Digital Textbooks: Our Future

September 28, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 4 Comments
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(Authored by Tyler Spitz)

Digital textbooks, such as Kindle, may become the future in our schools. The benefits of electronic textbooks are plentiful, and I promote the idea of switching from traditional textbooks to electronic textbooks, better known as e-books.

Hard copy of textbooks can be found in schools, and students can flip pages by hand to access information. Students with electronic texts are able to flip though pages in texts too. As long as all students have access to a textbook or electronic text, we will be able to teach the same lessons, find information and tools, and assign homework. The purpose of the text, whether it is electronic or hard copy, has not changed.

The next time you have a textbook try to update it by inserting pages or changing problems or verbiage in a certain chapter. The only alternative, other than to continue using the text, would be to purchase an entire new set of textbooks. With electronic books schools would be able to purchase updated versions of a text (such as version 2.0) at a lesser cost than purchasing a new set of textbooks. With electronic texts, we have the ability to keep the information current.

If your state changes their standards, then your textbook becomes outdated. In California, 16 free digital textbooks for high school math and science courses are being offered. 10 of the 16 electronic texts being offered to students meet or exceed 90% of California’s academic standards. Of the 16 texts, 4 have met 100% of the state standards. For more information on California’s digital textbook, read Governor Schwarzenegger Releases Free Digital Textbook Initiative.

One particular benefit of an electronic text is the limitless possibilities. Unlike a book, the electronic text won’t deteriorate over time. (Yes, the electronic device might too.) An electronic book will allow a teacher and/or school to have access to a library full of textbooks. Imagine having three or four different sources to utilize, but only one electronic device needed for the students. As a teacher, the more I have at my disposal to educate the students, the better prepared I am to teach.

There of course are contradictions, opinions and studies supporting paperback textbooks, but I’m not currently buying into them.  The Future of Textbooks: Ebooks in the Classroom discusses studies that favor traditional texts over electronic text. For example, a 1998 study published in the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society journal reported a decline in speed and accuracy and an increase in fatigue when reading from a screen rather than paper. Does this mean the school systems should revert back to pen, paper and textbooks? Should corporate business revert back also? I know I would truly love to write this blog by hand (erase, write, erase, cross out…) and then distribute it on paper.

There is an initial setup costs that needs to be accounted for when the transition to digital textbooks is made. Each student will need access to an electronic device that will allow them to access the electronic texts. One potential difficulty is that the costs of the electronic devices may prohibit financially disadvantaged school districts, which can widen the gap between the rich and poor. My point here is straight forward, we buy textbooks so why not invest in electronic texts.

It is clear to see that there are arguments that both support and go against the movement of e-textbooks in the classroom setting. Do you feel electronic texts would be beneficial for students and teachers as we move deeper into our technologically savvy world?

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4 Comments »

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  1. I think I mentioned this in my first comment for this semester. While I was student teaching, Penfield provided students with a Prentice Hall textbook (physical copy) and at the same time, students had access to the same textbook online. As my supervising teacher had mentioned, some students do not bother with the physical textbook. Yet for the students without access to the internet, they relied on the physical textbook. Benefits for those students who could access the textbook online obviously include the fact that they did not have to carry around a chunky textbook.

    I do have to take sides with the study in the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society journal. Me personally, I prefer when reviewing and editing one of my own papers to actually print it out. A number of times I overlook reviewing and editing while typing into Word because of spell check and other grammar resources which can and have overlooked mistakes or hard to read sentences.

    I have to disagree with the E-book Publishing article. I believe the article was hinting that because textbooks are electronic they are interactive. I do not see this as being true. A student, I feel, will interact with an electronic textbook just as they would a physical edition. In my experiences, the Prentice Hall addition is no different than having pages scanned in. In no ways other than clicking buttons are students interacting with the online textbook similarly to interacting with Nintendo, PlayStation, or XBOX.

    From an instructional point, consider this scenario: you want to assign students work from the textbook during class or you have a substitute (many districts do not allow substitutes access to technology or you have to jump through a few hoops), how are students best going to access the material? Assuming a sub has no computer skills or access to projecting the online textbook, clearly that is out. Or if you can project, the entire page or assignment would not fit on the screen which is an issue for students who fly through material and those who work at a much slower pace. Having a computer or laptop for each student may be an issue as other teachers have requested all of the buildings laptop carts or computer labs.

    But there are positives to electronic textbooks. As the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet mentions, electronic textbooks are a valuable resource for students who are blind or face other disabilities and challenges. Take an electronic textbook and pair it up with other technology used for a blind student and we have helped to decrease any advantage gap.

    There are benefits to electronic textbooks, however in light of our last class discussion about creative commons, the benefit is clearly not legal unless state law allows or the publisher allows. In mathematics and science, textbooks are an excellent source of useful illustrations. Electronic textbooks allow easy access to important illustrations and there are of course ways to pull images off of pages where the publisher tries to take into account of copy righted information.

    With appropriate resources, I could easily survive without a textbook (online or in print) for myself and my classroom. However textbooks in whatever form can provide students with valuable examples, although some teachers simply use the valuable examples as the lesson. I do feel though, that electronic textbooks are beneficial but not essential! I do not believe that evidence really exists to support a shift from print to electronic textbooks in terms of student success and achievement.

