For hundreds of years, students at universities have spent the night before an exam cramming from dusty textbooks and scratching out essays with pens and paper (maybe quills and parchment originally). So what does it mean for our education system that universities are becoming increasingly paperless?
Using computers for research and essay-writing is, while a relatively recent development, nothing new for today’s college students. Many haven’t opened a book from the library when writing a research paper during their college careers, choosing to rely on online journals and databases (ok, and sometimes Wikipedia). But the idea that one day students may not even use textbooks at all is intriguing. What would the benefits and drawbacks be to such a dramatic transition?
Although a few classes at a few schools may have gone paperless already, it is hard to imagine that textbooks will disappear from universities completely anytime soon. The funds that would be required to provide all students with iPads or e-readers aren’t going to appear out of nowhere and are probably better allocated towards scholarships or other resources. It’s likely that the decline of printed publications at universities will mirror that in society at large.
Maybe this is old-school, but there’s something to be said for having a tangible copy of a book in one’s hand to highlight and write in. It’s easy enough for students to check Facebook and look up the scores of last night’s game online when they bring their laptops to class. If students didn’t use textbooks at all, how many would continue to take notes by hand? Surfing the web is our generation’s version of doodling during class, and it’s infinitely more distracting.
As journalists working at newspapers over the last decade or two can attest, the disappearance of printed books would wreak havoc on the publishing industry. Eventually, libraries would become museums that only house texts written before anyone reading the books inside was born. Newspapers might be scarcer these days, but they’re definitely still around. It’s a fair guess that books aren’t going anywhere soon either.