Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Digital e-Textbooks?

President Obama’s administration has set a lofty goal, calling for all students to use digital textbooks by 2017.  It’s a plan called “Digital Textbook Playbook”, with a focus on how schools can transform instruction, and improve student achievement – all while saving taxpayers money. 
School Boards and Educational Leaders across the nation are supportive of digital textbooks and the tremendous opportunities offered through digital content; however, there are also some hurdles to overcome before they can be used widely in our classrooms. 
One of the first challenges has been how to create the e-textbook.  When they were first developed, they resembled a printed page.  Early on, e-textbooks were so like the printed page that some critics thought school leaders were creating the most expensive book binding system ever developed.  In the early days, there was no advantage of e-textbooks over printed ones.  Today, e-textbooks offer much more, including links to assessment systems, homework management systems, and online learning communities.  This may not sound like much, but it is a foundational shift in textbook design and the way we provide instruction. 
Financial challenges are always present.  Most printed textbooks last seven to ten years, and our school budgets are built on that model.  However, publishers are changing the financial pillars by requiring that digital books be purchased or “subscribed to” annually.  This change puts additional pressures on already restricted district budgets. We haven’t found a way to fully incorporate this new subscription model in our existing budgets, but as e-textbooks are developed, our financial models will have to be examined. 
A clear advantage of the digital e-textbook are updates – never again will students have to read about wrong or outdated information as it can be updated regularly, and distributed as often as needed. For example, and hard to believe, but after the breakup of the USSR on December 25, 1991, student textbooks were wrong for many years. Many students read about the USSR as a single nation until 2001.   In the e-textbook world, a revised e-textbook could be shared out with the changes immediately.  In addition to regular updates, an e-textbook’s content can contain many different media like embedded video, interactive maps, and online connectivity.
Here in the School District of Janesville, we have invested in wireless for our students and staff to use throughout the school day.  This is no different than many of us investing in Wi-Fi in our homes – except on a much larger scale.  In the same way that we can use technology anywhere in our homes, we can use technology wirelessly in all our classrooms.  Having this infrastructure in place is critical to being able to begin using e-textbooks. We are poised to begin taking advantage of e-textbooks as they are developed by publishers. It will most likely be a gradual change, but like the incoming tide, e-textbooks will be a part of our children's futures.

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