Textbook-free schools share experiences, insights

“One of the challenges was just change, just the newness,” said Doris. “The teachers had to learn to be comfortable with the iPad. I think they were also challenged by the fact that the students couldn’t take home their iPads.”

McGraw added that it’s critical to provide the proper support to educators.

“One of the things we found that is probably not unexpected, but I think it’s a good reminder to folks as they think about implementing these [kinds of programs], is we still need a lot of teacher support and professional development,” she said. “These devices provide new opportunities for both students and teachers, and so we need to do a good job in terms of making sure that teachers have the support they need so they’re not just using [the iPads] as a textbook replacement—in that, instead of reading the text from a printed page, the students are simply reading text from a screen.”

Doris said another challenge was students’ desire for more content: “The students wanted more. They wanted more games, they wanted more interactivity—they  were engaged so much by what they were doing that often their response was, ‘Give us more.’”

While Virginia schools swapped textbooks for iPads, the Vail School District in Tucson, Ariz., was one of the first in the nation to trade textbooks in for laptops seven years ago.

For more on digital textbooks, see:

Many U.S. schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

‘TV textbooks’ bring access to low-income Florida students

Custom curriculum publishing on the rise

Who needs a bulky textbook?

“When we implemented one-to-one [computing], we implemented it in a brand-new school, and the thing we did significantly differently is we did not supply students or teachers with any textbooks,” said Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker, a 2006 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winner from eSchool News. “We did it for financial reasons as much as anything else, but it turned out to be one of the best things in terms of instruction, because it forced everybody to do things differently.”

The district used its textbook money to buy the laptops, forcing the teachers to instruct differently.

“What we observed when we visited other one-to-one [computing] schools is it was still very easy and tempting for teachers to just refer back to the way they had been teaching. Our teachers didn’t have that opportunity, because they didn’t have textbooks,” Baker said.

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