A question was asked at a staff meeting a few weeks ago that got me really thinking: should we require our freshmen to do their research without the Internet? The point was made that a professor at a local state university requires students to do research from books AND requires the students to actually produce the books! Of course no one could name the alleged old school professor, but several teachers were adamant the story is true, and that we need to prepare our students for the eventual requirement of this one professor. Even with Google students still need to know the Dewey Decimal system, a teacher offered.
I shook my head and listened, I wanted to really hear what my colleagues were saying. It seemed to me that these teachers love books, thick paper books, and they are concerned that students are being deprived of developing that love. They want students to be able to USE books. They want our freshmen to all go to the library and do a research paper using only books.
I pointed out that we have a very small library. There is no subject that we have near enough books that a handful of students could use as a source for a research paper, let alone ALL of the freshmen. In fact, ten years ago I was arguing that we needed Internet for the school because we could not afford to sufficiently stock a library. Sure there is a branch library just ten or so blocks away. But does anyone really want to spend the time it would realistically take to walk these students to the library and then teach them to use it? Just the walking time alone would be a huge time commitment, let alone the teaching time.
I pointed out that I had recently completed my masters degree and never went to a library the whole time. I used many, many books. A few of them I bought, but most I did not; I used online versions. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I was in a library. And I love books. Why in the world would we spend huge amounts of time to teach kids to research with paper books? For ONE alleged possible future professor?
A teacher asked me at lunch today if I thought if e-textbooks would ever really catch on. It was clear that she had been thinking about the library. And her struggles with technology. She confided that she hates lessons that involve computers. She never knows what will work and what won’t work. She doesn’t know what to do about it when things don’t work, and she has no one to turn to for help. She calls me, but she knows I have classes too, and simply can’t come help her.
So it seems the whole issues is not really about using books or not using books. It is about having reliable tools. Books are reliable. They usually don’t break. When they do break everyone knows what to do about it-get another book. It seems we put a bunch of computers in classrooms and didn’t consider what to do when they break. And teachers don’t like that.