APS is still in the first year of its TechBook initiative but is working toward a one-to-one deployment of devices. “My hope is that we will eventually [enable] students who do not have access [to] check out machines that will help with their coursework,” she said.

Teacher use of the TechBooks varies, and this is one area where many ed-tech experts say digital textbook projects can fail. Jacobson said some teachers were quick to embrace the TechBooks and use them every day, while others have been slower to adapt.

“I think it’s going to take some time,” she said. “Every school will have training this year, so I think as time goes by, we will continue to see that growth.”

To that end, the district has designated Discovery Educator Network (DEN) Stars, who are “power” TechBook users available to help other educators in the district.

Pressuring teachers won’t lead to more widespread use, though, and Jacobson said she realizes that mandating TechBook use would be counterproductive.

“Getting the kids excited about it [is key,] because then the pressure’s on the teachers,” she said. “I could say, ‘You will use Discovery [TechBooks] X hours a week,’ and that’s not going to get us anywhere. But we will if we lead the teachers through it, give them the support they need, give them practice time, and provide some really good professional development.”

See also:

Publishers answering the call for digital textbooks

Education chief wants textbooks to go digital

Readers: Digital textbook implementation just a dream

A device-agnostic program is essential, Jacobson added: “We talked with publishers about the move to digital content, and that has to be one of the ways that we do this. Using an eReader, an iPad or iPhone, a laptop—we need it to be usable in every form.”

And though the district’s size presented some challenges, its efforts have paid off.

“It’s been a pretty smooth ride,” Jacobson said. “Trying to get 90,000 passwords and usernames out and making sure that everybody can log on … for a while, our phones were lighting up all the time. Now, that doesn’t happen, and everybody has access.”

Using open content

In Junction City, Kan., the Geary County Schools (GCS) USD No. 475 built on the enthusiasm of seven high school biology teachers when it began a digital textbook project using the nonprofit CK-12 Foundation’s free and customizable online FlexBook for 10th-grade biology classes. The district is in its second semester using the FlexBooks.

Facing an upcoming biology textbook adoption, some teachers presented the district’s director of secondary education and curriculum, Carol Arjona, with a printed textbook that included an online version. But Arjona asked what it was about that paper-based text that would prepare the district’s students to be globally competitive.