Dec 3, 2018 by

“Print Textbooks vs. Screens”

By Donna Garner


[COMMENTS FROM DONNA GARNER: What makes the results of the following study (“A New Study Shows That Students Learn Way More Effectively from Print Textbooks Than Screens” – by Patricia A. Alexander and Lauren M. Singer – Business Insider) so disheartening is that this type of research should have been done many years ago when the digitized curriculum was being force-fed upon our nation by the lucrative-seeking vendors/lobbyists.

I, as a classroom teacher for over 33 years, spoke out many times over those years, begging the education establishment to treat digitized curriculum the way the medical industry treats an issue:

  • They first attempt to come up with a new medical breakthrough by performing various types of experiments.
  • If they find something that looks promising, then they try out its effects in various laboratory conditions.
  • If the results look promising, they do a few experimental trials with live subjects.  
  • If those results look promising, then they broaden their research and receive training to implement the breakthrough.
  • They institute quality research protocols in which they gather results from their subjects.
  • The professionals come back together periodically to compare results. 
  • If at that point, they see a regression in their subjects, they either tweak the procedure or stop it altogether.

The above was never done with the implementation of digitized curriculum – no research, no long-term results, no cost effectiveness, no comparison of results by independent evaluators, no tweaking, no nothing!  Instead, there was just the piling on of more vendors/lobbyists who were only interested in making more money and not in whether students were actually benefiting academically from digitized curriculum.

Neither the cries from teachers, parents, nor students have had any effect at slowing down the “race to the bottom.”

Teachers knew their students were losing their deep-reading abilities as they watched their classrooms fill up with ever-increasing numbers of students labeled “Special Education” when actually these students were “reading disabled” because of their lack of focus on phonics and detail. 

The many distractions caused by the digitized curriculum have brought sensory overload to students and have wasted valuable class time on technology issues rather than on teaching and learning subject content! 

Parents watched their children quit reading the classics and lose their patience to read longer texts.  Soon students moved right into the “entertaining” aspects of digitized curriculum with all the graphics and clever interactive features; and their lust for entertainment has been fed by the tech industry that continually develops new marketing features.

Why didn’t national/state education leaders demand to see the research first before taking the deep dive into digitized curriculum?  Why didn’t elected members of legislatures and local school districts demand to see the research first before pouring billions of tax dollars into the bottomless pit of technology?  How can we stop the train now that it is speeding down the track unchecked?


What about requiring hard copy textbooks which, in spite of the claims made by technology companies, are actually less expensive than the digitized curriculum?  Ask any college student how expensive eBooks are besides the fact that a student cannot resell or give eBooks away and also has to pay for the techie device(s) itself.  Ask any school district how much it spends on technology-related costs. These costs have now become one of the biggest expenses a school district has.

What about requiring students to write and compose with paper and pencil? We have solid research on brain imaging to indicate that students who write with paper/pencil are developing the “skills they need for ‘a complex task’ that requires the coordination of cognitive, motor and neuromuscular processes.”  (6.20.16 — “Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age” – by Perri Klass, M. D. — New York Times ]

What about taking action as other concerned citizens are doing?  Please go to this Open Letter to elected officials in Texas?  (11.30.18 — “The Harmful Consequences of Screen Technologies in Texas Education” — By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. – — )

We can and should take action. We do not just have to sit here and watch our nation’s students become totally reliant on technology as we watch their reading and comprehension skills diminish into nothingness.


10.15.17 – Business Insider

“A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens”

Patricia A. Alexander and Lauren M. Singer

Excerpts from this article:

Today’s students see themselves as digital natives, the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology like smartphones, tablets and e-readers.

Teachers, parents and policymakers certainly acknowledge the growing influence of technology and have responded in kind. We’ve seen more investment in classroom technologies, with students now equipped with school-issued iPads and access to e-textbooks.

In 2009, California passed a law requiring that all college textbooks be available in electronic form by 2020; in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring public schools to convert their textbooks to digital versions.

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.

Speed – at a cost

Our work has revealed a significant discrepancy. Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer.

For example, from our review of research done since 1992, we found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effectthat scrolling has on comprehension. We were also surprised to learn that few researchers tested different levels of comprehension or documented reading time in their studies of printed and digital texts.

To explore these patterns further, we conducted three studies that explored college students’ ability to comprehend information on paper and from screens.

Students first rated their medium preferences. After reading two passages, one online and one in print, these students then completed three tasks: Describe the main idea of the texts, list key points covered in the readings and provide any other relevant content they could recall. When they were done, we asked them to judge their comprehension performance.

Across the studies, the texts differed in length, and we collected varying data (e.g., reading time). Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

  • Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.
  • Reading was significantly faster online than in print.
  • Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.
  • Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.
  • The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
  • But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

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Donna Garner

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