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Leveraging the power of print is key to expanding educational opportunities--especially during at-home learning

What happens when there is no ‘e’ in eLearning?

Leveraging the power of print is key to expanding educational opportunities--especially when eLearning isn't always possible

I love the smell of the ink on the page.

I cherish the way paper feels to the touch.

I enjoy reflecting on the moment in time, I read a book as it sits on my shelf.

Each of us has heard adults opine on why they prefer to read print books. I’ve even had friends tell me that listening to an audiobook doesn’t count as reading because you’re not sitting down to consume the words in a traditional manner.

Related content: Leading eLearning with a Future Ready Library opportunity

Right now, there is nothing traditional about our world.

Yet as we face a new world in K-12 education, the power of print has nothing to do with nostalgia.

Let’s consider:

  • Superintendents in rural districts ran out of toner in the photocopy machine as they scrambled to print activities for students who couldn’t access an online portal, because those students don’t have the internet and can’t get it where they live.
  • Teachers of middle school students held their breath in hopes that the 10-year-old troublemaker behaved himself on camera, with 25 of his classmates.
  • Students who previously enjoyed “screen time” as a perk before bed or a reward for good behavior begged mom and dad not to make them spend any more time eLearning on the iPad.
  • Parents who never learned to read themselves could no longer rely on a teacher to prepare their son or daughter for a better life.

Each of you may have an example like these, or perhaps your entire school building or district has many examples such as these. As state departments of education, government leaders, and school board members debate the value of in-person learning versus the physical health and safety of students, teachers, and the community, there’s a component to eLearning that’s getting lost in this highly-charged topic. What happens when there is no “e” in eLearning?

Certainly, one solution is the expansion of broadband into our rural communities and inner cities. Another solution is tied to training ALL teachers to deliver instruction virtually, relieving the parent of those hands-on duties. But an alternative lies in a solution as old as the invention of papyrus: print books.

Immediately following that week in March when every school in the country closed, we at Follett quickly released thousands of free digital resources and eBooks along with instructions on how to use them in an eLearning environment. As a result, we saw eBook usage double year over year. Students, parents, and teachers turned to digital resources in record numbers. Sales for eBooks spiked.

Yet, while eLearning became a “thing” overnight, I quickly realized the very term eLearning was not at all sustainable in its current form. Because at the same time, large urban districts contacted us asking if we could procure thousands of copies of the same print books so they could distribute them in sacks with students’ lunches. The concept of “grab and go” books and lessons become an overnight phenomenon to solve the digital divide.

Several not-for-profit organizations also contacted Follett, inquiring about funding a Follett Book eFair in their community so every student could have $30 to spend on books for their home library. It became increasingly clear to parents and educators that not every child has a robust bookshelf at home, and many rely upon their school library and classroom shelves for access to print books–sitting down in a corner, reading a story, has benefits that far outweigh the obvious. Also, print books took on new importance as it became clear that not every household has enough devices for each child to consume content on a screen connected to the web.

While none of us know what this fall will bring, I anticipate requests like this will continue and ultimately become a trend. The decision is not print VERSUS digital—it’s print AND digital. The debate is how to curate and safely distribute those print AND digital resources and then, how to effectively use them in instruction whether that’s in-person or remote.

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Britten Follett
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