Today’s story about digital textbooks comes from the front page of the New York Times. According to the story, many educators and pundits predict the complete demise of traditional paper textbooks within the next decade. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger calls traditional textbooks “antiquated, heavy (and) expensive” and hopes to implement electronic texts for many math and science classes in his state. Given the advent of online textbooks, the publishing industry needs to adapt and evolve – whether e-textbooks constitute 10% or 100% of books used by students in the future.
But how can publishers react to such a fundamental shift in the business model? To compete, publishers need to be able to create electronic textbooks that address the issues that educators have with the print version: high cost, static learning tactics and inability to engage all types of learning styles. In addition, publishers must consider the practical aspects of teaching: will these e-texts free up instructor time or make it possible for colleges to hire fewer educators? If not, then the true goal of interactive online texts has not been reached.
Upon closer examination, perhaps the benefits presented by the e-text format make the challenges look less bleak. If publishers can become proficient at creating high quality, high interaction e-texts for students, their variable cost per unit sold will essentially drop to zero – no more printing costs, no more ink, simply the creation of an e-delivery system or an inexpensive CD-ROM. Additionally, the advent of electronic texts will allow publishers to be much more nimble – facts, statistics, activities and other content can be updated with a quick software fix or a simple adjustment to units sold going forward.
In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History
At Empire High School in Vail, Ariz., students use computers provided by the school to get their lessons, do their homework and hear podcasts of their teachers’ science lectures.
Down the road, at Cienega High School, students who own laptops can register for “digital sections” of several English, history and science classes.
And throughout the district, a Beyond Textbooks initiative encourages teachers to create — and share — lessons that incorporate their own PowerPoint presentations, along with videos and research materials they find by sifting through reliable Internet sites.
Textbooks have not gone the way of the scroll yet, but many educators say that it will not be long before they are replaced by digital versions — or supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.
“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite.
“They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”