbooks. So, too, are their language functions. For instance, a student working on his homework with a parent who isn't fluent in English can switch to Spanish. The textbooks can toggle between languages so students who aren't native speakers can check their understanding.

Another advantage: the digital books' cost. Discovery's lessons - branded "Techbooks" that run on laptops, desktops, iPads or other tablets - run between $38 and $55 per student for a six-year subscription. The average traditional textbook is $70 per student.

More than a half-million students are using Discovery's texts in 35 states on various platforms.

But technology doesn't guarantee success.

"If the teacher doesn't know how to use it, obviously it's not going to make much difference," said Mevlut Kaya, a computer teacher at Orlando Science Schools, a charter program that offered each student a leased iPad if he or she achieved a 3.5 grade point average.

In classrooms at the private Avenues: The World School in New York City, students at all levels receive an iPad and then receive an iPad and MacBook Air in middle school. The school doesn't buy textbooks and, in most cases, teachers automatically send students their reading and homework assignments over the school's wireless Internet network.

It's a system that's normal for students, who often already have mastered the technology.

"They live in the world where they have these distractions, where they have an iPad on their desk or a smartphone in their pocket," said Dirk Delo, the school's chief technology officer.

That's not to say there should be an instant shift, even technology evangelists warned.

"All too often, the technology programs I observed seemed more focused on bells and whistles, gadgets and gizmos, than on improving learning," Klein said. "And in many school districts, teachers have been handed technology they either don't think is effective or don't know how to use. The last thing we need is just another pile of unused laptops in the back or the classroom."

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