Through the past year I have learned to largely ignore a majority of the emails that have clogged my inbox. There’s only so many ways I can read that Jon Tester cares about farmers and veterans and Montanans and Rehberg doesn’t, and vice versa, before the gray TV static that we have lost to digital televisions resurrects itself in my mind. But I received an interesting email recently, in my junk box no less, about a website, the non-profit ProCon.org, and its debate over the merits of traditional textbooks over the new tablet computers that have taken over the education world faster than the Nazis took Luxembourg (those old books worked well enough for me).
While we are only a few months into the first year of tablet-infused education, and making conclusions about their effects would be premature, this site offers some interesting statistics from other districts for, as is appropriate for a group called ProCon, both sides of the debate.
The case for tablets ranges from less paper to faster learning. A study of an Algebra I class in California that used iPads found a 20 percent improvement on standardized tests over their peers who used textbooks.
As far as problems, there are the typical health concerns from screens: headaches, eye strain, blurred vision, carpal tunnel, etc. Also theft.
“In San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, robberies related to internet-enabled handheld devices (including tablets) have accounted for 50, 40, and 25 percent respectively of all robberies in 2012,” the site said.
Complaints also included crashing, freezing, hacking and charging problems.
Speaking for textbooks, the site says they are more reliable and affordable for school districts. They are better “for less-technologically-savvy students.”
One of their points is that books are good enough. A student with a book “still learns the basics of anatomy, physics, algebra, geometry, and the US government.”
Against textbooks, the site notes that they can’t be upgraded, they are more expensive, and they cause their own health problems.
“During the 2011-12 school year more than 13,700 US children, aged 5 to 18, were treated in hospitals and doctors' offices for backpack-related injuries such as contusions, sprains, fractures, and strains to the back and shoulders,” the site says, citing an article that has since disappeared from the National Institute of Health website. Tracking the full article to a strange French blog, the statistic comes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The site offers some interesting perspectives that I had not considered and hadn’t heard.
The vote for Havre Public Schools to spend $250,000 on iPads was a close one, and after it happened I heard plenty of complaining from the usual suspects about this cost being thrust on taxpayers and people complaining about mill levies.
But education in our country, our state and our community is in need of significant changes. The current rules, created in the 19th century and modified little since, are shown increasingly not to fit the 21st.
I don’t mean to speak for, or sound like I’m endorsing, Superintendent Andy Carlson, but I believe he knows these things and is doing what he can to make sure Havre schools maintain their reputation across and outside of Montana. And bringing new technology into the classroom is one step in that direction.
I believe the lessons learned from and experience of this school year, and those who will follow, will bear my thoughts out.
(Zach White is a Havre Daily News reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)