-by Donna Alden, Teacher Librarian
It seems to me there is no one answer.
For nonfiction, research activities, if given the choice, hands down I'll choose an online search for information, as opposed to searching through books. Is that an exclusive choice? Do I always recommend that to students? No, and no. But as a preference, an online search for information just makes sense, for a number of reasons.
However, when it comes to fiction, students are "voting with their feet". Our students have had a number of projects this year in which fiction has been offered in digital format, and overwhelmingly, the library copies fly off the shelves within a week or so of everyone having access to the e-version.
All our grade 7 students have i-pads, and after a novel was downloaded, and students were given clear guidelines for adjusting text and lighting, and managing the "book" to suit their needs, they still turned up to borrow the print version, until we ran out of copies. "So, if you already have a copy of the book on your i-pad, why do you want a "real" book?” I'd ask. Sometimes, it was as simple as preferring the feel of a book in their hands, other times it was frustration over technical issues (pages flipping, battery power, lighting difficulties, etc.), perceived convenience, or personal preference.
Grade 8's were all offered access to another novel (one originally published only online). While most chose to download onto their laptops, others chose to download a copy onto their personal devices, including e-readers and iPhones. Again, we ended up purchasing additional paper copies to accommodate student requests.
I don't think this is at all a resistance to change, as our students embrace technology and change with great enthusiasm. I believe the preference many (not all) students have expressed for print over digital format for fiction is an expression of several factors. For some it's more of an emotional or psychological response to book versus computer- one means work, the other means relax, for instance. Others said it was "easier" to pick up a book and open it at your bookmark than to turn on your device, locate it, and read from a screen. Some thought the fact that there was no technology or power required was a bonus, others like that in a "real" book, they could more naturally interact with the text, adding sticky notes or making pencil notations in the margins. Books do have a positive connotation for many students, and this in itself may be the reason for that format being the best choice for some. On the other hand, I notice some "reluctant readers" have been given different e-readers by their parents, and I am betting in many cases this "cool" device is being used as a carrot to encourage a regular reading habit. (And if it works, great!)
We as educators know the value that choice plays in learning, and how important differentiation is, in meeting all students' preferences and needs. Just like there is no singular way to teach and learn, no one best resource, there is no one best format. Digital fiction works for some readers, but the print version still seems to be the format of choice for many. We are in the fortunate position of having choice, and should celebrate that.