- “In the 21st-Century University, Let’s Ban (Paper) Books” by Marc Prensky
- “Socratic Seminars: Engaging Students in Intellectual Discourse” by Lynda Tredway
- “Teaching Reading: beyond the plot” by Margaret Metzger
- “The Book Club Exploded” by Barbara Hoffert
- “The Evolving Book Group” by Beth Dempsey
“In the 21st-Century University, Let’s Ban (Paper) Books” by Prensky discusses the idea of ridding college campuses of physical books and replacing them with ebooks. Let me start out by saying that I am unequivocally for ebooks. I think they allow for many great opportunities, many of which center around better accessibility. So here’s where I discuss how much my feathers were ruffled by reading this article. I think ebooks on college campuses are a good thing; with the rising costs of textbooks, I appreciate the cheaper e-versions that don’t require me to live off ramen noodles for the first month of the semester. Prensky doesn’t even mention this as an advantage, though, which struck me as weird. Prensky’s argument centers around the fact that getting rid of physical books and replacing them with ebooks is moving education into the future; that books are “artifacts” that belong in museums, like scrolls. He further says that “the physical book is, in many ways, a jail for ideas–once a book is read, closed, and shelved, for most people it tends to stay that way.” He extends his argument by stating that he has heard the arguments for physical books (“the feel of the page,” for example), but those arguments don’t stand up against the advantages of getting rid of physical books. I think Prensky has completely missed the point of books. For him, they seem to be a physical object that contains information. And sure, they are. But isn’t an e-reader the same? The same person who doesn’t crack open that physical book probably isn’t going to put it on their e-reader, either. A physical book has, and never will be, a jail. He says that “they [ideas] have been held captive for too many centuries” by physical books. I’m just curious how that is, since many ideas have only survived because of books. The written word is incredibly important and a part of history. But even if one looks past that, and says, “Hey, you know, let’s keep physical books in the library and out of the classroom.” (Prensky’s point about the value of worldwide annotations is a good one.) What about his audacity to say that universities should confiscate physical books if that’s how someone chooses to read them? (Heck, why not just burn them while we’re at it?) I pay an exorbitant tuition, and if I want a physical textbook, then that is my right. He compares me wanting to use the physical book in comparison to using tablets or papyrus. And so what if I wanted to order my textbook on 37 clay tablets? Maybe that’s how I learn best. Maybe that’s how I want it to be. Maybe I should be allowed to choose how I want to learn. Moving education forward is always a positive thing, but not at the cost of pushing and forcing people into a trend they don’t want. Prensky also mentions that my generation is “inculcated since birth to appreciate the value of physical books.” Perhaps that’s because there is value? Again, I see the value of ebooks, but to say that physical books, which have survived for 500 years, have none is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Most of my problem with Prensky doesn’t lie in the fact that he wants to install ebooks more firmly in the world of universities, but is in his insistence that physical books have lost value.
I suspect this article’s purpose was to goad, and I’m goaded. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought that this was an article from The Onion, since it was so far-fetched. The fact that it’s 2 and some years old and still hasn’t come to fruition proves that it isn’t the great idea he thinks it is. Prensky states at the end that by moving your university to ebooks only, you’ll be remembered. Yes, you sure will. Remembered for taking away a precious resource and forcing another when the advantages for doing it are flimsy at best.
“Socratic Seminars” by Tredway talks about the advantages of the Socratic Seminar, a method in which students are taught to actively engage in their learning by interacting, debating, and discussing with fellow students a topic that has real-life meaning. In this way, students are able to connect what they’re learning to their real-life, thereby increasing the chance of transferring what they’re learning to other parts of their life. Tredway discusses many advantages, including self-esteem boosts, experience in analyzing, synthesizing, and and reasoning, as well as intellectual and emotional maturity. Socratic Seminars are quite the adventure the first time you’re involved in one, at least it was for me. My professor never said it was a Socratic Seminar, but by the middle of the year, I realized that was what it was. There were ten of us, sitting around a round table, and we’d all read a few texts and come to class ready to discuss them. The second week of class, my professor asked a question about how one author would respond to another’s view, and a classmate answered the question. But then my professor asked how he knew that, and to support his answer, and the entire class stared at him. From then on out, it wasn’t enough to know the answer; we had to be prepared to defend it. By the end of the year, my teacher only played the part of the coach, ready to jump in if clarification was needed or to give some more insight, but we ran that class. We questioned each other, debated with each other, and pushed each other to reason out our thought process. We didn’t always agree; in fact, we largely didn’t, but that was okay because as long as the person could talk us through their reasoning, then it was enough. I can’t tell you how many times someone would state their view and someone else would say, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.” What a fascinating way to learn, and the greatest part about it is that it doesn’t cost any extra money, but just some extra training, both on the teachers’ and students’ parts. I don’t know if teachers are trained in the Socratic method, but I know as a student, I wasn’t really trained properly until the latter parts of college. The Socratic Seminar pushes students to engage in their learning because it simply isn’t enough to state, “Person A thought this way.” Nope, you have to have reasoning for that. “Person A thought this way as evidenced by…” And then another student jumps in and says, “When I was reading Person A, I was thinking about how that his opinion contradicts Person B’s because…What did you guys think?” The Socratic Seminar is difficult because it does take more time, but the benefits from it are great, and it’s really a shame more schools don’t take part in it.
