The Changing (Font) Face of Textbooks

Remember film strips in 6th grade science class? Or the teacher struggling to load a VHS tape into a BetaMax player? Rotary dial phones? Someday soon, if not today, textbooks will be joining this list, replaced by “supercomputers” in the forms of phones and tablets.

Cancel that “someday”:

My youngest daughter, Beth, started school last week. She’s four and a half and has never known a world in which the iPhone did not exist. She has never known a world in which 24x7 connectivity to the Internet was an impossible sci-fi dream. Consider the basic timeline: Beth won’t leave school until the summer of 2025. The question is simple: is there any plausible non-apocalyptic scenario in which technology is less prevalent, less widely distributed and less embedded in our culture in 2029 than it is in 2011? I simply can’t imagine one.
Frasier Spiers

Having to pack a single tablet into a backpack not only makes good ergonomic sense, it makes good economic sense: textbooks can be rented rather than purchased outright; updates are cheaper to distribute, and a whole semester’s worth of reading can be plunked into a single device weighing a little over a pound.

Additionally, tablets feature many of the same enhancements in the textbook world as they do elsewhere: improved accessibility (high contrast, larger text options, audio reading), notations, links to outside resources, and so on.

Cursive handwriting, on the other hand, is taking a hit: as tablet-based textbooks become reading *and* writing tools, children are going to learn (virtual) keyboard entry sooner than ever.

How this will affect learning in the long term is, of course, uncertain: the key strength of a multi-purpose tablet is that it is multi, and students will be challenged to focus on a singular task at hand when given the opportunity to slyly surf the web or text a friend.

Testimonials of the touch screen interface for students with learning disabilities and autism are already showing promise, although the results are, of course, early.

Educational theories and studies of tablets are easily outpaced by the technology itself, of course, so we’re moving into uncharted territory, as we always are.

Smartphones and laptops of the previous generation had the primary barrier of ease of use (or lack thereof).

Touch screens, for both working and reading, consumption and creation, are going to allow ever-younger learners to leverage learning aids and tools in the classroom will be an ongoing pursuit in the twenty-first century.