Readers: Digital textbook implementation just a dream

“There isn’t an infrastructure in place for a district of 50,000 students to support the technology needs a digital dispersement would require. The mobility of students in an urban district induces a level of unexpected relocation that makes inventory of equipment extremely unpractical. Not a good idea to impose on districts.” —Steven Shook, assistant principal, IB coordinator, Wichita High School East, Wichita, Kan.

“For schools where students have iPods, laptops, eReaders, etc., that go home with [the students] at the end of the day, this is great—but not all students/schools have that option. I still have students who cannot afford a computer at home, much less a portable device. If a student has homework and needs to use the textbook to do it, this poses a problem for them and for the schools. These devices are costly for parents and/or schools to purchase and replace. I am not in favor of this.” —Paula Metz

Pedagogy comes first

“Schools and teachers must learn more about the pedagogy that supports learning from digital tools. Also, is it possible to put in some form of regulation of cost? School districts can easily go into debt just keeping up with the textbook demand related to the Common Core State Standards.” —Carolyn J. Evans, chief academic officer, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Mich.

“Who is teaching the teachers and students how to evaluate the resources; are they accurate? Have they been self-published, and, therefore, not edited or fact checked? Is the author an expert? Are students prepared to read ‘critically’ online for details? Are teachers prepared to detect plagiarized work, so easy with digitized text? Who in the school has the expertise to help with this? A good school librarian? … Well, that is, if the school has a school librarian. Sadly, I believe this is a huge missing piece. [It] reminds me of the way schools ran out and spent thousands of dollars on computers but never trained any of the teachers on [the] best ways to use them. Many of those computers sat untouched for a very long time. Some called them ‘boat anchors.’ Let’s prioritize and think it through this time. It is an idea whose time has come, but bring in some creative thinkers to determine how to pull it off.” —Sandy Kelly, LMS-NBCT, library media teacher, Carlisle School, Carlisle, Mass.

Digital resources need time to mature

“We are a school using digital textbooks this year. We have to use three different formats with considerable variance in quality and features. This should not be a federal mandate, but a local school district or state-enabled requirement. Published textbooks are still valuable. Digital resources are not mature enough or widely available yet. Devices are not yet accessible to sufficient numbers of students to move there yet. Some students need physical books for best learning and matched learning style. Young students do not have the fine motor skills or development to take full advantage of digital resources, so that some content may not transfer to a useable media for them. Eliminating weight of printed textbooks is a good thing. Textbook resources need to eventually assimilate individualized modification by … experienced and creative teachers and/or be preplaced by multimedia curriculum that are flexible and dynamic.” —Larry O’Reilly, education technology specialist, Southeast Christian School, Parker, Colo.

“From our one-to-one computing experience at Mercy High School, yes, it’s easier said than done. This past year while embracing a dual environment, PCs and Macs, we’ve found that the digital world hasn’t worked out all [the] kinks while promising the ultimate digital textbook solution. If it’s an enhancement to a textbook, perhaps; however, from our experience, not all students find digital books the solution. There’s a myriad of digital enhancements for lesson content; however, the publishers are just coming on board—working feverishly to offer eBook and iBook options. We’re definitely looking for the ultimate solution to lighten backpacks, but in reality, there are a number of details—along with a committed staff—that needs to be in place before digital texts are a working reality.” —Cheryl Corte

“I am pretty technically savvy, and I use lots of technology both at home and for teaching. However, I recently took an advanced (master’s level) chemistry class using the online version of a very popular chemistry textbook. After just two weeks of the class, I gave up on the online version and shelled out the cash for the dead tree version. My verdict: Digital textbooks stink. I had similar experiences with computer programming, physics, mathematics, and biology texts. Moving to digital texts may be appropriate in the humanities, but they are, ironically, worse than useless for science and technical fields. Publishers simply have not created effective note-taking and annotation tools for digital texts. Three things must happen before we start, lemming-like, over the digital text cliff. One is that someone is going to have to buy digital devices for every single student. The second is that someone is going to have to pay for unlimited wireless bandwidth in every school and every student’s home. The third is that textbook publishers are going to have to come out with a much better product, because the current digital textbooks are garbage.” —ctdahle

Infrastructure is not yet ready

As a middle school principal and a supporter of education attempting to keeping pace with the ‘real world,’ I am all about using digital tools. However, nothing is ever as easy as, ‘I say we should, and therefore it happens.’ We have one district in our Regional Education Service Area that rolled out iPads to all students [in] grades 6-12 at the start of the 2012-13 school year. That district is now responsible for utilizing 40 percent of our county’s daily internet usage. We have seven other districts, one considerably larger than that one, and six similar in size. Question: Where would we be if every district in our county rolled out the same initiative? Answer: We would all be using chalkboards, because our current infrastructure and support would crash and burn.

Meris Stansbury

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