Schools confront digital textbook challenges

Matt Drake, principal of Michigan’s Capac Middle School, commented: “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. 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 … but it’s fun to dream!”

Elaine Zagrodny, a third-grade teacher at Citizens Memorial Elementary School in Woonsocket, R.I., said she was most concerned about costs: “Most textbook publishers charge a yearly per-license fee for continued use. These expenses are a daunting challenge for any district.”

Despite these challenges, some schools have successfully implemented digital textbooks, SETDA’s report notes.

Arizona’s Vail School District launched “Beyond Textbooks,” an initiative that is spreading across the state. It features a repository of digital content created and shared by participating teachers. The content is vetted for copyright compliance, formatting problems, alignment with standards, and rigor. In Vail, the Beyond Textbooks approach has helped boost student math and reading achievement—passing rates are now 20 percent or more above state averages.

See also:

Publishers answering the call for digital textbooks

Education chief wants textbooks to go digital

Readers: Digital textbook implementation just a dream

In 2009, Virginia adopted a digital textbook for high school physics. “FlexBook: CK-12 Physics” is published under an open license supported by the CK-12 foundation and is free for teachers to use, share, and adapt. In August 2012, the Virginia Department of Education partnered with public and private organizations to release two more “interactive digital textbooks”—containing 2,600 pages of digital content—for teachers to consider using in required high school finance and economics courses.

‘Platform agnostic’ content helps

K-12 students in the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) are using Discovery Education’s science TechBook, with plans to use the company’s social studies TechBook once it is released and aligned with New Mexico standards. Because these TechBooks are platform-agnostic, users are not limited to a certain type of device.

“APS is based on the idea of changing to a digital learning format,” said Jami Jacobson, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the district.

In a 90,000-student district, a transition of any kind poses challenges. Jacobson said district administrators and technology staff analyzed how many students would be online at the same time, whether bandwidth would be affected, how to accommodate testing, and how to make sure all students and teachers have access to devices and the internet.

Teachers use interactive whiteboards and digital projectors to use the TechBooks in class with students. Many classrooms have one or two desktop computers that students can use individually or in small groups; others have classroom laptop sets, or teachers can take their classes to school computer labs—although these labs can pose a challenge at times, owing to scheduling and availability. Students can access the TechBooks from home or at public libraries; this was one key reason that APS required its digital textbooks to be device-agnostic, so they would work with whatever devices students or their parents have at home, Jacobson said.

Laura Ascione

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