If voters approve school bond packages in Lancaster and Forney, Texas, in the Nov. 7 elections, those districts will become the latest in the Lone Star State to begin replacing traditional hardbound textbooks with electronic versions.

The Plano and Irving, Texas, school districts have already introduced eBooks into some of their classrooms, and the Midland, Texas, school district is moving away from old-fashioned textbooks entirely, said Anita Givens of the Texas Education Agency.

“In some classrooms, teachers give students traditional textbooks to keep at home, and they use online books or other resources at school,” Givens said.

Forney schools are planning the most complete overhaul, with a school-bond package that would provide $11.8 million for laptops for students. The plan is to have most students using only electronic textbooks within two years, school officials said.

If that happens, Forney would probably be the first school district in Texas to use eBooksin every classroom from fifth grade on up, Givens said.

Forney’s planned switch has already begun with a pilot program for fifth- and sixth-graders. About 160 students have laptops that cost about $900 each, and they all use eBooks. School officials say the laptops will need to be replaced about every four years.

School officials say eBooks have several advantages over traditional textbooks. For one, they are easier to update with new information. Forney students still use a textbook that names the late Ann Richards as the Texas governor.

“One of the issues around textbooks is once they’re published, they can’t be changed, and in Texas those books are on an eight- to 10-year cycle,” said Alice Owens, the executive director of technology for the Irving school district.

The growth of student enrollments also is easier to accommodate with eBooks said Jennie Moore, a spokeswoman for Forney schools. eBooks can be uploaded to laptops quickly, instead of waiting weeks or months for a shipment of new textbooks.

A teacher in the Irving school system said teachers often have more trouble adjusting to eBooks than students.

“It’s harder for people who are right around my age and older,” said Connie Cooley, 36. “I’m computer-savvy, so I was ready for it, but those [who] aren’t are a little apprehensive.”

Texas school systems aren’t the only ones looking to eBooks as an alternative to traditional textbooks. Philadelphia’s School of the Future, designed in conjunction with software giant Microsoft Corp. (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6579), recently opened without textbooks, as did a new high school in Vail, Ariz., near Tucson (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5828).

Meanwhile, California is undertaking an experiment that could have ripple effects across the country: A program already under way in select elementary schools has history teachers scrapping traditional textbooks in favor of digital learning materials (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6551).

Through the program, from educational publisher Pearson Scott Foresman, state educators have access to a complete digital curriculum with online books, video, assessment, and interactive learning tools. Using these materials, teachers can build a lesson, teach an entire class, or tailor activities to suit students’ individual needs.

The program is aligned with a new set of standards for digital textbooks, called SCORM (for Sharable Content Object Reference Model), that should allow the state to integrate these resources with other digital learning platforms or materials.

Officials say the emergence of SCORM could help speed the use of electronic curriculum materials in schools in other states, too (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6249).

Links:

Forney Independent School District
https://webapps.forneyisd.net/index.html

Irving Independent School District
http://www.irvingisd.net

Texas Education Agency
http://www.tea.state.tx.us