Surely conventional wisdom can’t be right

Jeff Jarvis says:

[…] The problems with books are many: They are frozen in time without the means of being updated and corrected. They have no link to related knowledge, debates, and sources. They create, at best, a one-way relationship with a reader. They try to teach readers but don’t teach authors. They tend to be too damned long because they have to be long enough to be books. As David Weinberger taught me, they limit how knowledge can be found because they have to sit on a shelf under one address; there’s only way way to get to it. They are expensive to produce. They depend on scarce shelf space. They depend on blockbuster economics. They can’t afford to serve the real mass of niches. They are subject to gatekeepers’ whims. They aren’t searchable. They aren’t linkable. They have no metadata. They carry no conversation. They are thrown out when there’s no space for them anymore. Print is where words go to die.

My tech preferences make me want to agree with Jeff Jarvis. I prefer reading (learning) with my computer and online for many of the reasons he cites. To me, books and other printed media are less useful.

So what to make of this, reported in today’s Telegraph:

Books are more than twice as effective as computers in raising standards among pupils, says a senior academic who spent 30 years training teachers to use computers. Spending £100 a year on books for each primary school pupil raised test scores by 1.5 per cent while the same amount invested in computer technology was less than half as effective, according to the study by Steve Hurd, a former teacher trainer specialising in computer assisted learning.

[…] Mr Hurd’s research team concluded that the average test scores for English, maths and science would rise by 1.5 per cent in schools spending £100 per pupil on books, a higher than average figure. The equivalent spent on technology made a difference of 0.72 per cent. The findings were based on data from 6,000 primary schools over three years.

Does the UK research mean British schoolkids are stuck in a conventional learning pothole? It seems to me more to be about school teachers in a pothole rather than the pupils.

My daughter’s a school teacher who teaches primary school kids in the UK, and who lives on her laptop (ok, so she’s a bit of a geek). Perhaps she’s representative of the new wave of teachers, those of a younger generation who clearly understands the role of technology as a learning and educational tool.

Yet it looks as though it might still take a while before computers supplant books in schools.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Stuart Bruce, BMA PR

    I need both. I couldn’t live without my fix of books, newspapers and printed magazines. And this is despite the fact I subscribe to hundreds of RSS feeds.

    Printed material I can read in bed or in the bath when I am most receptive to learning and thinking. When I’m at my computer (or using my pocket PC) I’m usually in doing mode. I will ‘look something up’ in an electronic reference manual but I’m extremely unlikely to browse through it. That’s why I detest product manuals that are just provided on CD. It’s OK for a reference or help file but not for something that benefits from being read in a linear fashion.

    For me personally the best learning experience is provided by a book that provides all of the background, theory and lists I can refer to – backed up by some practical, interactive exercises online.

  2. Shel Holtz

    I’m reading a 900-page biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It is as long as it needs to be to offer the biographical information, details of Hamilton’s life, and Chernow’s perspective based on exhaustive research. At 900 pages, I wouldn’t dream of reading this online. While Jarvis may have a point about some books, I’ll take print for most any day. (Besides, who would want to update “The Mayor of Casterbridge”?) New media do not kill old media.

  3. BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » Books as conversation

    […] Neville Hobson points to a report in the Telegraph that says test scores are raised more by investing in books over technology. I think it’s a red herring: Paper is cheaper and buying a computer will do you no more good than buying blank paper; it’s what’s on them that counts. He adds: Does the UK research mean British schoolkids are stuck in a conventional learning pothole? It seems to me more to be about school teachers in a pothole rather than the pupils. […]

  4. neville

    The way things are today, you don’t really have much choice. Reading on a computer screen isn’t ideal, even though I do it a lot (which is probably why I’m getting a new pair of specs soon).

    New media do not kill old media – absolutely right, Shel, as we’ve discussed plenty of times. Yet when you see what’s just around the corner such as the iLiad from iRex Technologies, I’ll take an “electronic paper” reader any day if it enables all the things Jeff Jarvis talked about. Which it does.

  5. Sherrilynne Starkie

    I like getting news, facts and figures from online media. But, I love reading a novel, a story, a biography etc off a page. There are lots of reasons why, but lately, the most important one is the distinction between work and play. For me reading stuff on line relates to my job and my business…reading hard copy about enjoying art and leisure. To me, reading a book is pure luxury.

  6. Anna Farmery

    I wonder whether this relates to learning styles as well. Maths, English and science all need a degree of thinking and the more in depth concepts need to sink in – often by re reading a theory to understand (personal experience of this through my Chartered Accountant exams!) But books do allow open access when computer access is sometimes limited, especially in the UK?

  7. Ed

    surely this is a case of the tools being there but the knowledge on how to use them is lagging some way behind?

    yes technology is extremely useful in learning, but it is useless if it’s being handled by some oxford don who can deconstruct theories brilliantly in his head and on paper but can barely check his email without calling the IT department.

    if we’re talking schools, we need to wait for the new breed of teacher (like Neville’s daughter) to replace the old guard and bring with them all of the technology that can complement traditional learning techniques.

  8. neville

    That’s an interesting one, Anna, re degree of thinking. That’s part of it, no doubt. Tools vs knowledge another one. Personal preferences, too.

    So books in general will be here for a long time, even though we will soon see devices like the one I mentioned and the corresponding products/services that you use those devices for.

    Personally, I can’t wait! I’d rather have one of those than a pile of books.

  9. Bryan Person

    When I really want to get into a good book, I need to do it away from a computer chair. I want to be able enjoy the book on my couch, on my back porch with a beer, or in bed just before I go to sleep. I don’t want to be in any of those places with computer on my lap.

    If the iRex device is lightweight and easy to use and “page through,” I’m all for it!

  10. neville

    Brian, it looks as though the iRex device might meet your requirements. You can even buy one from the company’s online store. Early adopter heaven!

  11. Bryan Person

    I won’t be the earliest adopter, though. I’ll need to see and hear from at least a few others before taking the plunge. And I wonder what it will be selling for? Can’t find that on the iRex site.

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