Education Week / Vol. 04, Issue 01 / October 15 2010 / Pages 36-39 / Katie Ash
Supporting the use of multimedia-rich and interactive textbooks in K-12 will require much more digital bandwidth
Most school districts have the technical infrastructure to support the basic digital textbooks of today. But as far as supporting the kinds of textbooks tech-savvy educators would like to see—multimedia-rich, interactive, Web-based materials—schools have some serious catching up to do in increasing network speed and connectivity, ... .
"In 2000, .... [the state of Virginia] began a push toward online standardized testing, says [Lan W.] Neugent, [the assistant superintendent of technology, career, and adult education for the Virginia Department of Education] which laid the groundwork for digital textbooks by beefing up bandwidth and computer access in the classroom.
Last year, in collaboration with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based CK-12 Foundation, a nonprofit group that is creating Web-based, open-content textbooks for precollegiate education, the Virginia department released a physics "flexbook" written by 13 physics teachers and other experts.
But adopting digital textbooks on a wide scale has yet to be accomplished by most school districts.
Even in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger launched a widely discussed digital-textbook initiative in 2009, there is much progress to be made, says Neeru Khosla, a co-founder and the executive director of the CK-12 Foundation.
Spotlight On California
John Magneson, the coordinator of media and technology for California's Merced County Office of Education, which oversees 20 school districts and 55,000 students in the area, echoes Khosla's budget concerns.
"Our districts don't have the funding to maintain the paper-textbook environment and invest in the technology to allow students to use the digital textbooks, even if they're free," he says.
In addition, California's digital-textbook initiative is only for high schoolers, says Magneson, and if it is to be expanded to all of K-12, state textbook-adoption policies for the lower grades need to be revised.
Rick Miller, the superintendent of California's 44,000-student Riverside Unified School District, encourages education leaders to take digital-textbook adoption one step at a time.
Moving Ahead In Texas
This school year, in the 55,000-student Plano Independent School District in Texas, English and language arts textbooks for all grade levels are digital, says Jim Hirsch, the associate superintendent for academic and technological services for the district.
Because the Plano district made technology a priority several years ago, teachers have been quick to embrace digital textbooks, he says.
But as more instructional materials are created in a digital format, it is important, he argues, that publishers use open standards, rather than proprietary formats and platforms that may not be supported by the wide variety of Web-enabled devices students bring.
Glimpse Of The Future
The 10,000-student Vail Unified School District in Arizona may offer a glimpse of what the future of textbooks holds for many other districts.
"Long ago, we actually sort of abandoned the textbook as the source of our scope and sequence" for curriculum, says Andrew Chlup, the director of Beyond Textbooks, a districtwide instructional framework that requires teachers to identify resources that correspond with state standards, in lieu of a textbook. [snip].
"It's allowing people to build an effective curriculum that's interesting and varied without a textbook," says Chlup.
'Beyond Textbooks' Charts a Course
Beyond Textbooks, an initiative of the Vail Unified School District in Arizona, has crafted an instructional framework to move away from traditional textbooks.
1. Teachers carefully select "essential" or "power" standards from the Arizona academic standards.
2. Teachers unwrap the standards to determine big ideas, key vocabulary, student-friendly language, essential questions, and performance tasks that prove mastery.
3. Teachers add classroom-tested lesson plans, supplemental materials, and objective accommodations/interventions to the Beyond Textbooks website.
4. Teachers sequence the essential standards in a curriculum calendar that is linked to the Beyond Textbooks wiki.
5. Teachers create formative assessments that can determine if a student has mastered an objective.
6. Teachers download and share curriculum and resources from the Beyond Textbooks website that suit their instructional styles.
7. Classroom instruction is more effective because teachers can easily access a variety of materials anytime, anywhere.
SOURCE: Beyond Textbooks
The Beyond Textbooks initiative is in its third year in the Vail district, he says, and about five years went into the development of the curriculum before the program was launched.
To pull it off, the district upgraded its computers, equipped them with the software they needed to help teachers build the curriculum and collaborate with one another, and put LCD projectors, audio equipment, interactive whiteboards, and document cameras in classrooms.
Taking the process one step at a time and including teachers, curriculum experts, IT staff members, and administrators in the conversation was essential, says Chlup.
"All those folks working together structured the vision and decided how to move forward," he says. "It does require some flexible leadership, and teacher buy-in is the most critical piece."
Another key to the program's success has been the open-source software it's built on, says Chlup.