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What are the pros and cons of digital textbooks

By Dhrubaa Ghosh,

A quick look at the good and bad sides of the exciting new trend of digital textbooks.

Bookmarking, looking for highlighted portions, and finding old notes are common problems resolved satisfactorily with digital textbooks.

Education went digital big time in the last two years as a locked down world accessed classrooms online. Some trends have already started fading, while others are clearly here to stay. The digital textbook is one such addition. While interactive soft books had been around earlier, they became extremely popular over 2020-21. Some educators feel they are bad influence on children, while others find them a really useful. We have weighed both sides below.  

The vantage points 
Here are some of the advantages of digital textbooks.  

They are interactive and collaborative: Reading a book had always been one-way traffic till digital textbooks changed it. Students can put in their queries and comments, highlight doubts, as for references, and even answer questions in case of digital workbooks. Teachers also find this format helpful as they can include all references – written, verbal, audio visual, 3D animation – within the body of the main textbook.  

Easy text navigation: Looking for one particular definition through the chapters on the night before the exam has been the nightmare of students for ages. Bookmarking, looking for highlighted portions, finding old notes scribbled along with the text – common navigation related problems like these have been resolved satisfactorily with the digital textbook format.  

Update to the next edition is real-time: Waiting for the next edition of the textbook is not required anymore, authors update the existing book as soon as they are ready. This is particularly helpful for highly dynamic subjects where information is updated every few months.  

Disadvantages of digital textbooks 
Here are some of the less sunny sides of digital textbooks  

Students are retaining less: All the interaction and audio visual input in working more like entertainment, with students comprehending little, analysing less and retaining very little. Also turning a page is not the same as scrolling. It seems our brain has not yet evolved to the level of retaining a lot of scrolled material.  

Hard copies are preferred by many students: Surprising but true, brighter students of technical subjects still prefer hard copies. It helps them comprehend more, and the learning outcome is just much better.   

Expensive and open to plagiarism: Sometimes no one knows exactly who has written a digital textbook, as a result, plagiarised, second-hand and even baseless material may creep in. Digital textbooks for certain subjects can also be expensive.