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‘Major distraction’: school dumps iPads, returns to paper textbooks

Many schools have switched to digital textbooks. But one school in Sydney, Australia has returned to the tried and true hard copy textbooks – which reduce distractions and improve comprehension – and have given the e-book the boot from the classroom.

Reddam House’s primary and junior high school classes have used e-textbooks on iPad’s for the past five years, and teachers have consistently heard from students that they actually prefer books over screens. Teachers also felt the ipads were distracting and did nothing to strengthen students’ skills in technology. Soon after the school announced they were getting rid of digital textbooks and going back to real books instead. Principal Dave Pitcairn added:

“We hadn’t completely gone away from hard copy. We kept year 11 and 12 hard copy. When [students] got to year 11, and now had the comparison between digital and hard copy, they preferred the hard copy.

The ease of navigation through the textbook was easier with the hard copy. I believe they learn better the more faculties they use, the more senses they use in research and reading and making notes.”1

Teachers at the private school, which regularly lands on the HSC top-ten honors list, declared that iPads were preventing learning.

“[Students] could have messages popping up and all sorts of other alerts,” said Mr Pitcairn. “Also, kids being kids, they could jump between screens quite easily, so would look awfully busy and not be busy at all.1

The school plans to phase out iPads, and will instead allow students to bring in their own device if needed, and prefer they choose to bring a laptop. Dr. Margaret Merga, a senior lecturer in education at Edith Cowan University, states that an evaluation of the studies into reading formats has revealed that comprehension improves when information is read on paper in a book rather than digitally on a screen. She went on to say:

Research into why young people prefer hard-copy textbooks “points to greater perceived comfort, comprehension, and also retention of what’s been read. Some have found that there’s less immersive involvement [in digital text].1

A 2017 study at the University of Maryland revealed there was no difference in the two reading formats when students were asked general themes about the text, but when asked specific questions, the printed version left them with the best answers.

The study’s authors suggested print be preferred when an assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, or if students – primary, secondary or tertiary – were required to read more than one page or 500 words1

When asked about the weight of the textbooks in backpacks, principal Pitcairn indicated students have lockers they can leave them in and can read digital text at home. He also said he has noticed that students would rather use the actual textbook at home and school.