As classrooms across the country embrace digital textbooks, one Sydney school has declared the e-book era over and returned to the old-fashioned hard copy version because it improves comprehension and reduces distraction.
For the past five years, Reddam House's primary and junior high school classes have used e-textbooks on iPads. But the consistent feedback from the students has been that they preferred pages to screens.
Teachers also found the iPads were distracting and did not contribute to students' technology skills, prompting the school to announce that students should no longer use digital textbooks, and must revert to hard-copy versions instead.
"We hadn't completely gone away from hard copy," said principal Dave Pitcairn. "We kept year 11 and 12 hard copy. When [students] got to year 11, and now had the comparison between digital and hard copy, they preferred the hard copy.
"The ease of navigation through the textbook was easier with the hard copy. I believe they learn better the more faculties they use, the more senses they use in research and reading and making notes."
Teachers at the eastern suburbs private school, which regularly appears on the HSC top-ten honours list, reported that iPads were hindering learning.
"[Students] could have messages popping up and all sorts of other alerts," said Mr Pitcairn. "Also, kids being kids, they could jump between screens quite easily, so would look awfully busy and not be busy at all."
The school will also phase out iPads and begin a bring-your-own device policy with a preference for laptops.
Dr Margaret Merga, a senior lecturer in education at Edith Cowan University, said an analysis of all the research into differences in book formats has found that understanding improves when information is read in a paper rather than a digital format.
Research into why young people prefer hard-copy textbooks "points to greater perceived comfort, comprehension, and also retention of what's been read," she said. "Some have found that there's less immersive involvement [in digital text]."
A University of Maryland study in 2017 found there was little difference in the two formats when students were asked about the general themes of a text, but the printed version made them better able to answer specific questions.
The study's authors suggested print be preferred when an assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, or if students - primary, secondary or tertiary - were required to read more than one page or 500 words.
A spokesman for textbook company Campion said Reddam was the only school in the past few years to return to paper textbooks, as many schools were interested in the interactive possibilities of digital textbooks.
As for the weight of the textbooks in backpacks, Mr Pitcairn said students could leave them in their lockers or use a digital version at home. "I've noticed that students prefer their textbook in both places," he said.
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