Reitz High School

Reitz High School
Evansville, IN

Friday, November 2, 2012

Replacing Textbooks with Digital Content

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             I just read an article by Josh Lederman of Huffington Post.  He writes about where U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on Tuesday, October 23 for the United States to move as fast as possible away from printed textbooks and toward digital ones.  He declared, “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.” 

He talked about how other countries, such as South Korea, are leaving their American colleagues in the dust.   These countries are also moving faster in the implementation of digital learning environments.  Some have even set a goal to be fully digital by the year 2015.

“The World is changing and this has to be where we go as a country,” Duncan said.

I agree with Mr. Duncan’s statement that the world is changing.  In my last post I brought up that very point and we, as educators have to change the way we are teaching and reaching today’s students.  Today’s learner is not as easy to engage as they were 20 years ago. 

In a world of game consoles, iPads, iPhones, laptops, wireless networking, email, texting, and sharing I see that digital learning is totally the way to go.  I don’t necessarily think that means to go from print on paper to print on a computer screen.  I don’t think the answer is that textbook companies take their paper copies and create digital pdfs.  That is not what eLearning or digital learning is all about.

As I finished the articles, the biggest complaint in the comment section had to do with digital textbooks not being any cheaper than hard copies.  That is a true statement, but with the resources that can now be found on the Internet, are textbooks digital or hard copy even necessary?   Just last week, Ira Socol tweeted this message out on Twitter, “Textbooks were invented because information was expensive and schools wanted minimally educated teachers.  Why do we want digital textbooks now?”  He went on to say, “Textbooks were a solution to a problem that no longer exists.” Textbooks are a nice resource, but they should never drive a classroom or a curriculum. 

I believe the answer is the creation and curration of digital content.  Just about anything you want to learn about or learn how to do can be found in a YouTube video or by doing a Google search.  No kidding, I learned how to disassemble, clean, and reassemble an M1 Garand Army Rifle by watching a video on You Tube.  I found out how to make my own chili mix with some spices I had in my cabinet by doing a Google search.  I can solve just about any kind of math problem by typing it into the Google search box.  Our students today can have answers to just about everything they can learn in a textbook in just a few clicks on device connected to the Internet.

I am in the process of building and curating digital content now.  Our schools are standards driven, so why not take the standards, break them down, and find resources that teach about each standard?  Once the student has explored and used the resources, then tasks are assigned.  If the students can complete the tasks, then there is a good possibility they comprehend and have mastered that standard.  They are then ready to move on and go to the next level or standard. 

The second biggest complaint in the comment section was cost of the digital devices for each student.  This might be the most valid argument.  However, Tech Crunch reported that 50.4% of American citizens own a smartphone.  This does not include iPods, iPads, or laptop computers.  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a trend that many school corporations are adopting.  There are always grants that can be written.  Big companies like Dell will donate equipment if you report regularly about how you are using them.  I believe there are opportunities to get cheap to free devices out there. 

Like I said last week, “We need to stop making excuses and prepare our students for their future.”

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