Turning the Page on Traditional Textbooks
The digital age continues to bring rapid and seismic changes to numerous aspects of our daily lives. Within the nation’s public schools, however, some say the technological transformation still needs to gather momentum.
A 2012 report by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) found that “the explosive growth in our use of digital content seems so far to have eluded many of the 50 million students enrolled in public K-12 education.”
The report, titled Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age, also noted that many students still use outdated textbooks, even though school districts and states spend more than $5 billion annually on instructional content.
In October 2012, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for the nation’s schools to completely shift from traditional textbooks to digital formats within the next few years in order to stay competitive globally. Duncan noted that South Korea has set a target date of 2015 for a similar plan.
So, why go digital?
Proponents point to several advantages, including lower costs, greater flexibility and a deeper learning experience for students.
- Digital content is flexible as is the mode of delivery. Text material can be updated quickly or corrected if necessary. Content is not only presented through text, but also with enriching videos, hyperlinks, software and even games. Tablet computers, e-readers and other mobile devices can be used. This variety makes sense for today’s students, who are coming of age in a multimedia world. The digital format may help them to stay focused, engaged and attentive.
- The content can be adapted in order to create personalized learning environments. Subject matter can be customized so students can hear the text spoken aloud to them, view images in custom color combinations, and read passages in a font size and style that suits them. Teachers are embracing such technology: A 2012 study by PBS LearningMedia found that 81% of teachers believe tablet computers enrich classroom education.
- Digital textbooks make it possible for students to take notes within the text, highlight important words and phrases, and bookmark with the tap of a finger. Interactive tools also have the ability to translate text into different languages, adding to the helpful features available to students and teachers.
- Digital textbooks offer significant cost-saving potential, including through the elimination of printing, packaging and distribution costs associated with print textbooks. A 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission estimated the savings related to going digital at almost $600 annually per student.
Digital textbooks and content can help schools move beyond the “one size fits all” aspects of traditional textbooks. Teachers and students can explore different ways to access learning. Ultimately, students who feel more connected to their learning experience may be more likely to be engaged and motivated, and, as a result, academically successful.
In its Out of Print report, the SETDA made a series of recommendations, including completing the shift from print to digital instructional materials by 2018. As the report’s authors noted, “it is not a question if the reimagining of the textbook will permeate all of education, but only a matter of how and how fast.”