The main reason the school wants to switch to digital textbooks is a financial one, explained Saunders. Besides not having to buy new books, “it will help with replacement costs when books are lost or damaged.”
Saunders said digital texts will help keep items fluid as well. “Once a book is printed, until the next edition is in print, you are stuck with that current text. With technology, [textbook] items can change as quickly as a download of new information.”
It also will be easier on students who typically have to carry very heavy books while walking to class, she added.
During the pilot project, students used curriculum-approved digital texts aligned with state standards to complete several projects, including: making instructional videos, reading a novel in PDF format, and completing a research project using a social networking site as the vehicle to produce the final product.
It is worth noting that the school tracked students’ state reading test scores and found that the students in the pilot program improved to 36 points (the school’s average was 26 points). Saunders and the school believe the increase might be due to the new laptops and available resources.
Moving forward to the 2009-10 school year, Lake Weir will use Microsoft’s Live@edu to access the service’s 25 GB of online storage to reduce the need for bigger hard drives in the 2100 laptops. By doing this, they can buy less expensive laptops, which would reduce costs to around $12,000 for 30 PCs.
Beginning in August, students will have the option of purchasing a laptop with English texts installed. The cost will be around $400.
School district officials also say students may one day be given district-issued laptops with every class’s books installed. Just like books, the laptops would be returned at the end of the school year.
The district’s advice to other school districts is to be sure to plan ahead for laptop battery life, storage capacity, and to identify the classes that are most adaptable to using digital textbooks.
A different perspective
While some districts may praise Gov. Schwarzenegger’s decision, some have other ideas.
According to Todd Whitlock, technology and curriculum coordinator for North Daviess Community Schools, located in Elnora, Ind., moving to digital textbooks as a whole is not a good idea.
“Digital textbooks reinforce the same old way of teaching–just a different . We must invest in teaching how to use existing resources and those that are not even created yet instead of relying on textbooks as the driving force of curriculum, regardless if it is digital or bound in a book,” he said.
North Daviess is a district located in a rural southern part of Indiana with 1,100 students and a high Amish population. Only 63.8 percent of adults have a high school diploma, and less than 7 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The need to implement online texts and resources came through the district’s involvement with state level organizations and committees.
“The need to integrate technology within 21st century learning continued to be a focus and push for us,” said Whitlock. “To do this we realized we must move from the textbook as the curriculum to using all information available to meet state standards. This is what we call the ‘living textbook.”
On August 17 of this year, 175 HP Mini 2140s will be distributed to the district’s ninth and tenth-graders as part of the “Living Textbook” program. The district purchased one per estimated student plus 10 percent.
The district requested quotes from all manufacturers to deliver a product with a six-hour battery life and a cost of less than $400.