Right now in American Studies we use both traditional books like The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volumes A-E, American Spirit Vol. 2,
Masur’s 1831 and Gordon Wood’s American Revolution. a mash up of historical texts that we post in unit folders on livebinder (Here is our first unit folder).
We are about 60/40 paper to digital right now and next year we are ditching the document book and will be more at a ratio of 50/50. Yet, while we are teaching in a digital world and moving more towards digital texts, I thought it worthwhile to provide a synopsis of why paper books still hold value in an interdisciplinary American Studies classroom, even a tech based one like ours.
Because we teach a course that combines both history and culture, I have found that basically we have evolved to a philosophy where short assignments, traditional text book readings and documents are posted online while our lengthy assignments i.e. 20 pages or more are handled via paper. This is what has worked for us, and here are a few reasons why paper books have retained their value in our classroom:
1.Books are still better teaching when students how to read closely and discuss literature. We mainly read the literature of the course i.e. As I Lay Dying, A Streetcar Named Desire,White Noise, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay to name a few, in anthologies. We very much like using the anthologies as it is important to us that our students learn how to mark up texts and turn many pages. Yes, students can highlight, take notes, and underline on many digital platforms, but I have yet to see students consistently do so when reading digitally as they do when reading lengthier assignments on paper. Their digital annotations are just not as meaningful or well done. For now, the technology is just not seamless enough, and it takes to much sustained effort.
2.For literature discussions it is quite helpful to actually be able to turn to the same page, and it has been problematic for our students who do read digitally to follow along and locate passages on the electronic versions. Our students bring their own devices and so are reading many different versions of texts which can be confusing and pull energy away from our discussions. Furthermore, there is evidence that students have a harder time recalling and placing information especially when reading longer assignments.
3. Many of our students and some of us teachers find it easier to read lengthy assignments on paper both in terms of our eyes and our ability to focus only on the text. Books do not have pop up chat windows or internet. Furthermore, books don’t run out of power. I think it is a valuable skill that we impart to kids when we ask them to focus on something that doesn’t run off of electricity.
4. Finally, we enjoy seeing how much pride our students take in the vast amounts they have read. I know they would be reading the same amount on a device, but there is something about holding a 2000 page anthology and realizing that you’ve read over half of it that is incredibly gratifying and lost by our digital readers.
So while we will become even more digital in the next year, and there are certainly many benefits to digital texts, for now at least, paper still holds value for us and our students.
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I’ve always thought that reading a novel on Kindle was a smooth experience, but that reading anything (fiction or nonfiction) that needed highlighting, margin notes, or even just flipping back and forth between pages was too awkward and convoluted on any electronic device. The technology just doesn’t live up to the ease of paper and pencil.