As governor of California, Arnie Schwarzenegger announces plans to replace traditional school textbooks in favour of “digital learning aids” – should PR follow suit?
On the one hand, I think this is a good idea – if it means tutors creating a series of digital resources, a playlist, of interesting and useful information from a wide variety of sources.
Looking at a PR textbook, such as Tench & Yeoman’s edited “Exploring Public Relations” – you’ll find primarily a collection of concepts, theories and case studies drawn from a wide range of original and other edited sources.
For tutors and students it is highly useful that the individual chapter authors have collated this information to give a solid introduction and understanding of relevant PR topics.
I take a similar approach in putting together my Greenbanana study materials – but I am planning to make this resource work online better. Using an interactive ebook format, I would like to add links to original and supplementary reading, video, podcasts, presentations, case studies, exercises, discussion forums, assignments and so on.
Even having standard textbooks available in digital format has advantages such as searchability (no book contents list or index is every truly comprehensive) and portability (with an eReader you could store thousands of books).
Without reading an entire chapter, paper or book, you can miss the point that an author is making. I recently marked exam papers where one question gave a quote from Jacquie L’Etang regarding PR as an “ethical guardian”. Because few students had read the original work, most reported that the author proposed this concept, where she was actually questioning and critiquing it.
Also, “digital learning aids” may be of mixed quality – much of what can be found online lacks consideration, robust evidence or the benefit of an editor to review, check sources and remove errors.
Humans also need downtime from the technology and using printed sources is a good way of doing this. You can read a book anywhere and rather than “cut and paste”, you are encouraged to think more when reading – whether that is stopping to reflect, or simply copying out or making notes.
You cannot use eReaders or computers everywhere – and they inevitably experience technical problems. They also lack the tangibility and permanence of books. In George Orwell’s classic 1984, Winston Smith’s job involved rewriting historical documents to match the current official viewpoint (which changed daily). With digital technology it is easy for information to be rewritten – and that is useful to avoid out of date facts. But, a lot can be learned from how opinion and what was once fact changes over time – will we be able to access this when earlier editions are routinely deleted?
There are lots more arguments in favour of going digital – and more against.
I have hundreds of PR books – which I find a pleasure to own, but also a nuisance as they take up space and are hard to reference.
As a tutor, I would love more of my students, especially the undergraduates, to read textbooks. They are so lucky to have access to a University library – but they also can use ejournals bringing a lifetime of sources to their computer screen.
A world without books would be a poorer place
Can a Kindle or iPod engage a child at bedtime in the same way as a classic book read aloud by a parent or a picture book the child learns to read by themselves?
Would I feel the same about inheriting a “digital learning aid” as I do about my grandfather’s leather bound books, which he saved up to buy over years? Or my mum’s 1950s schoolbook which has her name carefully written inside the front cover?
PR probably can do without textbooks – but would what we gain be greater than what we lose?