Publishers answering the call for digital textbooks

By Laura Devaney, Managing Editor
January 15th, 2013

Many digital textbook choices exist, but the quality varies widely.

(Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on digital textbooks. Part 2, which will run next month, will focus on schools’ use of digital texts in the classroom.)

The call for U.S. schools to move toward digital textbooks within the next five years has some education officials pondering their options. Publishers, meanwhile, are starting to answer the call.

Last year, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged the nation’s schools to opt for digital textbooks as quickly as possible. “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete,” he said during a National Press Club address in October. “The world is changing. This has to be where we go as a country.”

But a number of challenges to reaching this goal exist—including finding and evaluating high-quality digital texts. To help school leaders with this challenge, here’s a closer look at the current digital textbook market for K-12 schools.

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4 Responses to “Publishers answering the call for digital textbooks”

January 16, 2013

Thank you for this in depth look at digital textbooks. I am wondering what kind of response eSchoolnews readers would have to the idea of teacher created digital textbooks?

We are trying to bring teachers together this summer to hack together quality content for anyone to take back to their district and further personalize for their students. For example, collectively we would create interactive widgets, formative assessments, and quality text and images. Then teachers could take raw ibooks files and add their own videos, projects, etc.

Wondering what other readers think of this idea? Any benefits? gaps?
Thanks for helping us shape this project,

    January 22, 2013

    @adilaura – We are working on bringing interested districts together to create “eTextbooks”. I’ve done a lot of research and spoke to schools that have done this. Here are some considerations to think about:
    • What will be used to author/create? How will students access? We think it is more important to have content in a place that can be accessed by multiple devices, especially since not all out districts are 1:1 or using iPads, so we are opting for CK-12. After we get together text, links, video, and images we may see who is interested in transferring this over to iBooks with and adding additional widgets.
    • Time/Compensation – It takes a lot more time then one would think. Those that have gone through the process have recommended 300 hours for a semester long course and 600 hours for a year long course. So the cost savings may not be a lot, but one district that did it said it was the best professional development their staff went through, because they know their content and curriculum(eTextbook) better than they ever have before.
    • Plan for revisions – One benefit of creating your own eTextbook is the idea it can change to fit the class, students, change in information etc…., so for revisions. As students interact in the book teachers can track what works well/what doesn’t work well and revise – a kind of formative assessment if you will:)
    • Use of copyright/open source materials – Make sure whoever is creating is knowledgeable about copyright and has access to a collection of open source materials.

    Hopefully this is helpful – please feel free to contact me on Twitter @OlsonStacy or

    Stacy Olson-Technology Integration Coordinator
    Lakes Country Service Cooperative-Fergus Falls, MN

    January 27, 2013

    Great ideas. We are looking at the new science common core and we are trying to integrate how we can implement the standards, but also make the ibook framework for a “text book” and supplement or personalized info by the teacher. Empowering the teachers to collaborate and create content will help educators in saving money, help hone in content and teach one another technology. For a base we are looking at using flexbooks from and then using Sigil which is a free ebook maker.

January 17, 2013

Thanks for this part 1 summary of your thoughts about digital textbooks in schools. It would be terrific if you could emphasize the importance of asking vendors if digital materials are fully accessible to all users right from the start. Some digital texts are locked up PDF and don’t allow the use of screen reader technologies to provide access to those with vision and other print disabilities. Others are developed in ways that are simply not considerate of available accessible technologies.

Having computers, iPads and Android devices that provide accessibility features such as text to speech and navigation supports are often wasted on those who are provided with content that cannot be used with all learners.

Some might suggest that similar content may be available from other sources but the Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights would rightfully claim that an equivalent educational experience is simply not being provided and is therefore a violation of the learner’s basic civil rights.