Thursday, May 10, 2012

Are Digital Textbooks The Wave of The Future or Simply a New Jobs Program for Textbook Publishers?


May 7th, 2012 / Nate Hoffelder

[snip]

As a cynical person, I believe it was the former, and that is what I think is happening right now with digital textbooks. But I will leave the question open as we turn our attention to digital textbooks.

Pearson, as you probably know, is heavily invested in the digital textbook startup Inkling. They were also one of the launch partners for iBooks Author, with their name mentioned often at the launch event. Clearly they think digital textbooks are the hot new product for 2012.

Yes, I can understand their desire to sell stuff, but I must take issue with how I suspect they go about the process of pitching the sales. [snip].

Doesn’t that make sense?

I feel it explains why publishers are so hot for digital textbooks, and it finally gives me an understandable reason why Obama called for schools to embrace digital textbooks.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski .... [have] challenged schools and companies to get digital textbooks in students’ hands within five years [snip].

This would also explain, for example, why Florida mandated digital textbooks adoption for all public schools by 2015. As much as we might concede the benefits of digital textbooks, doesn’t it seem that Florida is moving awfully fast to require the changeover in such a short period of time?

One of my readers always tells me to follow the money. Now I finally understand why the government is hyping digital textbooks so; they’re being influenced by lobbyists – just like the Bush administration and No Child Left Behind. Sure, digital textbooks have some advantages over paper textbooks, but it would seem more likely to me that publishers saw the dollar signs first and came up with the list of advantages second.

[snip]

The thing is, if my conclusion about how digital textbooks got so hot so fast then it raises serious doubts as to whether they really have so many virtues. What if all the supposed advantages of digital textbooks are really the invention of a sophisticated marketing department and not the observations of enthusiastic adopters?

It would mean that we’ll find ourselves 10 years from now just where “No Child Left Behind” is right now: lots of money spent but little improvement to show for it.

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