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In the 21st-Century University, Let’s Ban Books

Posted on November 16, 2011 by Editor | Edit

By Marc Prensky in the Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus

Recent news that South Korea plans to digitize its entire elementary- and secondary-school curriculum by 2015, combined with the declining cost of e-readers and Amazon’s announcement earlier this year that it is selling more e-books than print books, prompts an interesting question: Which traditional campus will be the first to go entirely bookless? Not, of course, bookless in the sense of using no book content, but bookless in the sense of allowing no physical books. My guess is that this will make some institution famous.

Already, just about everything that an undergraduate needs to read is available in electronic form. Whatever isn’t there electronically, librarians, students, or professors can easily scan, as many already do.

Some colleges are already heading in this direction by requiring or handing out iPod Touches, iPads, Kindles, or Nooks, often preloaded with textbooks and other curricular materials, or by disallowing paper texts for online courses. But I suggest that it’s time to go much further: to actually ban nonelectronic books on campus. That would be a symbolic step toward a much better way of teaching and learning, in which all materials are fully integrated. It could involve a pledge similar to the one that language students and instructors at Middlebury Language Schools take to speak only the foreign languages in which they are immersed during the study program.

In this bookless college, all reading­­—which would still, of course, be both required and encouraged—would be done electronically. Any physical books in students’ possession at the beginning of the year would be exchanged for electronic versions, and if a student was later found with a physical book, it would be confiscated (in return for an electronic version). The physical books would be sent to places and institutions that wanted or needed them. Professors would have a limited time in which to convert their personal libraries to all-digital formats, using student helpers who would also record the professors’ marginal notes.

Why, in a world in which choice and personal preference are highly valued, would any college want to create such a mandate? Because it makes a bold statement about the importance of moving education into the future. It is, in a sense, only a step removed from saying, “We no longer accept theses on scrolls, papyrus, or clay tablets. Those artifacts do still exist in the world, but they are not the tools of this institution.” Or: “In this institution we have abandoned the slide rule. Those who find it useful and/or comforting can, of course, use it, but not here.” Read more »

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