Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Digital Textbooks and the Snark Syndrome

I think I now do most of my academic and professional reading online so I have no doubt there is a place for digital text. I am not sure I would want to read an entire textbook online but having a digital version certainly makes the content much more accessible. But I get concerned when the motivation for moving to digital textbooks and digital resources is based on the unsupported claims about the net generation and its supposed digital literacy.

This article from the New York Times provides an example of the Snark Syndrome at work as the move to digital textbooks is justified by one school district official on the grounds that kids today are "wired differently". According to Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La, “they’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite. They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote." Really?

By all means, let's use digital resources but let's do it on the basis of an identified and appropriate need not an unsubstantiated generalization that, because it has been repeated several times, is treated as fact.

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