Are digital textbooks worth it?

Copious Copia
Copia is among the companies responding to a mashable culture. The company offers schools and colleges the ability to choose bits and pieces from a wide array of partners, including Macmillan, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin, Pearson, Random House, and Simon and Schuster. They offer textbook publishers a platform with instant interoperability and digital features such as the ability for teachers to embed in-class discussions, quizzes, and activities within the text and to track student usage and achievement.

Cross platform reliability is a work in progress. In an attempt to avoid the technical glitches that come with digital materials, some districts have insisted that all digital content be compliant with the interoperability standards of the IMS Global Learning Consortium. Copia aims to be IMS compliant by the beginning of the next school year.

Advanced Placement courses are the focus of a small, new Copia/iPad pilot at Islip High School in New York. Wayne Mennecke has brought the Copia/iPad pilot to two sections of AP Biology and one section of Biochemistry. Explains Mennecke, “I view their use right now as I would lab equipment. Not every lesson calls for every piece of lab equipment, but when the opportunity is right, students can and should take advantage of the tablets as a resource.” Mennecke has used some apps that deal with the concepts of mitosis and cell division, and his students are reading selections from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Sports Gene.

Rahana Schmalacker has used Copia for poems and short stories with her AP literature students. They will soon begin their first digital novel, the classic warning of mechanization, Frankenstein. She was surprised to find that students do not find the technology or content particularly exciting. “Some are more comfortable with paper,” she explains. But students like the convenience of clicking for definitions, and Schmalacker likes the ability to guide reading with embedded questions. The devices don’t go home with the students, and both teachers say that this limits their value.

Copia began with a significant Australian project, LearningField, and their U.S. projects are growing larger very soon. According to a November memo from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Virginia will pilot a statewide digital textbook marketplace, where districts can purchase approved digital textbooks and other learning resources. They are starting by inviting foreign language teachers (which will have textbooks with sound) and AP classes to volunteer for using the marketplace’s portal, developed by Copia. Fairfax does not yet know how this will impact their use of digital textbooks.

(Next page: A laptop-friendly option backed by research)

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