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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

 ”Our excellent RESA tech staff is struggling to keep service up and going at present under current demands. In average Michigan counties, this initiative would cost millions of dollars to upgrade infrastructure (increasing broadband and firewall securities) in addition to hiring enough staff to support the increases to all aspect of the system.  If this comes to the locals as yet another unfunded mandate, it will not be possible—but it is fun to dream!” —Matt Drake, principal, Capac Middle School, Capac Virtual Education Program director

No funding, no digital texts

“I do agree that we should go digital, but where are the funds going to come from to ensure that all students have access to the digital format at school and home? I work in a Title I building where I have one student computer for 26 students and a SMART Board. As well, many of our students do not have access to the internet at home. An answer might be, go to the library to do your work. [But many students] don’t have a means of transportation. Take a bus to get to the library. Again, they don’t have the financial means to spend on a bus ticket. I’m truly interested in how to make this happen, but as we can see in our large district, we have … groups of ‘haves’ [and] ‘have nots,’ and going digital will take huge financial obligations which, at this time, our district does not have. … I’m more interested in how this will be accomplished throughout our nation in an equitable fashion.” —Mrs. Dorsey

“Many districts are struggling to balance budgets in this difficult economy. Budget cuts and increased service costs make this more challenging each year. In order to begin to make the move to digital textbooks, schools will need to purchase and maintain an eReader for every student. Districts will then need to make textbook purchases for every subject taught to each student. Further complicating the move is the fact that most textbook publishers charge a yearly per-license fee for continued use. These expenses are a daunting challenge for any district. For urban districts, the cost makes this move impossible. As a result, the digital divide will grow even larger without the financial support necessary to make this move a reality. Instead of purchasing all of the consultants hired to support Race To The Top initiatives, how about putting these funds toward worthwhile improvements such as this? Wouldn’t it make sense to provide teachers with the tools to effectively prepare their students for the future while we evaluate how well they do so?” —Elaine Zagrodny , grade 3 teacher, Citizen’s Memorial Elementary School, Woonsocket Education Department

What about students with disabilities?

“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 textbooks 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?” —wallace

All texts are going out of style

“It seems so obvious to me: If a school system or selected grades are ensuring students could have access to eBooks, they should optimize the learning by using no textbooks. Have the students identify, evaluate, and organize information from found sources, leading to effective learning!” —jcbjr

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  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?….