February 1st of this year marked the first ever Digital Learning Day. As part of the celebration, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chief Julius Genachowski unveiled a plan to encourage schools to switch from print to electronic textbooks by 2017.
Their plan, the Digital Textbook Playbook, aims to “develop rich digital learning environments.” Designed to help ease the transition to digital textbooks, the Digital Textbook Playbook includes tips on overcoming major barriers to transition including connectivity, making the transition and device procurement and selection. Read the Playbook here.
The push for a new solution to textbooks is not new. In 2004, California enacted weight limits for all elementary and secondary school textbooks after a study found that the average weight of textbooks for first graders was eight pounds and 11th graders averaged twenty pounds.
Due to their exorbitant price, many school districts only update textbooks every seven years, meaning many students use outdated textbooks. This can be a huge obstacle for subjects that are constantly changing such as science.
At an average cost of $70 for a high school textbook, it is incredibly pricy for school districts to update a single book. For a district with 2,000 students who need access to a textbook, it can cost $140,000, per subject. And each year a handful of books will need to be replaced due to damage or loss.
Digital textbooks, or etextbooks, are able to provide a solution to all the problems presented by traditional print textbooks as well as many extra benefits.
The average textbook weighs 3-5 pounds, and most students have to carry at least 2 or 3 books at a time. etextbooks allow multiple textbooks to be stored on a single device, such as an iPad, Kindle or netbook. Weighing in at an average of about three pounds, netbooks are the heaviest of these options, the iPad and Kindle weigh less than a pound and a half each.
As for price, textbook publishers are able to dramatically reduce prices for etextbooks since they no longer have to include the costs of printing, binding and shipping each book. Apple recently entered into an agreement with the top three textbook publishers, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to sell etextbooks for $14.99 or less. These three publishers collectively make up 90% of the textbook market.
Additionally, many books used for English and literature classes are no longer copyright protected and can be found online for free through Project Gutenberg or Google Books. Titles from authors such as Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë and many more would no longer cost schools anything in replacement costs.
The electronic nature of etextbooks means that publishers can easily push out corrections and updates immediately, removing the worry that textbooks will become outdate once they are purchased.
etextbooks can do so much more than a traditional print textbook. No longer restricted to what can be printed in a book, etextbooks can include audio and video clips as well as links to assessment tests. Additionally, students are able to tap a word and open a glossary definition, easily search the book for a keyword and highlight text and take notes in the margins as they read. For those with visual impairment, the text size can be easily enlarged.
However, with e textbooks, licensing can become an issue. With physical textbooks, it is easy to keep track of how many books you have lent out and when they are returned and there is no chance that a single copy will be given to multiple students at once. Managing digital licenses can be a bit trickier. Without the proper system in place, it is easy to run afoul of licensing restrictions.
The MediaCAST iPad app can help. By automating the process, etextbooks can be loaned and returned without hassle to multiple iPads at once. Before an etextbook is loaned out, an expiration date can be set. The loan period can be as short as a class period or as long as you like. Once the expiration date is reached, the book will be automatically returned to the digital content library and ready for the next student to use.
In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama said, “I want all students to be able to learn from digital textbooks.” While the switch from print to digital textbooks isn’t going to happen overnight, the new push provided by the Digital Textbook Playbook, will help his vision become a reality. Pockets of schools around the country are leading the charge, successfully implementing etextbooks and proving to others that it is possible.