Monday, July 1, 2013

Are Digital Textbooks Right For the Next School Year?

Student backpack with textbooks and ThinkPad Tablet

One of the biggest changes in EdTech is the trend around turning printed textbooks into digital files. On the face of it, the benefits of going digital are hard to ignore. There is greater currency, a single common version for all students, and the elimination of the physical tracking, storage, and management of printed textbooks. Yet, for all the benefits, there are still issues to consider. There are still cost issues, the availability of some texts, and other things to consider.

In this blog we’ll look at some of the key issues and announcements that are going to impact your decision. Each district has their issues and demands that will impact the digital textbook decision. Making the right call is essential.

Of course, one of the most important gating factors to the success of digital textbooks is the decision by the largest suppliers of textbooks to support the initiative. According to EdWeek, the “Big 3” textbook manufacturers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) are taking different approaches making things more complex. Pearson is delivering a technology platform. HMH is looking to create “bite size” content, eschewing the direct digital to printed textbook model. McGraw-Hill is treading a middle ground, believing that not all districts are ready to go digital, and that the next few years are going to stay “blended” in terms of digital and print offerings.

So at best, we’re looking at a start. It is somewhat disappointing that rather than lead the charge, book publishers are acting in more of a reactionary manner, and not setting a technology direction that would benefit students and districts.

Given a lack of solid direction by industry leaders, many districts are finding new and creative ways to build their own solution for digital “textbook” content. The reason for the quotes is that in many cases these solutions are not “books” in the normal sense, but disparate content that is brought together to provide the basis for coursework.

A good example of this is the Indiana Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation. They reviewed many of their High School textbooks and were not impressed. Coupled with a directive from the state Social Studies specialists that said they would not be adopting any textbooks in 2011, the corporation decided to be creative. They kept the textbooks adopted in 2006, but added a subscription to NetTrekker which provides access to articles vetted by other teachers as a means of adding to the course curriculum.

The Vail District in Arizona went even further, creating their own “digital textbooks” leverage very low cost or even free content that they used to build their courses. Not only did the district save money, but they were able to bring more compelling materials to the classes.

The result of all this is that digital textbooks are a certainty, but they may not yet be at the point where simply “going digital” is an option right now for the next school year. However, now is the time to start the process of seeing what options are out there, how you can save budget dollars using digital information, and how your existing textbook suppliers are going to work with your district. Things have changed dramatically. Textbook manufacturers are no longer the only option as Vail has shown. Creativity and thinking outside the box is essential, and more importantly, appears to have many rewards.

View the original article here

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