Monday, December 27, 2010

SLJ > Turning the Page: .... Digital Textbooks Are The Future

Turning The Page: Forget About Those Bulky Backbreakers, Digital Textbooks Are The Future  / School Library Journal 56 (10): 24-27  / October 1, 2010  / Rebecca Hill


Over a year ago, California entered the fray with its free digital textbook initiative, and Texas, always a textbook trendsetter, is making its move to digital materials with new initiatives starting in 2011. Indiana, Virginia, Florida, and other states are also slowly inching closer to a shift in that direction. Good thing, because with the never-ending explosion of tech devices like iPads, iPhones, and Kindle DXs, kids now expect a variety of fun ways to read, study, and graze the Internet.

The Digital Textbook Movement

There’s no denying that economics are fueling the move toward digital materials, but it’s also about staying on top of what keeps students actively engaged. [snip].

Stepping up smartly means turning individualized learning on its head with digital materials. With econtent, it’s easier to customize student learning on all levels. In fact, with digital materials, says children’s book author and editor Marc Aronson, we wouldn’t be talking about a “class” at all. [snip].

But for some, it’s not that easy. “Digital textbooks will not change teaching unless the methodology is changed to go beyond the material provided in digital textbooks,” says Todd Whitlock, technology coordinator at Indiana’s North Daviess Schools. “Digital textbooks themselves will not do any more to prepare our students for the future than the same material that is bound in a book,” says Whitlock. [snip].

Implementing A Digital Textbook Program

One important way to transform how instruction is delivered is by training the teaching staff. And as nationwide 1:1 laptop initiatives have shown us, training is a key to success.

Some school districts are easing into digital content, while others, like California’s Riverside Unified Schools, have hit the ground running, given the experience and knowledge of their staff and students. And at schools like Arizona’s Empire High School and Maine’s Casco Bay High School, in-house teams of teachers have offered their colleagues expert training.

Of course, nobody ever said change was easy. In some cases, integrating digital content into the existing curriculum has made educators anxious. At Virgina’s Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), most staffers were excited about the digital textbook pilot program. “But some teachers were hesitant about how this will impact lessons they have already developed,” says Peter Noonan, FCPS’s assistant superintendent for instructional services. [snip].

Florida’s Lake Weir High School initiated a digital textbook pilot program last fall with its freshman English classes. The limited launch was beneficial, says Principal Cynthia Saunders, because the administration was able to get feedback before it introduced the program to a large number of students. [snip].

Another critical advantage? The digital expertise of students themselves. As some educators see it, many districts are merely catching up with their incredibly tech-savvy kids. “Students are coming to school with different skill sets,” FCPS’s Noonan says. “We need to meet them where they are and use technology for learning.” [snip].

One issue that continues to arise is student access, to both hardware and the Internet, although the issue is likely to become less urgent as states begin to change their formulas for distribution of textbook monies, or, as in the case of North Daviess, schools find local funding for technology. [snip]

The Digital Textbook: It’s Evolving

Digital textbooks themselves are rapidly evolving. Initially (and even now) publishers provided a PDF of a textbook so schools could have both a print version and a downloadable version. But this method isn’t always cost efficient, says Alice Owens, director of technology for Texas’s Irving Independent School District. [snip].

PDF to a more pliable resource that can incorporate other electronic options. One model is flexbooks, digital textbooks that utilize a web-based collaborative model, include open educational resources, and enable educators to customize and produce their own textbooks. The CK-12 Foundation, a nonprofit group, created this model ... .[snip].

What makes the flexbook unique is that using it, teachers can integrate a variety of tools and information like videos, hyperlinks, or simulations to make their lessons more interactive. At California’s Leadership Public Schools, where 54 percent of the ninth graders read at a fourth-grade reading level, teachers incorporate literacy lessons into their math and science content. [snip].


But if the flexbook goes so far as to incorporate author’s materials, as well as open educational resources, it begs the question: Why not just use open educational resources? Some schools, like Empire High School, have been pursuing this model. But most digitally inclined schools believe in a variety of options. Riverside’s McPhail reports that they use a combination of open source textbooks from CK-12, content from iTunes University, and other open source materials. [snip].

While a flexbook or even a digital textbook provides an organizational structure from which to plan lessons and teach, the vastness of open educational resources can be overwhelming. Who should organize and cultivate the resources to use with digital textbooks or to incorporate into flexbooks?

The School Librarian As The Digital Resource Provider

Marcia Mardis believes it’s the perfect time for library media specialists to assume their place at the digital learning table. After all, says Mardis, a professor at Florida State University, they’re the most qualified for managing this constantly evolving environment. [snip].

Currently, Mardis is exploring how K–12 media centers are fitting digital resources into their collections and how librarians are supplying these services. [snip].

Sharnell Jackson, a senior fellow at the Center for Digital Education, agrees. According to Jackson, the time is right for librarians to step up and support curriculum instruction through open source content and the latest technology. [snip].

Librarians like Tom Corbett of Cushing Academy, a prep school in Ashburnham, MA, are taking an even more radical approach. Last year Cushing Academy’s library redistributed all of its print books to the classrooms. The library transformed itself into a digital hub, a portal where students can find and use digital content. [snip].

“Librarians need to move from a gatekeeper role to more of a facilitator, collaborator, and participant in the student’s research process,” he says. [snip].


As more digital learning environments emerge, they’ll need to be effectively managed. School librarians, in particular, Mardis says, must demonstrate their unique resource expertise and skills in content management. If not, it may not get done and we’ll likely find that the promise of digital textbooks and flexbooks will never be realized.


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