Digital Textbooks and eBooks in Schools

Thanks to the Texas School Business journal for highlighting a San Antonio area school district in their September, 2014 cover article. The article (page 12), written by Shelley Seale (@shelleyseale), spotlights a picture of Jeff Johnson (, high school teacher, who was in Cohort 1 of the East Central ISD EC3 Initiative (which happens to use iPads).

As Texas school districts jump into Math Textbook Adoptions–with Houghton-Mifflin and/or Pearson–there is a clear need to provide students increased access to digital devices. Getting the paper copies of the textbooks is cost-prohibitive for many districts since the Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) is perceived by some to be “under-funded.” You simply don’t have enough funding to buy textbooks or technology, which was the original intent.

Read the complete article at their web site:

Kudos to the ECISD Instructional Technology team–Mary Ray, Marguerite Lowak and Jacob Ortega–for their hard work on EC3 Program, which has enjoyed 3 cohorts thus far of teachers. Of course, none of this would have been possible without top-level leadership support, including Gary Patterson (past superintendent), Dr. Patricia Birney (Asst. Superintendent of C&I), James Selby (Asst. Superintendent of Finance), and Roland Toscano (Current Superintendent).

You can find out more online at (the department web site) by clicking the EC3 tab. 


Shelley Seale (the author of the article) contacted me–following up on a recommendation from colleague and friend, Jennifer Bergland (TCEA)–back on July 21st and we did a short interview, where I attempted to respond to questions like those shown below:

Jennifer Bergland

Topic to explore: With e-books and digital learning tools on the rise, is the traditional textbook on the endangered list in Texas public schools?

  • What is your school district, or specific school (if the district is too broad for your perspective), doing right now with e-textbooks and digital learning?

  • Are there any particular areas, classes or subjects where you have particularly made more of a switch to e-learning? Why, and how?
  • Can you give any sort of “setting the stage” look at how you’ve incorporated digital learning – sort of the process or steps to get there?
  • Have you seen success with the digital learning you have implemented? Can you give some specific examples?
  • What have the challenges been?
  • Do you feel that traditional textbooks will be more and more on the decline as the digital classroom increases?
  • Will you continue with your present digital program, and/or will you expand them?
  • Any how-to advice you could give to other schools who are thinking about implementing e-learning would be terrific!

I was reminded of a research study that I had responded to earlier this summer by Dr. Mary Beth Green in a similar vein. She outlined a list of benefits/advantages, disadvantages and challenges.

ECISD High School Teacher, Jeff Johnson
 In my initial response to Shelley, I simply quoted something I’d written earlier in the year to other Texas technology directors:

This is a subject that came up recently with new textbook adoptions.  I’m reluctant to jump into supporting digital textbooks with both feet. My focus has always been on encouraging content creation, rather than reading other folks stuff. I haven’t seen the promise of eTextbook creation on iPads realized and figure that it’s because there are some who can do it, but most can’t or won’t.  

Furthermore, curriculum and assessment management systems are piecemeal and rely on each individual teacher. (gee, I’m making a lot of unsubstantiated assertions…quick, someone stop me with facts and real life experiences). 

With new textbook adoptions, eTextbooks are finding their way into our classrooms. What advice do you have about choosing a device to view these?

  • iPads (even iPad Minis) are too expensive to just use for eTextbook viewing
  • Low-cost Android tablets may be a boondoggle since their usability, although increasing, remains limited due to lack of rich ecology of edu-apps. I can see them for BYOT use, but are they ready for school systems?
  • Don’t want to get one device for one set of textbooks then have to deal with DRM and account management that mean they will only work on one device (e.g. Ibooks Author/iTunes working for vendor lock-in with Apple)
  • How do you assess eTextbook use so that one can justify purchasing expensive technology (e.g. device per student)?

  • Hope to pick a uniform platform for eTextbooks that is low-cost and easy to manage centrally
  • Hope to have DRM-free ebooks that can be viewed on any device
  • Hope to provide every student with a mobile device and/or be able to deploy district content on their phones without artificial publisher limits.
This served as the basis for my dialogue with Shelley and what ended up being included in the article:

Some of the source information quoted in the article is available online at the EC3 Program Overview and Assessment.
Again, thanks to ECISD, Shelley Seale, Jennifer Bergland and the Texas School Business journal! It was definitely my pleasure to have these dialogues.

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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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