Advocates of the move toward all-digital resources say this trend can save schools money over time, because schools can use open curriculum resources that are available free of charge online–eliminating or at least slashing the cost of replacing outdated textbooks every five or six years. But it’s unclear how these cost savings might be offset by other expenses, such as the hardware and infrastructure costs required to make sure all students have fast, reliable internet access as needed.
It’s also unclear how students, even those of the digital generation, will take to using electronic resources instead of print. For K-12 schools that retain ownership of textbooks and forbid students from marking up the text, this might be less of an issue; but some college students who have used digital textbooks say they missed the ability to take notes in the margin, or flag important pages with sticky notes.
Another issue that could help decide the fate of schools’ experiments with digital textbooks is the future of electronic publishing.
Although a growing number of schools are embracing books in electronic format, many classic titles that have become staples of the English curriculum still aren’t available as eBooks. These include, most notably, the Harry Potter series and countless other favorites: Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22; Lolita and To Kill a Mockingbird; Atlas Shrugged, The Outsiders, and Fahrenheit 451.
The reasons can be legal, financial, technical, or philosophical. In some cases, the author or author’s estate simply refuses, like J.K. Rowling, who has expressed a preference for printed books and a wariness of technology. In others, the author, or his or her estate, is holding out for more money.
A potentially disturbing electronic-publishing development with important implications for schools occurred last month, when Amazon snared the exclusive rights to sell The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership, by Stephen Covey, in eBook format. The deal essentially freezes out Barnes & Noble from getting the popular titles on the Nook, its eBook reader and a major rival to Amazon’s Kindle. If other authors sign similar deals in the future, that could limit the options available to users of a particular e-reader technology.
Yet another issue that bears watching in 2010 is the fate of Google’s proposed book-scanning deal with authors and publishers, which would allow the internet search giant to move forward with its plans to amass a huge digital library.
The landmark deal nearly fell apart over concerns that it would thwart competition in the emerging digital-book market, but the two sides agreed to a revised settlement that awaits a federal judge’s approval this year.
At stake is access to the full text of millions of out-of-print books online, a potential goldmine for scholars and other researchers. Google has called its Books project, which also scans public-domain works, an invaluable chance for obscure books to receive increased exposure; the revised deal awaits a hearing in February.
2. How will schools deal with a lingering financial crisis that isn’t expected to end anytime soon?
While some economists point to signs that the nation’s economy is improving, others say the U.S. faces a much slower climb out of the recession–a scenario that could disrupt public education in 2010 and beyond.
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