Education chief wants textbooks to go digital

From wire service reports
October 3rd, 2012

“The world is changing,” Duncan said. “This has to be where we go as a country.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Oct. 2 called for the nation to move as fast as possible away from printed textbooks and toward digital ones. “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete,” he declared.

It’s not just a matter of keeping up with the times, Duncan said in remarks to the National Press Club. It’s about keeping up with other countries whose students are leaving their American counterparts in the dust.

South Korea, which consistently outperforms the U.S. when it comes to educational outcomes, is moving far faster than the U.S. in adopting digital learning environments. One of the most wired countries in the world, South Korea has set a goal to go fully digital with its textbooks by 2015.

“The world is changing,” Duncan said. “This has to be where we go as a country.”

The transition from print to digital instruction involves much more than scanning books and uploading them to computers, tablet devices, or eReaders. Proponents describe a comprehensive shift to immersive, online learning experiences that engage students in a way a textbook never could.

See also:

SETDA urges shift to digital instruction

Albuquerque schools embrace ‘techbooks’ instead of textbooks

States moving slowly toward digital textbooks

For instance, students studying algebra might click to watch a video clip explaining a new concept or property. If they get stuck, interactive help features could help them figure out the problem. Personalized quizzes ensure they’re not missing anything—and if they are, bring them up to speed before they move on to the next lesson. Social networking would allow students to interact with teachers and each other, even when school isn’t in session.

Using digital textbooks, schools can save money on hard copies and get updated material to students more quickly, Duncan said. School districts also might be able to pick and choose their curriculum buffet-style. A district might choose one publisher’s top-notch chapter on Shakespeare, but follow it with another publisher’s section on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

But adopting digital textbooks isn’t as easy as a directive from Washington, D.C. States set their own processes for selecting and purchasing textbooks that match their needs.

1 2 Read More »

15 Responses to “Education chief wants textbooks to go digital”

October 3, 2012

So, how do teachers assist in the rapid development of student maturity? Have there been any new developments in funding for this? What about the issue of gravitational pull? Kids can be clumsy. If these text books are online and the wireless network fails, technology then begins to prove inefficiency. What about districts that have a high population of students with disabilities?

It seems so obvious to me: If a school system or selected grades are insuring students could have access to e-books, they should optimize the learning by using NO textbooks -‘have the students identify, evaluate, and organize information from found sources, leading to effective learning!!!!

October 3, 2012

E-texts are a great idea, I have the E-editions for my books here at school. However, I work in a district with 80% Title 1 (poverty/low income) and my students don’t all have computers or internet. How are poor families going to participate?
I just love how Arne has now added our free time at home to instruction saying that students can have access to teachers for help at home. When is my personal time?

October 3, 2012

As an educator, I believe it is very important to teach material that is important for the future of the students. When inventing my math and memory system Brainetics (, I wanted to focus on new subjects and innovative methods to teach. By teaching for the 21st century, students will be more prepared in the future. It seems like so many aspects of today’s society centers around the digital environment and teaching should be altered to adapt.

Great article,

Mike Byster
Inventor of Brainetics, Educator, Author of Genius, Mathematician

October 4, 2012

Most, if not all would agree the concept of moving to digital textbooks and content is the way to go. While there may be some cost savings associated with going to digital, don’t believe for a minute the publishers will reduce their prices. My guess would be that to truly go digital with interactive content and video will keep costs near current costs, and if not, don’t expect that profit to be returned to the customer. However, by far, the biggest issue is the funding to make this happen in every school district across the nation. In most States, budgets have been cut drastically. There is no funding to provide the required technology for both the devices and more importantly the infrastructure and professional development to keep this sustainable. It is very easy to make a statement, and in some cases a mandate, but provide no funding to make it happen. E-rate funding is in dire straits. Most Federal funding now gets directed toward Title funding which only serves part of a districts population and still has the overriding requirement to “supplement, not supplant”. Districts cannot keep going relying on Bond programs for all capital expenditures, it is not realistic, or economical in relation to technology. If the government is serious, provide equitable funding for all students, whether it be at the Federal or State level (and State funding brings up a whole new debate).

October 4, 2012

samanthacarr – Digital Equity is becoming a more and more pressing issue. It isn’t just the move of instructional materials from print to digital. It is part of 21st Century Skills, Digital Citizenship, preparedness for equality in Digital Assessments and access to Educational resources (human and othewise) for more of the day and more of the year.

Digital Equity can be broken down into two MAJOR issues. First, a computing device. Let’s not get into what device that will be, but it is clear the student need something and not all student’s have it. Second is connectivity. Off-campus access (not just at home, but anywhere) is a major equality issue. There are new business models emerging (some self-bias here, but I’ve made it my career goal to solve this issue) which are making Digital Equity easier to solve. If we truly only focus on what is needed for educational, on-task, appropriate use the cost is much lower than what traditional business models have provided.

We cannot “connect every family to the internet” as a general statement. That is not the role of our schools. But connecting every student to any/all digital resources equally is both technically possible and more affordable now than ever.

Michael Flood
VP, Education Markets

Shouldn’t we be talking about digital, interactive content and not textbooks?