“The Book Club Exploded” by Hoffert discusses how book clubs are taking on new formats, subject matters, and themes in the last few years. I really like Hoffert’s ideas because she identified the problems I’ve had with book clubs in the past. I always disliked when I went to a book club and they chose a book I didn’t like, or one that I had already read (that’s okay every once in awhile, but when all they choose is up and coming fiction…I work in a library; I’ve probably read it). The idea of a thematic book club really appeals to me for those exact reasons. Never again will I be stuck with a book I don’t like, or one I’ve already read. Additionally, like Hoffert points out, everyone can introduce a new title (built-in readers’ advisory…I love it!) and also bring with them unique perspectives. And just from a library worker’s point-of-view…having 24 copies of the same book is next to impossible for many libraries. Ann Arbor District Library has those great “book clubs in a bag” that Hoffert mentions, and that’s fantastic, but…a lot of libraries can’t do that. But it would be really great if a book club calls and says, “Hey, our theme this week is biographies. Can you pull some for us?” instead of “We need 24 copies of the new Steve Jobs biography by next month.” (True story, at a time when getting one was difficult.) I think the closest I’ve ever come to a thematic book club was to choose an award-winner, and it was great; it was such a varied discussion, and I left with a list of about 8 books I wanted to read based on our discussion. I also think Hoffert’s push to include nonfiction is great; sometimes, people would tell me, “Oh, yeah, I wanted to do book club, but they’re doing The Devil in the White City and it’s nonfiction, and I hate nonfiction.” And I would tell me them how great of a book that is, but the entire genre of nonfiction turned them off. Like Hoffert suggests, a really salacious biography is a good way of easing readers into the idea that nonfiction isn’t all dull, academic writing.
“The Evolving Book Club” by Dempsey focuses on how to cater book clubs to the users and what the users want. I think this is such an important point, because book clubs in the middle of the day aren’t probably going to be successful. Book clubs with too narrow of a theme are similarly going to run into problems. (There are only so many Jane Austen books.) The library I worked at always struggled with book clubs until one of the librarians started hosting them in the evening, one day a month, at a restaurant. The month he held it at the local brewery? Best-attended book club the library had ever had. People loved being able to come to a comfortable atmosphere and enjoy each other’s company while talking about books. I think a lot about book clubs for young adults; often, there are none, and I think that’s largely because people don’t know how to create one with their needs in mine. Another local library had one for teens, and the librarian there did so well in analyzing the needs of the young adults. For example, she hosted it about a half-hour after school got out, which meant kids could come straight from school and it wouldn’t eat up their entire evening. She provided a snack and beverage (food rules went out the window) and allowed the teens to provide their own books no matter the format. She had quite the run on graphic novels for awhile, but they eventually deviated into so many other genres and formats as well. She had a Facebook group where they talked about meetings or questions they might have before the club, and if they didn’t read a book that month? That’s fine. Just come and chat with the group. (Dempsey’s no-pressure policy point is a great one…I often feel that when I do book clubs.) I especially liked Dempsey’s point that book clubs are therapeutic because I have always thought that is a great purpose of book clubs. Of course the scenario she described of outreach in correctional facilities is a great example, but I think in any scenario book clubs are therapeutic. When you get a group of people together talking about a book that may touch on issues personally affecting their lives, the discussion that results is almost always therapeutic.
“Teaching reading: beyond the plot” by Metzger talks about how to use the Socratic Seminar to help students understand books at a deeper level than just the plot. Like I stated earlier, Socratic Seminars have huge advantages; they allow students to bounce ideas off one another, to engage in group discussions (where group etiquette has to be followed), and encourages them to have reasoning and logic behind their ideas. However, I’m not entirely certain that I’m sold on the inner circle/outer circle method; perhaps that’s because I’ve never had a class that way. Maybe it’s also based on the fact that I know I would have hated and resented the outer circle in high school. I suppose I see some benefit, but I think it could get out of control fast, and Metzger admitted it did, at first. High schoolers (and especially high school freshmen) can be brutal, and having an open forum for them to criticize is asking for it. Granted, teaching them the difference between criticizing to be mean and constructive feedback is is an important lesson, but the first time a student hears everyone thinks they talk too much might shut them up for the rest of the semester. Maybe I’m missing the point of the outer circle. I understand it’s about summarizing and observing and analyzing others at work, but I don’t know if it’s necessary to have them take notes about what someone is doing while they’re involved in the inner circle. If I had known I was being observed, I wouldn’t have said a word in high school. (Now…not so much, but as a high school freshman? Definitely not.) I guess I’ll have to ponder on the outer circle more. But the idea that Metzger basically ended up sitting back and not really being involved in the discussion is an important one, because I think that’s the ultimate goal of the Socratic Seminar: teaching students how to actively engage in their learning with each other. (Although laughing at an interpretation? Speaking of brutal…Interesting that students noticed she grimaced the day before and told each other to ignore her.) I think working through difficult texts together is the best way to do it, and the Socratic Seminar is a great platform to do that.
Apologies for the long post, but…don’t mess with my books, man.