Built for Schools: How efficacious are digital textbooks?

Yes, that is an important question. Many school organizations are moving to digital textbooks, but the question remains, how efficacious are digital textbooks?

Source: http://www.trypearsontexas.com/img/programs/covers/chemistry/02_Built_for_texas@2x.png

In a lunch conversation with a retired Air Force Colonel, we briefly exchanged stories about our reading preferences. While I have no problems reading fiction content in digital format, reading non-fiction is problem-rich:

  1. I find I can’t remember key ideas, instead have to write them down or blog them to remember.
  2. It’s difficult to highlight content and share it (unless I’m reading on Amazon Kindle, but even then, I don’t care for it since I end up re-formatting the content in Evernote).
  3. Simply, the non-fiction info seems more…abstract.
The “concrete” or tactile experience of reading non-fiction is preferred. In the audio book arena, only non-fiction works for me. Somehow, I remember more when I hear non-fiction. With fiction, I want to see the words on the page, digital or print. Sure enough, the Colonel’s experience was the opposite of mind, reminding me that one-size-fits-all approaches to learning are problematic. 

The haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does’ … an ebook reader. A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.(Source: The Guardian)

What’s even more disturbing about digital textbooks is the following:

Mangen also pointed to a paper published last year, which gave 72 Norwegian 10th-graders texts to read in print, or in PDF on a computer screen, followed by comprehension tests. She and her fellow researchers found that “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally”. (Source: The Guardian)

So, forgive me when I see content like this, which offers unstinting, unexamined praise for the use of tablets in classrooms for digital textbook viewing:

With tablets,  students can  type queries into their digital books as the questions come to mind, then sift through the answers themselves. And there’s a whole lot less peer pressure involved in entering a query into a search form, so hesitant students are more apt to ask questions in the first place. Source: Digital Book World

Admittedly, many of us will have little choice about adopting digital textbooks in schools. Consider this excerpt:

Education companies and organizations are getting on board by leveraging the technology of tablets to bring digital textbooks and all-in-one, next generation curriculum products to the classroom… “Noting that annual textbook costs for U.S. K-12 public schools has reached nearly $8 billion”, the FCC and the Department of Education have encouraged the country to transition to interactive digital learning within the next five years (T-mobile helping to advance, 2012). There is no doubt that with the integration of tablets and the digital curriculum, apps, e-readers, and e-texts that will surely be paired along with them, will necessitate a shift of those textbook costs. 

Pearson’s Common Core System of Courses comes preloaded with Pearson’s math and English language arts curriculum, apps such as iWork, iLife, and iTunes, and a variety of educational third-party apps (Bowman & Muller, 2013).  With a complete math and English curriculum and additional built in resources, the need for textbooks is unnecessary. Students are able to access media and web resources related to the curriculum as well as engage in learning without difficult-to-plan trips to the library or the run down lab. 

The ultimate costs of digital textbooks and curriculum, coupled with the resources of the world wide web brought to the classroom via tablets, will eventually make more sense than printing, binding, and delivering textbooks that are often instantly dated the moment they are printed. 

“Although [digital textbooks] might be more expensive initially, the volume of sales should result in increased opportunity for lower unit costs. The logical result is more faculty demand, more publisher investment, and faster growth” (McFadden, 2012). Source: Why Digital Learning Is Here To Stay

What does this mean for schools? It means we’ll need to soon start equipping students with low-cost tablets or Chromebooks. My money is on Chromebooks, which come equipped with keyboards, are being supported by state-wide tutorial/assessment initiatives–in Texas at least with TexasSuccess.org–and offer the biggest bang for their buck.

This doesn’t mean iPads or Androids are out, only that a more strategic approach is needed…but the search for one device may be so much jabberwock. The rush is on, not to provide efficacious textbooks for students, but rather, to simply provide access to devices that allow access to digital textbooks.

If not, we risk a digital divide built for schools.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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