My middle school children like to use digital resources to complete their lessons…and, they do it often off of their iTouch with free wifi from a local coffee shop.

So, let’s get inventive and not let the boundaries hold back innovative thinking!

October 8, 2012

I readily agree that digital texts to some extent will become more viable, but to assume that all texts will be opens many more cans of worms than it can contain. Where does faculty training come in and just who will do it? Faculty are now so overloaded that training in technology makes them have to put other things off that must be done after classes or on the weekends.
A major factor is the fear and mistrust of science and technology that is growing in this country. When the head of a House committee on Science and Technology believes that the earth is only 9,000 years old and that evolution is a theory from “hell” then we have a long way to go in this country to catch up with any technologically advanced country.

Note: South Korea is leveraging the IMS Global Interoperability standards, namely Common Cartridge, Learning Tools Interoperability, and Question & Test Interoperability to move to the digital textbook. South Korea is a very active member of IMS Global. The Korean’s view of the digital textbook is much more than a digitized book. It is interactive content that can be leveraged inside and outside of the classroom. Since IMS is U.S. based, attending IMS meetings and/or keeping up on the IMS work is a great way to learn what the Koreans are doing. IMS standards are experiencing strong adoption in the U.S. now as well – but more from a bottoms-up, district by district, and supplier by supplier approach. See a recent blog post on recent developments:

October 8, 2012

I use a Kindle. I also built my first home LAN 20 years ago. I have laptops and tablets, I use multiple screens, a digital projector and a document camera in my classroom. I was using a PalmPilot long before anyone thought of smart phones. In other words, I am pretty technically savvy, and I use lots of technology both at home and for teaching.

However, I recently took an advanced (master’s level) chemistry class using the on-line version of a very popular chemistry textbook. After just two weeks of the class, I gave up on the online version and shelled out the cash for the dead tree version. My verdict, digital textbooks stink. I had similar experiences with computer programming, physics, mathematics and biology texts.

Moving to digital texts _may_ be appropriate in the humanities (I’m quite content reading novels and plays on the Kindle) but they are, ironically, worse then useless for science and technical fields. Publishers simply have not created effective note taking and annotation tools for digital texts.

Three things MUST happen before we start, lemming like, over the digital text cliff. One is that someone is going to have to buy digital devices for every single student. The second is that someone is going to have to pay for unlimited wireless bandwidth in every school and every student’s home. The third, is that text book publishers are going to have to come out with a MUCH better product because the current digital textbooks are garbage.

October 9, 2012

While the goal for using ebooks as a replacement for textbooks is one that should be pursued, it is not currently practical for many school districts. That seems to be a recurring theme in the comments about this plan. One other thing bothers me about the justification for the rush to get rid of text books, is that it somehow equates the superiority of South Korean students’ performance in educational outcomes to their adoption of digital learning environments. That seems overly simplistic and flawed. I think there may be many other factors that influence South Korean performance. The most obvious one would be the cultural emphasis on that goal.

October 9, 2012

The thing that troubles me the most is that because we have a large population of poor and low income students in the urban areas of our country how are we going to make sure that education does not become the difference between the haves and the have nots. Our educational system is one of the few in the world where anyone can be whatever they want to through education because it is available to all. But with this advance where do our urban poverty/low income students end up.

In our district, we just went to a digital math curriculum, and there are quite a few students who are struggling with C’s and D’s because they can’t get on the internet to do their homework.

Is this responsibility going to also fall on the school systems whose dollars are already stretched and having a hard time meeting the needs of those students who we serve.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology and the way that it brings the world out there into the classroom, but it also needs to be fair to those who can’t afford to buy internet service or the equipment to use it.

October 9, 2012

Don’t talk about digital textbooks. That’s just entirely last century thinking.

Once you go online, things change totally. Note the qualifier. If (emphasize the if here) you are thinking of putting textbooks online, you must have access for all students. If you have that, then you can do much, much better than old textbooks.

Once you’re online, learning should be highly interactive, individual, and self-paced — learn to mastery. Why not? Textbooks are dull and passive. Videos may be less dull, but they’re still passive.

The online medium can be extremely interactive, can track progress, can adjust content, can inform teachers of any learning difficulties, and much more.

I’ve been working for such things. Right now, my colleagues and I have built the world’s only online hands-on science labs. They have interactive data collection from real experiments.

We’re called Smart Science Education Inc. Please visit us.

We are already using an online blended format for grades 7-12. K12 Aventa courses utilize a tutorial type progression through the content; teachers back it up in the classroom with project-oriented, collaborative activities. We are also a 1 to 1 computer school for grades 4-12, so one initiative led to the other.

October 16, 2012

I enjoyed reading all the comments and different perspectives. I love books, and I prefer reading an actual book to a computer screen. I spend way to much of my time on a computer as it is. Using tech in the classroom is a way to enhance learning. Tablets and laptops are not a magic potion that will make students smarter, they are tools use them as such. In a world where far too many families do not have the resources to feed their own children (the schools have to offer free breakfasts and lunches to students even in summer when school is out???) I find this kind of debate important but not the most important issue facing schools today. Use what resources you have and strive for better world for all.