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Digital Textbooks: Are They Inevitable?
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When I was a student, I loathed the make-work project of painstakingly erasing all my pencil marks from my textbooks at the end of the school year (especially since the next year I would inevitably inherit textbooks whose previous user’s markings had spontaneously regenerated), but future scholars may be spared such drudgery.
Although the National School Boards Association has no reliable data on exactly how many schools are already switching to digital textbooks, the long-term trend is certainly in that direction. The Obama administration is urging schools to speed up the transition and make sure every student has e-textbooks by 2017.
On the other hand, not everyone is overjoyed at the prospects of replacing ink-and-paper textbooks with lessons that can be studied via laptop, tablet or smartphone.
To be sure, much of the negativity is a knee-jerk reaction from the folks who think children already spend too much time in front of a screen and should be engaging in healthy, imaginative outdoor play such as ditch-digging, lifting that barge, toting that bale, etc.
On the other hand, some of the digital supporters get a little carried away with promises of how much the e-books will enrich the students. Let’s hope the enriching isn’t done by a Nigerian widow hacking into their bank accounts to make a big deposit.
E-books are seen as a natural fit for kids who have never known a world without Google and YouTube. Sure, let’s make the classroom even more like what they’ve always known at home. Replace the coatrack with a sofa, so mom’s crazy ex-lover can zonk out all day while waiting for his next big gig. We’ll outscore those Japanese students in no time!
E-books are certainly more easily updated to reflect changing state standards than are traditional books. The average printed book is replaced only once every seven years. That’s a long time to wait for Hillary Clinton’s shop class observations (“Righty tighty, lefty loosey ...what difference, at this point, does it make???”).
Truthfully, e-textbooks will enhance different learning styles, with extras such as flash cards, explanatory videos, appropriate music, blogs and interactive quizzes. Not to mention a diagram of the padded cell where the teacher will be staying after trying to cram training and planning for interactive classes into one &%$# 24-hour day. (“And supply your own padding.”)
Students in pilot programs describe the e-book experience as “cool, progressive, 21st century and ...and...I think my thesaurus has frozen up.”
Will e-books really save money? Will administrators be able to filter out distracting social media and monitor the abuse of precious bandwidth? A long-term analysis is certainly called for. Perhaps we will end up with the best of print and virtual textbooks.
Let’s at least acknowledge that different schools are at different points along the continuum for this bold leap into the future. Here are some warning signs for proceeding with caution:
If your lunch lady’s food pyramid was built with Hebrew slave labor...
If the principal thinks the hall monitors’ prime responsibility is monitoring that subversive Monty Hall on “Let’s Make A Deal”...
If your graduates toss their caps into the air and are astonished when some unseen force causes them to crash to earth...
You just might not be ready for digital textbooks!
Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades”.