Tablets or Traditional Textbooks?

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By Neil S. Haley and Dede Rittman

If you listen to the talk shows, read the educational articles online, or talk to teachers and administrators, you know that all are fixated on one topic: traditional textbooks vs. tablets.

Once laptops and tablets were issued mainly in colleges, but the trend has filtered down to high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. Purchasing laptops or tablets for every student is a pricey endeavor for school districts who are cutting expenses to the bare bones and trying to squeeze the blood out of taxpayer dollars. Not only is the hardware expensive, but creating the infrastructure to use that hardware and to maintain it is also expensive, as having the tablets but not the bandwidth to support them is a waste of money.  Is abandoning traditional textbooks and moving to digital textbooks and tablets the right way to go?  What problems might be caused by such a change?

Neil and I both prefer traditional textbooks over tablets, cellphones, laptops, and other electronic devices, and we had thoughtful discussions and arguments to in order to collaborate on writing this article.

Let’s take a look at some of the issues associated with traditional textbooks, beginning with the weight of the books. Administrators and parents point to major back problems in high school (and younger) students, caused by lugging pounds of textbooks in school all day long, as well as walking to and from school and/or bus stops carrying the heavy backpacks.  This issue could be solved by having a classroom set of books for use at school, and a student issued book at home.  Not only does this book at home/book at school idea solve the issue of carrying books and aching backs, it also precludes any excuses for not completing homework because a student “forgot his book” at school.  To take this argument a step further regarding an additional aspect on the back pain issue, look in any health journal and you will find that neck strain/ back and muscle pain also have been associated with hand held devices and tablets, along with blurred vision, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Once again, the book at home/book at school eliminates those medical problems as well.

Another issue involves stealing or loss of electronic devices, both in and out of school.  Electronics have a “theft appeal” that books do not.  Also, repairing electronic devices is very costly; repairing a book page can be completed with some cellophane tape. Battery life for most tablets might not last for a full school day, and then what?

What about what Neil and I call the “loss of focus” effect? Electronics hold an infinite appeal for students to leave the classwork page on the device and go to a game or social media, whereas traditional textbooks have no such temptations.  We think students have enough immediacy in their lives, and that learning should not be lumped in with an electronic “look at it and leave it” approach. We believe learning requires solid lesson planning, thoughtful discussion, examination of points of view, and time for reflection about the learning process, and we also believe that the learning process should not be hurried. We also prefer teacher interaction with students over student interaction with electronic devices.  We fear that more and more use of electronic learning in the classroom will turn teachers into facilitators, rather than teachers.  In our opinions, technology, although not without merit, will never be the best teacher.

On a more personal level, Neil and I both grew up with books as our main learning tools. We still like the way books feel.  Neil has five children, and they all love books- and they really love their mom and dad to read aloud to them, just as my nieces and nephews enjoy oral readings from me.  We think children- especially small children- feel that books are their friends.  None of this means that Neil and I do not like technology.  We are both connected most hours of the day, and social media is a big part of our lives. We agree that students should learn about and use technology in school, but in a limited manner. Neil and I were classroom teachers for a combined 48 years, and we not only recognize the importance of books, but we also recognize the importance of teaching children to love books. “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.


CEO of Total Tutor, Talk Show Host, and Producer of the Total Education Network

Neil Haley, CEO of Total Tutor, has been working with children for more than 12 years. His experience includes: Classroom Teacher; After School Program Director;  Behavior Specialist; Educational Advocate; Developmental Therapist, SAT Prep Coach; and Practicum Supervisor. Total Tutor is an international kindergarten through college tutoring and consulting company, providing educational advocacy, behavior therapy, autism consulting, home school consulting, all subject tutoring, and SAT/ACT/GRE tutoring. Neil is also the affable host of The Total Education Network, which is heard and viewed in over 180 countries, syndicated on 120 stations, with over 2.5 million listeners and viewers per week. Neil writes for several online educational magazines including My Town tutors and UK Health, and also works as a social media coach, branding coach, and entrepreneur. In his earlier life, Neil was a professional wrestler.  Neil graduated from LaRoche College with a B.S. in History, and obtained his M. Ed. at Duquesne University. He is married to Jennifer and the proud father of five children. Connect with Neil Facebook Neil S. Haley; Twitter @totaltutor; LinkedIn Neil Haley; Google+ Neil Haley;


Dede Rittman is a 37 year veteran English/ Theater teacher, with 2 years in the Penn Hills School District, and 35 years in the North Allegheny School District, where she also was Varsity Head Boys’ Golf Coach for 33 years, directed the spring musical and talent shows, worked with student council, and contributed to many district initiatives. Dede sat on the board of the North Allegheny Foundation, and served the WPIAL Golf Committee, the Women’s Golf Association of Western PA, the West Penn Golf Association, and many other groups.  She was a PA TOY semi-finalist in 2011, the year she had to retire when her husband, Scott, was dying from stage four colon cancer. Dede completed her book and it was published in September, 2014.Dede is a motivational speaker and writer. A popular topic is The Three C’s for Classroom Success: Confidence, Communication, and Creativity. Always a positive person, Dede writes a weekly blog for teacher inspiration at  She is a guest blogger for, My town Tutors, Educator Help, and others. Dede is the Co-host of The Total Education Q and A Show, which is heard around the world on 120 stations in 80 countries. Tutor Radio Show.  Dede is a guest writer for Forests of the Rain Productions June 2015 emagazine on the topic of Teacher Burnout, a weekly panelist on Teacher Talk Live at; and Dede has presented webinars for WIZ IQ and The Learning Liaisons. Dede has just signed a multi-book contract with Tate Publishing for her new series of children’s books, beginning with GRADY GETS GLASSES.  Connect with Dede: ; TWITTER @dederittman; LinkedIn Dede Faltot Rittman; Google + Dede Rittman;  Facebook Dede Faltot Rittman and Rittman Rules

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