Readers: Digital textbook implementation just a dream

By Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor
October 12th, 2012

“The digital divide will grow even larger without the financial support necessary to make this move a reality,” said one reader.

From calls to action from major education organizations, all the way to a mission set forth by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the higher-ups in education are saying it’s time to go all digital with textbooks.

But at the district, school, and classroom levels, is going all digital—which promises larger returns on investment and more interactive and personalized learning—as simple as it seems? And does going digital really put less strain on teachers and students?

According to readers, though digital textbooks sound good in theory, not all students would have access to these materials from home as well as school. Also, many schools just don’t have the funding, or infrastructure, needed to support these efforts.

Do you agree? Take a look at these arguments from readers and let us know! (Comments edited for brevity.)

Make it more than just a digital copy

“The iTextbook that students can have published is an educational milestone on several levels. The two that come to mind right away are (1) the learning they accomplished through the process and (2) the enhanced learning available to the users. This is an obvious example of [students] ‘owning’ the learning (the constructivist approach). With respect to the end user, the video and link enchantments take the usually plain eText format to a whole new level. While publishers have taken some steps to upgrade their texts from simple page-turners, it appears this publication goes way beyond that—making the embedded content the heart of the project. I do not think it’s pandering to the modern student to apply these kind of technological advancements to the educational environment. Rather, anything we can do to make education more relevant to our current technological environment is worth the effort.” —Tom Crawford, M.Ed. (Educational Technology), Instrumental and Exploratory Music, Emily Gray Jr. High, Tanque Verde Elem./Agua Caliente Elem.

“It is a great idea, in theory, but instead of just translating paper text to digital, one should embrace the capabilities of the technology and enhance the digital textbooks. Add videos, add audio, add experiments, … make it more interactive and engaging. Capture the way students learn, and then you will see added value and a growth in knowledge.” —Tryna King, product training coordinator, Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Koreans’ 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 [the IMS Global Learning Consortium, which has developed standards for the interoperability of digital content] 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 bottom-up, district-by-district, and supplier-by-supplier approach. See [this] blog post on recent developments:” —rjabel

Not until everyone has access

“[Digital textbooks are a] good idea for many, but not so good for students [who] do not have computer/online access outside of the school. We have both hard copy and online [textbooks] available, which is how it should be until access is guaranteed [for] all.” —C. Smith, National Board Certified Teacher

“I am an administrator in the largest high school in Kansas—poverty level in the student population is around 70 percent—[and] the [idea] of textbooks being exclusively digital is far from practical. Students do not have the means to acquire the technology device necessary to facilitate digital content—[and] unless publishers have shifted their pricing structure, there is no cost advantage to going digital, while still paying the same price or an annual fee that is nearly the same.

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5 Responses to “Readers: Digital textbook implementation just a dream”

Many of the responses have hit the nail on the head. It comes down to cost. Regardless of the creativity of the publishers or how effectively teachers can integrate technology, having the technology is tantamount to everything else.
The issues of cost have to be solved first.

It will take time, money, and effort, but an inevitable evolution is underway that will lead to the widespread adoption of digital curriculum materials over the next several years. Device costs are steadily decreasing and bandwidth availability is increasing as the cost of network equipment drops. Ebooks are going mainstream in the consumer sector as are tablet devices. These trends will intensify and seep into the education sector.

October 13, 2012

I think people are missing the real issue – Do we need textbooks? I serve on the Board of Directors for the Manchester Academic Charter Schools. Our middle school teachers are using the “Big Ideas” from the Common Core Standards to create their own learning materials as part of a Project-based learning approach. They are working collaboratively to find inter-connected themes. One of the parents spoke before the School Board this week. She exuberantly praised the new direction. She now sees her kids coming home to do research. Instead of spend a few minutes to finish homework, they are spending hours investigating new ideas and trying to find answers to their questions, not the teacher’s question. The eTextbook for the future should be dynamic process that provides a personalized learning path. We do not need more textbooks, print or digital, unless they allow for this move towards a more engaged personal approach.

October 15, 2012

If situation of how books are selected and the addition of ebooks is a cost, then it can take more money that districts will have. But consider the other options, if we are to change the concept of textbooks to electronic devices, perhaps we can also change the structure of adopting text. Consider CK12 – the produce a whole middle and high school set of text books for science and math, and now are expanding their Social Studies and Language Arts collections, and all of their electonic books are free. When you consider that many of the textbooks for a device could be available for free, that changes the cost model. Next, consider the readabilty of the textbook, a properly formated etext would be adaptable to the reader, making it more accommodating for them – something we have long been doing for students with special needs, that can be effective for all. Initially we may be using a lower level device, something that may not be able to do everything that we like, but expand a bit from the printed textbook. Even something as just being able to take notes and highlight within a textbook is a major improvment through interaction with the content. As for device cost, here we see a very differnt curve than with textbooks. Over the past, the cost of textbooks have been going up – between 1986 and 2004, percentage increase in college textbooks rose 186%, but the costs of ebook devices has dropped. One new ebook device coming to the US is the Txtr Beagle, which is supposed to have a store price of about $15.

October 15, 2012

I can remember being in high school in the ’70’s when the first four function calculators were $200; now you can buy one at the dollar store. The first beta video player we owned was over $1000 (in 1982 dollars). Our first flat panel TV was $3500 in 2005 and a Terabyte portable HDD was over $500 in 2008. When will we get the fact that if we will let a free market economy drive the process the price point will match consumer demand? Our biggest problem is that “Textbooks” are education’s “hallowed” ground, while learning and knowledge are in the public domain. (aka: Kahn Academy) I can remember one of our school board members telling me I was “crazy” to think that our Title One households would all have DVD players in their homes one day..(1998; now WalMart $34. It’s amazing that Amazon can market a huge array of digital “texts” (note: not “textbooks”) and that the Kindle price point is consumer and market driven. If we can get the strangle hold on public school “learning” and “knowledge” out of the hands of the textbook manufacturers and into the public marketplace, it will become practical, affordable and useful much quicker. Bought a copy of Rosetta Stone lately?….