Make textbooks digital for the sake of the environment and education

Victoria Gill

Opinion Editor

The advent of completely switching to electronic textbooks is upon us and I have no idea why there has not been a complete jump to it yet.

Fortunately for me, the academic path I am on requires only small books and scripts that fit into the palm of my hand.

However, on the occasion where I have to complete a general course requirement — calculus, biology, American history, etc., the introduction of back-breaking coursework is paired with a back-breaking textbook in my backpack.

These textbooks, that I have only used once, are over a thousand pages of problems, theories, and dates that I do not get around to reading. The vast amount of information that cannot be fully covered over the course of the semester is what appears to me as a waste of energy, resources, and time.

Thanks to the internet and the desire to develop better learning software, the transition from printing real textbooks is a cleaner and greener alternative.

Some prefer the smell of a book and the tactile qualities of print on paper is unparalleled, but is that worth eradicating all trees?

Conservatree, a nonprofit that advocates and educates about sustainable and recyclable products, was a paper distribution company from 1976 to 1997. After the paper company’s closure, the nonprofit dedicated itself to transforming modern paper markets to sustainable products causing as little harm to the environment as possible.

Their website calculates that one ream of printing paper, or 500 sheets, uses about six percent of a tree. The average size of a textbook is between 600 – 1200 pages. That being said, an average college student who may need five to eight textbooks for classes would use up almost half a tree in a single year. That number multiplied on a scale with both high school and college students is frightening.

Even the fact that textbooks can be reused is only substantial to the point where the book will end up either falling apart, or the material is out of date.

Jackie DeLong, director of Miller Library resource management, has been cataloging her way through older reference books and digitizing them for student and faculty consumption. These books are older editions that are worn out and have limited sharing access.

During the changes to Miller Library, both the magazines and periodicals went digital for entire campus access. DeLong said in an interview August 28 that this is usually better priced than hard copies.

Why not make the final switch to becoming completely paperless?

The same goes for textbooks. Some even require online access as well, which adds another layer of burden to the overwhelming price tag.

There are certain individuals who find it is easier to read while having the tangible object.

It is easier to get distracted, at least for me, on my laptop, Kindle, or phone because I have options to spend my time consuming some other form of entertainment.

Like any bright screen, the physical effect is the suppression of melatonin production, thus making it harder to sleep. This impacts cognitive functioning and hurts your eyes. A book is the healthiest form of nighttime reading.

On the flip-side, reading becomes significantly faster online than in print.

In a study from Lauren Singer and Patricia Alexander, a professor of human development and quantitative methodology at the University of Maryland College Park, they surveyed the comprehension of students on both screen and paper.

The study showed that reading something of about 500 words or more on a page would be easily retained as opposed to reading on a digital device. The finding was supported by numerous studies on retention.

I find this to be better to avoid cramming for classes and giving yourself permission to learn the course mater properly at a slower pace.

Students should still take notes in notebooks as writing is the best proven method for retention. It would also keep distractions in the classroom to a minimum.

Overall, this complete switch to digital course material helps students, especially those in college, better prepare for a world that is immersed in technology.

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