Higher Ed Tech Resistance

As technology continues to become more deeply embedded into the fabric of primary and secondary education, it’s interesting to note where resistance is still occurring. Writing at the Daily Beast, Ashley Mungiguerra notes that Print Textbooks Still Dominate Campus Textbook Market, and provides this observation:

But just because I prefer e-books doesn’t mean everyone else does. I’m a sophomore at Hofstra University in New York, and most of my professors have allowed me to buy digital editions of my books. However, some of them (the same professors who prohibit note taking on laptops) are still against technology in their classrooms. They prohibit e-books, iPads, laptops, and cellphones and instead require students to use (and haul around) physical editions of the book.

Resistance to the electronic version of textbooks is one thing. But the rejection of all electronic technology in the classroom seems a bit extreme. Presumably these students are forced to take physical notes with pen and paper. That might not sound like much of a hardship to many of us who did the same back in our college days, but imagine if back then you had been required to take notes using a quill pen with a little pot of ink. Requiring students to take physical notes is actually a bigger burden than that restriction would have been, and serves exactly the same purpose — which is to say, none whatsoever.

Mungiguerra notes that e-books make up only about 3% of the current total textbook usage in higher education. There are a number of factors at work, here. There are teachers like those described above, who simply won’t allow ebooks. There are students who prefer the feel of real books and who like being able to make notes in the margins. And then there are the peculiarities of the textbook publishing industry:

The revenues of the textbook industry continue to grow, but that’s largely because of the rise in prices. Textbook prices have tripled since 1986, at twice the rate of inflation.

The increase in textbook costs goes hand in hand with the overall sharp rise in the cost of higher education. And there’s your problem. An industry that has a captive audience whom they have been gouging for decades is going to be less likely than others to embrace disruptive innovation, particularly the kind that can drive costs down. No doubt that is one of the reasons that e-book editions of college texts, when they are available, aren’t sold for that much less than the print editions.

And swinging it back around to those Luddite professors who insist that print editions be used: I can’t help but wonder how many of them have their names on the cover of one of those expensive books?

In any case, higher-ed resistance to technology in general, and e-books in particular, can go on for only so much longer. Each new high school graduating class is even more tech literate and tech savvy (and tech dependent) than the year before. What’s happening in primary and secondary schools mirrors what’s happening in society overall. Higher ed is in an uncomfortable position, lying between secondary education and the real world, but falling further behind both where technology is concerned.


One thought on “Higher Ed Tech Resistance

  1. […] once again makes for an interesting contrast between between secondary and higher education. As we noted a while back, in a classroom setting, secondary schools are far ahead of colleges and universities […]

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