Students in Albuquerque Public Schools won’t get updated textbooks in science or social studies this year—or perhaps ever. Instead, they’re getting what district officials are calling “techbooks.”
The APS board recently unanimously approved an $11.3 million, seven-year contract with Discovery Education, which provides web-based resources instead of physical books. Discovery offers videos, interactive lessons, educational games, reading passages, and glossaries. The contract also includes training for teachers, which district officials said will be forthcoming this semester.
District officials say buying Discovery “techbooks” is cheaper than new textbooks and will better prepare students for a changing world. Although it is hard to make direct cost comparisons, a middle school textbook generally costs about $100, and the per-student cost of a Discovery “techbook” is about $45 per year. But the Discovery contract also includes costs like teacher training, so the comparison is not exact.
Discovery is nothing new to the students at Zuni Elementary, which piloted the program last year. On a recent weekday, teacher Dan Gutierrez showed his fourth- and fifth-graders a video explaining different advertising techniques.
Some of these included “bandwagon,” “snob appeal,” and “urgency.” A bandwagon ad tells consumers everyone is using a product, and they’ll be left out if they don’t. Snob appeal plays on a consumer’s desire to be part of an elite group, and urgency is based on limited-time offers and sales that end tomorrow.
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The video explained each advertising technique and showed examples. In between, Gutierrez stopped the video and had students briefly discuss and summarize the concept. Students also were assigned to take notes.
That lesson is part of a longer-term project Gutierrez’s students are doing this semester. Working in groups, they will design a brand of gum—complete with packaging and a slogan—and will write and record an advertisement. The idea is to teach them to be savvy consumers, as well as to practice writing, working in groups, and thinking critically.
One student cast a questioning eye on the video, suggesting that Discovery might be providing information on advertising techniques just so students and teachers would trust Discovery and schools would continue to buy its products.
Gutierrez commended the boy for thinking critically and for recognizing that even Discovery has something to sell.
The decision to switch from textbooks to Discovery techbooks has led to some concern from teachers. Gary Bodman, who teaches science at Madison Middle School, said he is worried about reaching students who don’t have a computer or internet access at home.