Education is Going Digital- are books greener

Over the past few years, the Internet has morphed into a global town square: commerce, entertainment and business have moved into the digital world. And now that smartphones and tablets like the iPad and Kindle Fire have become popular, mobile computing has made it possible to store large amounts of data into small, portable devices.

This shift has created a world of possibilities for education, home improvement and remodeling as well. With the introduction of technology into the classroom, online teaching and learning becoming more common, the ability to read, learn and collaborate from anywhere is valuable. Is this a step in the right direction, when it comes to going green or are we going in the wrong direction?

Teachers, students and home owners concerned with being eco-friendly may have reservations about going digital when it comes to books. Buying e-books doesn’t necessarily save trees—print editions that are produced and unsold end up being incinerated or pulped—and the carbon footprints of tablets and e-readers can be higher than buying a stack of paper books. Still, there are ways to use them that allow teachers and students to stay green and to improve the quality of education.

Missing opportunities

While the popularity of e-books has exploded, production and sales of electronic textbooks have been relatively slow. That’s because many of the books students need—particularly college students—aren’t always available in digital form. Further, many prices of e-textbooks aren’t much lower than their physical versions, which means students would have to add the expense of an e-reader on top of the prices of e-books. Several colleges and universities are working on e-book pilots, and school districts around the country are working to introduce interactive learning resources, but until publishers and schools come to an agreement about book prices and availability, educational e-book growth is likely to be sluggish.

Greening the classroom

Nevertheless, technology still has a significant presence in education, and teachers and students are finding ways to use it efficiently and creatively. This can have positive environmental side effects. While the prices of e-textbooks are still somewhat steep, schools can purchase e-readers and tablets for students to share instead of making students’ families bear the cost themselves. For college students, e-textbooks can be read on laptops and mobile devices instead of e-readers, which could help them avoid having to spend money printing learning materials. And the advent of online education can allow students earning an online degree to retrieve and share resources instantly from any location, at any time. By shifting teaching and learning materials online, schools and students can save money and time.

As education is shaped by technology, e-books will eventually become an integral part of teaching and learning. While using devices like e-readers and tablets may not immediately lower a student’s carbon footprint, they can help students move in the right direction. But until e-books become more affordable and accessible, teachers and students can find other ways to create and use eco-friendly learning resources.

Photo: The Kindle Reader (A Young Girl Seated), after Renoir-- by Mike Licht,