Monday, July 18, 2011

Can ebooks save children's backs?

Since the launch of ebook readers, there has been much discussion on their viability as textbook replacements. Today I read about Winn Sams, a chiropractor in Columbus, North Carolina, who has even contacted her state legislator about replacing textbooks with ebooks. She lifted one of her daughter's backpacks and was shocked at how heavy it was. Sams said, "When I initially called, he didn’t say much. Then, a couple of years later, he called me back and the movement started blossoming from there.”
Despite the growing interest in incorporating digital technology in schools, few are paying enough attention to the immediate health implications of heavy backpacks, Sams said. “Some kids are carrying twice their bodyweight. Their spines are still developing and these heavy backpacks are setting the way for spine issues,” she said. “Posture has radically changed, as well as the way kids walk. They have to plod their feet when lugging around a heavy backpack. ~ The OH&S Wire
Debate still rages over whether heavy backpacks cause permanant damage to kids' backs. MRI scans of eight children showed compression of disks and spinal curvature caused by typical school backpack loads, but eight is a very small sample. Sources that I would consider reuptable (such as the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons) say that, while heavy backpacks can cause posture problems, they do not cause scoliosis or long-term damage to the spine.

Yes, ebook technology has come a long way in recent years, and sales have skyrocketed. According to Amazon, ebooks have been outselling paper books (paperback and hardback) since May. Barnes and Noble's CEO said that the company sells three times as many digital books as physical books on its website.

Despite the popularity of ebooks, early pilots resulted in rejection of the Kindle DX as a textbook. Though 90 percent of students liked the Kindle for pleasure reading, 80 percent would not recommend it as a classroom aid. (Here's an interesting article where students weigh in with their opinions.) Among the reasons cited for rejecting the Kindle as a textbook were the inability to easily highlight and write notes and lack of color charts and graphics. Early results also included lack of accessability to visually impared students. Subsequent Kindle generations did address this by adding text-to-speech capabilities. Unfortunately, this came under fire by the publishing industry.

I well remember the challange of lugging heavy textbooks and/or deciding which ones I could leave at home or in my locker for all or some of the day. As someone who regularly highlights and writes notes in her Kindle, I appreciate the advantages of being able to pull the file containing those notations. However, I tend to agree with this article: Could the Kindle Replace College Textbooks? The technology needs to be improved, but we will be there before we know it.

Do you think ebook readers, such as the Kindle, have a future as textbook replacements?

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