  2. Our in class discussion of textbooks was far from a resounding endorsement of their effectiveness in the classroom. The consensus seemed to be that while they provide a useful reference, they cannot stand alone as the sole source of the subject matter, and are often written in an intentionally objective tone that few students find engaging.
    If textbooks provide no more than a general resource, and all students have access to the internet (currently not the case, but someday soon perhaps), would we need text books at all, physical or electronic? Does the internet contain sufficient reference material to properly assist teachers in informing students of the necessary subject matter when supplemented with outside sources like trade paperbacks and news articles?
    Presently, I believe the answer is no. The main source of easily accessible internet information may be Wikipedia, and to quote the internet encyclopedia’s article on the reliability of itself: “13 percent of the articles contain mistakes [10% of experts reporting factual errors of unspecified degree, 3% reporting spelling errors].”
    In Wikipedia’s defense, it does provide hyperlinked citations, and textbooks also contain mistakes (70 on average, according to an off the cuff remark made by Professor Ricca), but to me, the user edited content occassionally suggests the work of insomniacs working in the wee hours. Notice the mistake in the quoted sentence; the original statement referring to percentage of articles and the following breakdown referring to percentage of experts. Not a big deal, but certainly not assisting in clarity. On the whole I would say Wikipedia is more difficult to read and less reliable than a high school textbook.
    Though Wikipedia may not provide a user friendly resource for high school classrooms, teachers could take advantage of the internet and share their lessons with other teachers creating a vast store of high quality materials that could be used for free by any interested educator (many of the blogs we have been introduce to in this class have been created by teachers doing just that). However, if such a strategy were to prove effective and diminish the need for text books, you can bet text book publishers would comb through posted content looking for copyright infringement, which might take away some of the tools teachers have become accustomed to using.

  3. Our in class discussion of textbooks was far from a resounding endorsement of their effectiveness in the classroom. The consensus seemed to be that while they provide a useful reference, they cannot stand alone as the sole source of the subject matter, and are often written in an intentionally objective tone that few students find engaging.
    If textbooks provide no more than a general resource, and all students have access to the internet (currently not the case, but someday soon perhaps), would we need text books at all, physical or electronic? Does the internet contain sufficient reference material to properly assist teachers in informing students of the necessary subject matter when supplemented with outside sources like trade paperbacks and news articles?
    Presently, I believe the answer is no. The main source of easily accessible internet information may be Wikipedia, and to quote the internet encyclopedia’s article on the reliability of itself: “13 percent of the articles contain mistakes [10% of experts reporting factual errors of unspecified degree, 3% reporting spelling errors].”
    In Wikipedia’s defense, it does provide hyperlinked citations, and textbooks also contain mistakes (70 on average, according to an off the cuff remark made by Professor Ricca), but to me, the user edited content occasionally suggests the work of insomniacs working in the wee hours. Notice the mistake in the quoted sentence; the original statement referring to percentage of articles and the following breakdown referring to percentage of experts. Not a big deal, but certainly not assisting in clarity. On the whole I would say Wikipedia is more difficult to read and less reliable than a high school textbook.
    Though Wikipedia may not provide a reliable and user friendly resource for the classroom, teachers could take advantage of the internet and share their lessons with other in the profession creating a vast store of high quality materials that could be used for free by any interested educator (many of the blogs we have been introduce to in this class have been created by teachers doing just that). However, if such a strategy were to prove effective and diminish the need for text books, you can bet text book publishers would comb through posted content looking for copyright infringement, which might take away some of the tools teachers have become accustomed to using.

  4. Like Matt, in my first blog response, I wrote about the use of ebooks rather than traditional texts as a possibility for how/what our students will be reading in the future. As I mentioned then, it saddens me to think that the students of the future will not realize the physical attributes that make a book a book, nor the accomplishment of finishing a five-hundred page text (just the thought of looking at five hundred screens is making my eyes water!)

    That said, I agree with Tyler that text books are becoming more obsolete and that it is time to make the change. As Jeff mentioned above, textbooks do contain errors, as do many online resources. How great would it be if teachers (or students) could e-mail the publishing company with their error, and voila!-an update is sent to every classroom in the nation that is using that ebook. No more error, but a more reliable resource for the classroom.

    As Tyler said, the biggest hurdle that would be faced with this change in the classroom, would be the economics of converting from traditional textbooks to the digitized versions. Also, do we trust students to bring these expensive machines home with them, or do we rely on worksheets printed from them? I agree with Tyler as he wrote that the gap will widen between the schools with money and those without, but I wonder if the schools with smaller budgets are updating the textbooks that they are already using as regularly as the schools with larget budgets?

    There are advantages and disadvantages to relying on traditional textbooks or switching to ebooks. As a teacher, I’d love to have my students have the best resources to draw upon as they are learning. As a future parent, I question how upset I would be if my child dropped their ebook and I was left with an expensive replacement cost? These are questions that districts have to face when deciding what to spend next year’s budget money on.


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