Schools look at switching from printed textbooks to the digital format

August 9, 2009

Schools look at switching from printed textbooks to the digital formatIt was only a matter of time before school districts began to realize how much money they could save by moving from printed text books to digital version, but will they have the money to make that large of a move?

Back in July, a think tank proposed that every student in the United States should be provided with some type of e-Textbook reader.  While that isn’t the exact plan that is being followed, numerous school systems, including the entirety of California, are looking at moving to cheaper digital alternatives for teaching their students.

According to The New York Times, schools in Arizona are already offering digital classes to students, and one, Empire High School in Vail, Ariz., has gone so far as to provide laptops to its pupils so that every student can access the texts, homework and podcasts produced by their teachers. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced this summer that every school in the state would be looking at free and “open source” texts to replace math and science books.

The digital age is definitely upon us, but there is a problem in making sure that every students will be able to use the new texts.  Tim Ward, assistant superintendent for instruction in California’s 24,000-student Chaffey Joint Union High School District, told The New York Times, “A large portion of our kids don’t have computers at home, and it would be way too costly to print out the digital textbooks.”

So, what are schools to do?  A move to digital texts will allow a school district to save money, but every students must be able to access the texts, which will mean spending funds on laptops or e-Textbook readers.  While it would be nice to move all of the students at once to the digital format, about the only possibility is to do it in stages.  They will have to start with the students who already have computers, then take the money saved on textbooks from them and funnel that into helping lower income students with the purchase of some sort of e-Textbook reader, a laptop or even something as small as a Netbook.

This is not something that will happen over night, but the move is inevitable.  California alone spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on printed textbooks, and with the state in financial crisis, it is going to have to do something to start saving money, and it’ll have to do it soon.

Beyond the potential financial savings, it will also be a way to allow textbooks to be updated on the fly with new information.  Can you imagine the horror that ripped through science departments when Pluto was down graded from planet status?  Printed texts would have to be purchased new, or teachers would be teaching with glaringly outdated books and having to explain to their students to just ignore the former planet.  With a digital textbook, hit a button, updated texts and bye-bye Pluto.

No matter how you slice it, the age of the printed textbook is drawing to a close, and I am sure that millions of young spines will say “thank you” as they are saved from carrying around insanely have bags filled with all of that paper.

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5 Responses to “Schools look at switching from printed textbooks to the digital format”

  1. JohnJ:

    “With a digital textbook, hit a button, updated texts and bye-bye Pluto.”

    Yep, eReaders replacing textbooks sure does make revisionist history a lot easier. Imagine how much easier it’ll be for future government bodies to re-write history to positively reflect their accomplishments. Bye-bye, objectivity.

    Personally, I’m mostly against the idea as it is being presented. It seems to not be fully thought out. For one thing, cost savings is the wrong metric. The appropriate metric is which method (printed or eText) provides the better education. I’ve also not heard a single mention of administrative overhead for managing the devices – performing updates, security administration, overhead for lost, stolen, and broken units, etc. Administration will require staff and other resources.

    If a school system thinks it needs to deploy the readers, I hope they provide charging stations in the classroom so disadvantaged (poor) students don’t have to be stuck paying for electricity to charge the device every day or three. Some poor people may not even have electricity (at all or consistently) at home.

    Also, a phased deployment would be the way to go. Take first graders, or whatever grade is the first to get textbooks, and provide the readers to them. Do the same next year and now you have 1st and 2nd graders using them. Repeat for 12 years and everyone’s using them and you’ve spread deployment costs out.

    A phased deployment also means issues that arise are of a more limited scope.

  2. Laurel Kornfeld:

    There is no need to change any textbooks, and it would be nothing but a disservice to students to take out Pluto. Please do not blindly accept the controversial demotion, done by four percent of the IAU, most of whom are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately rejected by hundreds of professional astronomers in a formal petition led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. This debate is very much still ongoing!

  3. HB:

    I think Textbook netbooks are a great idea. But if doing it in stages – start with 12th grade and work down. Also, the school could contract out the support. The textbook/netbook could be checked out to each student at the beginning of the year with the agreement that if it’s not turned back in – the students/parents are responsible for the cost. Also these netbooks should be the ruggidized kind.

  4. basque:

    It’s really a cool and useful piece of info. I’m glad that you shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Sala bankietowa Suwa³ki:

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