Obama Urges e-Textbooks for All Students by 2017

The Obama administration announced they want every student to have an e-textbook by 2017. In an effort to speed up the process and reach the 5-year goal, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Education Secretary Arne Duncan want states to modify their textbook adoption process by allowing K-12 schools to use taxpayer funding to purchase iPads, Kindles, and other e-readers, as well as software, according to USA Today.

The administration is also pushing publishers, e-reader makers, and Internet providers to lower prices in order for digital learning to become more accessible for all students. The cost of a new iPad starts at $499, which has a higher up-front cost than a traditional textbook, but is expected to pay for itself with time. Some electronic textbooks are free, some are sold by chapter, while other full textbooks, like those created using the iBook2 app, will never exceed $14.99. E-textbooks don’t only cost less, they can also integrate interactive media and be updated regularly, whereas a flat textbook cannot.

E-textbooks have grown in popularity recently, but there still isn’t solid evidence that digital formats actually advance learning. Earlier this week I wrote about how classroom environments need to change in order for computers to revolutionize the classroom. Technology is a tool that could turn a school around, if it’s also supplemented with things like teacher training, academic coaching, student engagement , and parent programs.

Even though we don’t have many hard facts on whether e-books can improve learning over a reading hardcopy, we do know that technology brings more options for school improvement and that low-income students deserve equal access to digital learning.

The principal of Clintondale High School, Greg Green, recently wrote an article on CNN explaining how he turned around the failure rate at his school by implementing the “flipped-classroom” model. Almost 75% of Clintondale’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and a large majority commute over an hour on the bus from Detroit. With a technology grant, the school was able to afford more computers and new software for their students. Using the “flipped-classroom” model, students watch their lectures in a video format outside of class that is created by their teacher and posted to the school website or YouTube. Students come to class having learned the day’s lesson and use class time for one-on-one instruction with the teacher, to work on group projects, or do worksheets in an environment where they can ask questions.

An e-textbook isn’t just a textbook; it’s a piece of technology that could make learning more accessible for all students. Imagine how learning can change if every student has access to their own textbook. Imagine how student engagement could soar if they were using up-to-date texts. Imagine the innovations made by the next generation of professionals who were educated in a system where computer privileges weren’t divided by rich and poor.

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