I love books. I love the tactile experience of holding a book, turning the page, penciling notes, and putting it on my shelf when I’m done. I collect books that I’ve enjoyed over the years. I even have a small collection of very old books on eighteenth century and nineteenth century literature, including literary criticism. I’m so proud of that little collection.
But everyone is switching to e-books. Even my friend who loves, loves, loves books and has a huge personal library has now switched to Kindle. Every year, my husband asks me if I want a Kindle for my birthday, anniversary, or Christmas present. And for the last few years now, I’ve said, “I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m ready.”
Then, our college composition course went textbook-less this year. We have created an electronic “text” on our library site that links to all kinds of resources, including readings available on the web and databases, videos, links to grammar and ESL resources and so on. It is a very rich web page. It certainly offers a lot of teaching tools and resources for students.
But that’s what it is – it’s a web page. I miss having a book. I think my students are glad they don’t have to shell out over 100 bucks for two books we used to require – a reader and a writing handbook. I realize that much of what’s in the books are available for free.
I do enjoy not being tied to a book. I used to feel like I had to assign as much reading as possible since the students are paying nearly 100 bucks for it. I realized that I was using only a very small portion of the writing handbook for which the students were paying over 60 dollars (The Bedford Handbook) – as soon as I realized the cost, I switched to a smaller 12 dollar book (Diana Hacker’s Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age) that offered exactly what I needed. Textbooks are very expensive, and they become outdated rather quickly, especially as we try to teach writing through and about topics that are “current.” So, of course, I see the benefits.
Still, I miss having a book. For one, I feel like the students not being exposed to the classic essays that are models of good writing. Overall, in our efforts to bring relevant topics to our students, we’ve become too focused on Newsweek and Times articles. These publications offer good articles and often good writing, but I’m not sure that they are always best for teaching writing. And sometimes the classics that are available online for free are not always reliable in their text. Despite my best efforts to give clear directions, I feel like my students are confused about where to find the readings and how to bring the readings to class. Often they have to print out multiple copies, and the readings, it seems, become kind of disposable.
But I also realize that this is the direction we are headed – it is inevitable. Still this will take some time to get used to. Besides, really the dilemma is not about the book or the e-book: It’s really about pedagogy and curriculum. It’s about re-evaluating what we teach and how we teach it. And that’s really what’s changing.