Print is Still Dead (Again): Digital Textbooks

On Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated that the nation must move quickly away from printed textbooks and toward digital ones. “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete,” he declared. Well, that’s another nail in the analog-book coffin.

Every student and parent who has purchased the mandatory textbooks knows that: a.) they cost way way too much; b.) they cause severe back and shoulder problems; and c.) they end up either back at the used textbook store or in the dump. If ever there was a better way to convey information, it is through digital textbooks.

Duncan was appearing a that National Press Club in Washington, D.C., when he announced that digital is not just a matter of keeping up with the times, it’s about keeping up with other countries whose students are leaving their American counterparts behind.

Case in point: South Korea, one of the most wired nations in the world, consistently outperforms the U.S. in the educational arena and has set a goal of 2015 to be fully digital with its textbooks.

The Associated Press reports:

Using digital textbooks, schools can save money on hard copies and get updated material to students more quickly. School districts may also be able to pick and choose their curriculum buffet-style. A district might choose one publisher’s top-notch chapter on Shakespeare, but follow it with another publisher’s section on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

But adopting digital textbooks isn’t as easy as a directive from Washington. States set their own processes for selecting and purchasing textbooks that match their needs.

Over the last two years, at least 22 states have taken major strides toward digital textbooks, said Douglas Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association. Until recently . . . . states struggled to collaborate because each had its own curricular standards, a particular burden for smaller states. That burden has been eased now that 48 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards, a set of uniform benchmarks for math and reading.

Another burden is on the student who is already socked with excessive tuition and fees, especially in the poorer parts of the country. Perhaps the digital option will be an economical one, too. Let’s hope that the established and newbie textbook-publishers will have empathy for the end user’s limited means.

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Print‘s iPad edition is coming soon. In the meantime, you can download PDF versions of back issues at MyDesignShop.com.

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ADD A COMMENT

4 COMMENTS

  1. Switching from analog to digital textbooks is not going to improve our students’ learning. Textbooks are diluted information sources. They are also boring. Students who spend their time reading modern and ancient classics will get a clearer picture of reality and enjoy reading a lot more.

  2. Digital textbooks also mean that schools won’t be stuck with outdated course material.  Science and history books get updated constantly and schools can’t afford to replace them every time there is a newer version.  
    Print is not dead, but going to e-books in education is a step in the right direction.

  3. The next thing beyond this will be digital chalkboards, where information presented on them, both directly from the course material, and that “writen” on it is linked in a free flowing way to the students’ tablets, and visa versa for their class and home work. Animated, interactive examples, I imagine, would have to be an enourmous aid to student comprehension.