The digital reading revolution is here. Maybe it’s still a preschooler, but digital reading is shooting up like a weed. There’s the Kindle and other digital readers available. Project Gutenberg and Google Books have a wealth of literature for your reading pleasure anywhere you can get online. I advocated for digitization of our libraries in January. It is a no brainer that schools should be incorporating this technology. Students are using it already. Why not teach them more creative and helpful ways to utilize technology. “And you know,” said the bespectacled accountant, “digital textbooks would save us a ton of money.”
With state government’s around the nation looking for the least hurtful ways to cut spending, we could expect to see many states move to digital textbooks. Toughs times are often the sparks of innovation. Times couldn’t be tougher in the Golden State, which is why it should come as no surprise that the Governator is pursuing digital textbooks.
By next fall, Governor Schwarzenegger intends to make free, open-source digital textbooks available for high school math and science classes throughout California, a move that he says will help reduce the more than $350 million the state spends annually on educational materials.
Some critics doubt the idea will result in any immediate cost savings – and question a plan that might require investment in technology and teacher training at a time when schools face deep budget cuts.
But if California embraces open-source materials, which are now increasingly used on college campuses, a nationwide debate over traditional textbooks is bound to follow.
The cost cutting benefits are just one of the draws of digital textbooks. The shear weight of texts can cause serious pain and injury to children. Consider that a child often carries more than 20% of their weight in their backpacks. Digital textbooks relieve a large amount of that weight.
Text books have a long life cycle. The average text book state’s use stay in circulation for about six years. Six years ago Pluto was still a planet, an African American had never been elected President of the U.S., the economic crash was still years away, and we had just gone into Iraq. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s likely your child’s book is at least that outdated. If we are trying to maintain some standard of education that is more than an illusion, such obsolete learning materials are unacceptable. Digital texts can be updated at a much faster rate. Open source texts, on a wiki type model, are even faster.
The downside is computer access. Most schools do not have one computer per student. Even though home computers are prolific, you can’t expect every student to have one at home or internet access. In Maine that problem is mitigated by the Maine Laptop Program, but what about states without a similar program. Well the solution is not as impossible as one would think.
[Neeru Khosla of CK-12] says all a school needs to make open-source digital textbooks available to every student is a printer. “You don’t need a computer in every student’s hand to do this,” she says.
While not all open-source books are free, they usually have more lenient copyright licenses than do print textbooks – or digital books provided by mainstream publishers. Educators can download and distribute them at will without facing additional costs. Typically, the cost of producing the text is offset by foundations or private donations.
We must continue moving education forward. Technology should continue to be integrated into learning, providing students with greater advantages. Digital textbooks are the next step ahead. We sure as Hell can’t afford to stay standing still.