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Readers: Digital textbook implementation just a dream

Citing a lack of student access at home and other obstacles, many educators say going all digital could worsen the digital divide

Readers: Digital textbook implementation just a dream

“There isn’t an infrastructure in place for a district of 50,000 students to support the technology needs a digital dispersement would require. The mobility of students in an urban district induces a level of unexpected relocation that makes inventory of equipment extremely unpractical. Not a good idea to impose on districts.” —Steven Shook, assistant principal, IB coordinator, Wichita High School East, Wichita, Kan.

“For schools where students have iPods, laptops, eReaders, etc., that go home with [the students] at the end of the day, this is great—but not all students/schools have that option. I still have students who cannot afford a computer at home, much less a portable device. If a student has homework and needs to use the textbook to do it, this poses a problem for them and for the schools. These devices are costly for parents and/or schools to purchase and replace. I am not in favor of this.” —Paula Metz

Pedagogy comes first

“Schools and teachers must learn more about the pedagogy that supports learning from digital tools. Also, is it possible to put in some form of regulation of cost? School districts can easily go into debt just keeping up with the textbook demand related to the Common Core State Standards.” —Carolyn J. Evans, chief academic officer, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Mich.

“Who is teaching the teachers and students how to evaluate the resources; are they accurate? Have they been self-published, and, therefore, not edited or fact checked? Is the author an expert? Are students prepared to read ‘critically’ online for details? Are teachers prepared to detect plagiarized work, so easy with digitized text? Who in the school has the expertise to help with this? A good school librarian? … Well, that is, if the school has a school librarian. Sadly, I believe this is a huge missing piece. [It] reminds me of the way schools ran out and spent thousands of dollars on computers but never trained any of the teachers on [the] best ways to use them. Many of those computers sat untouched for a very long time. Some called them ‘boat anchors.’ Let’s prioritize and think it through this time. It is an idea whose time has come, but bring in some creative thinkers to determine how to pull it off.” —Sandy Kelly, LMS-NBCT, library media teacher, Carlisle School, Carlisle, Mass.

Digital resources need time to mature

“We are a school using digital textbooks this year. We have to use three different formats with considerable variance in quality and features. This should not be a federal mandate, but a local school district or state-enabled requirement. Published textbooks are still valuable. Digital resources are not mature enough or widely available yet. Devices are not yet accessible to sufficient numbers of students to move there yet. Some students need physical books for best learning and matched learning style. Young students do not have the fine motor skills or development to take full advantage of digital resources, so that some content may not transfer to a useable media for them. Eliminating weight of printed textbooks is a good thing. Textbook resources need to eventually assimilate individualized modification by … experienced and creative teachers and/or be preplaced by multimedia curriculum that are flexible and dynamic.” —Larry O’Reilly, education technology specialist, Southeast Christian School, Parker, Colo.

“From our one-to-one computing experience at Mercy High School, yes, it’s easier said than done. This past year while embracing a dual environment, PCs and Macs, we’ve found that the digital world hasn’t worked out all [the] kinks while promising the ultimate digital textbook solution. If it’s an enhancement to a textbook, perhaps; however, from our experience, not all students find digital books the solution. There’s a myriad of digital enhancements for lesson content; however, the publishers are just coming on board—working feverishly to offer eBook and iBook options. We’re definitely looking for the ultimate solution to lighten backpacks, but in reality, there are a number of details—along with a committed staff—that needs to be in place before digital texts are a working reality.” —Cheryl Corte

“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 online 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, but they are, ironically, worse than 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 textbook publishers are going to have to come out with a much better product, because the current digital textbooks are garbage.” —ctdahle

Infrastructure is not yet ready

As a middle school principal and a supporter of education attempting to keeping pace with the ‘real world,’ I am all about using digital tools. However, nothing is ever as easy as, ‘I say we should, and therefore it happens.’ We have one district in our Regional Education Service Area that rolled out iPads to all students [in] grades 6-12 at the start of the 2012-13 school year. That district is now responsible for utilizing 40 percent of our county’s daily internet usage. We have seven other districts, one considerably larger than that one, and six similar in size. Question: Where would we be if every district in our county rolled out the same initiative? Answer: We would all be using chalkboards, because our current infrastructure and support would crash and burn.

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Comments:

  1. ecross

    October 12, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    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.

  2. gyrhead

    October 13, 2012 at 2:37 am

    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.

  3. norton_gusky

    October 13, 2012 at 11:38 am

    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.

  4. tcavanau

    October 15, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    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.

  5. vworthley

    October 15, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    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?….