Yesterday at our monthly CUNY Committee on Academic Technology meeting we had a discussion about digital content and e-textbooks. More specifically, CUNY is launching an initiative to encourage faculty to consider using e-content rather than traditional print textbooks in order to help reduce the costs of attending college for our students. A good discussion ensued about the pluses and minuses of one media vs. the other. In today’s NY Times there is an article (see URL below) on the pros and cons of digital readers. The article quotes Craig Mod, a computer programmer, book designer and book publisher as saying: “Print is dying. Digital is surging. Everyone is confused. Good riddance.” The article goes on to say that Mr. Mod argues that: “ it doesn’t really matter which vessel we choose to read on, since the content will always be king… For too long, the act of printing something in and of itself has been placed on too high a pedestal. The true value of an object lies in what it says, not its mere existence.” In sum, it is the content and not the delivery mechanism. I agree with his analysis and it reminds me of the grand debate that has gone on for three decades regarding the delivery of instruction digitally or face to face.
Some of the most extensive reviews of the research on computer education were conducted by James Kulik and his associates at the University of Michigan. In the 1970s and 1980s, they conducted a series of meta-analyses of hundreds of studies dealing with the effects of computer education at different grade levels (elementary, secondary, college, and adult). Their general conclusion was that computer-based education had a beneficial effect on academic achievement, although it was not uniformly true at all grade levels. However, Richard Clark refuted the findings by questioning the research controls of most of the studies that were included in the Kulik meta-analyses. Clark further concluded that the computer was basically a vehicle carrying an instructional substance and that real improvement in achievement only comes with improving the substance, not the vehicle. Clark’s position has been challenged over the years by a number of researchers including Robert Kozma and Jack Koumi who see the medium as integral to the delivery of instruction. However, the two differing opinions on this issue remain and the “great debate” continues to this day. As an indication of the importance of this debate, if one was to do a search on “Clark Kozma” on google or yahoo, there will be hundreds of hits, many of which refer to websites and blogs created in the past couple of years.
The NY Times article is available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/11/technology/11reader.html?th&emc=th