Click, snap—we get our information fast through technology, but according to experts, we should not ditch paper and print anytime soon. Nevertheless, the transition to digital textbooks is a process that is easier for some than others.
William “Andy” Shaw at Clearwater High School in Clearwater, Fla., taught history and economics for 12 years. Shaw’s job completely changed nearly three years ago, however, when Clearwater gave each student a Kindle Keyboard.
Shaw, also certified in computer science, is now the coordinator of Clearwater’s Kindle technology program, in which Kindle Keyboards, Kindle Fires, and bring your own device (BYOD) are everyday tools in student learning.
“I manage over 3,300 accounts and devices,” Shaw said.
He said that the school’s principal chose the Kindle device over others because it has a large library of books for free, and it comes with a universal 3G service—a set of third-generation mobile telecommunications technology standards.
“This provided universal web access for all of our students off campus, and we were able to level the playing field a bit for our low socio-economic status students,” Shaw said.
In order to protect the students’ information and data, each student received an “R2-D2,” two digit-two digit, code for their Kindle account rather than using their real names. According to Shaw, they did not enter students’ names or identifying information. They were “very good about protecting that,” he said.
All K–12 schools in Florida are required by law to have digital textbooks by 2015. Florida’s Digital Instructional Materials Work Group—a nine-member group of parents, educators, district leaders, and a businessman—was created with the mission of figuring out how to realize that goal.
“In my mind, we are at the cusp of a huge change in the way we use technology in the classroom,” Shaw said.
However, districts are unsure if a simple Portable Document Format (PDF) textbook constitutes a digital textbook, as required by the Florida digital initiative. Shaw thinks that BYOD is the way to go.
“Maybe the individual districts could then negotiate deals with different companies to provide devices to students who don’t already have their own—so many possibilities,” he said.
Down to Business
When Wendy LaDuke’s father, Edward Warnshuis first saw the giant computers the size of a bedroom, long before Apple and PCs, he just knew that someday technology would play an important role in education. LaDuke said that everyone thought that he was nuts.
Warnshuis founded THE Journal (Technological Horizons in Education) 40 years ago. It was the first magazine to bring educators and the technology industry together. LaDuke took on the family business, and she said that they have just stopped printing to go digital and offer “multimedia-rich editorial products.”
She partnered with 1105 Media Inc., where she is president and group publisher of the education group. According to the company’s website, “1105 Media, Inc. provides integrated business-to-business information and media” through print and online media and seminars, conferences, summits, and trade shows.
“We definitely live in a digital world,” LaDuke said, and capturing attention is important. “It only makes sense to reach our readers where they are, which is very much engaged in digital content, and their activities connected to social media.”
A recent conference hosted by 1105 Media, in late January 2013, was the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. Members of Florida’s Digital Instructional Materials Work Group were there, and so was Shaw.
“At the conference, educators are really talking about, ‘Okay, this is our goal, this is what we need to achieve by 2014 and 2015. What are the challenges we face in achieving this goal?’” said LaDuke.
There are infrastructure issues, like the need for wireless networks that have the capability to support the bandwidth and the interactivity of digital content with thousands of students accessing it at the same time.
Other issues have to do with information that teachers want to know, such as how to measure and see their students’ successes and improvement.
“Technology has evolved into a situation where we use to talk about technology just for the sake of technology, now technology is just a tool that helps us do what we need to be doing within our education system,” LaDuke said.
The last time LaDuke saw such rapid change was in 1999 when the Internet was widely discovered. She compared the textbook and educational content industry and digital learning to the music industry when iTunes first came out.
“Everybody was buying CDs, and the music industry said, ‘We are not going to allow our music to be downloaded—you either buy the CD or nothing.’” That turned the music industry into a dinosaur overnight, according to LaDuke.
Available content is also changing and becoming open with electronic devices. Florida’s Department of Education created the Florida Virtual Curriculum Marketplace, in which teachers can find curriculum for what their students are learning. Newspapers, including USA Today, are among curriculum providers.
“Teachers deserve to have the freedom to pick what they want, but students should have the freedom to be able to explore and investigate and find their own resources as well,” LaDuke said.
According to Shaw, schools often have to wait for textbook companies to comply. Shaw said that he would like to see some standards with the e-book formats because there are too many available.
“What is the format that will become the standard of the future? Is it EPUB, AZW, MOBI, or Web based? Nobody wants to be the district that buys the ‘Betamax’ and is stuck with it,” he said.
Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), said that if done right, “Schools moving toward e-textbooks can be a real benefit for blind students.” The NFB was created in 1940 and is an “influential membership organization of blind persons,” with 50,000 members, according to the organization.
Danielsen said that when textbooks are printed, someone has to transcribe them into braille and then reproduce the book, and that is a “very time-consuming process.”
There is technology that allows electronic books to be displayed on braille devices or to be read aloud. “Those technologies can benefit blind people,” he said.
While Apple has created products for the blind, Danielsen said that other electronic devices like Kindle’s e-books do not allow the full access needed for school, spelling, in-text search, and bookmarking.
At the upcoming international NFB 2013 Washington Seminar in February, volunteers across the country will advocate on Capital Hill, according to Danielsen, telling Congress that they want the U.S. Access Board to set technical standards for e-textbooks—standards that book publishers would follow.
Danielsen said that schools deal with technology for their blind students in various ways, and parents and students constantly contact the NFB with concerns about e-textbooks in K–12 and higher education. They want something they can fully access.
Textbook Publishers Emerge
According to a report from paidContent, the K–12 textbook-publishing industry is an $8 billion industry and is the second largest publishing category in the United States after trade.
Three of the top textbook publishers—McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—partnered with Apple in early 2012. Apple has an extensive webpage for education and has financing options for educational institutions.
Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers’ (AAP) School Division, said that the major publishers “have clearly gone digital.”
Diskey has a background in public relations within education and workforce, and he was a journalist in the 1980s. “He directs and coordinates all of the division’s activities including public policy development, advocacy, and communications,” with the AAP, according to his biography.
The AAP is the trade association for U.S. book publishers and provides communication on behalf of the industry.
Diskey said that not all digital content is PDFs or static books. “In many cases these are very interactive, instructional programs. Some appear to be something like a book, like on your kindle or nook; in some cases it’s much more interactive,” he said.
There are nearly 14,000 school districts, according to Diskey. There are nearly 99,000 schools in the United States, according to National Center for Education Statistics, and Diskey said that there are issues with getting the publishers’ digital content into schools.
“Each district is implementing digital learning at their own pace—some districts and some states are taking longer than others,” he said. “Florida has always been more toward digital learning and is clearly one of the leaders—we support what they are doing.”
It is all part of a process, according to Diskey. Incorporating technology into education is a balancing act, and just as adults use print, paper, and electronics in their careers, so do students in their education.
Shaw explained that his son is taking a virtual math course, yet he switches to paper and pencil to practice the math. “Some things are well suited toward digital text,” Shaw, the Kindle coordinator from Clearwater, said. “We are never, ever, ever going to get rid of all of our books—I don’t think.”
“Some subject areas are just better suited [for digital or print]. For the most part, I think you can go to a model where a significant portion of your content is digital,” Shaw added.
Throughout Diskey’s career, he has managed many devices: laptop, notebook, and desktop computer—he likes to use a Kindle when on a plane—but he also reads a lot and uses print and paper often.
“It’s less of an either-or, but most students seem to want both,” Diskey said.
While Diskey said that some districts have the money to invest in electronics that become out dated in just a few years, Drew Fairchild, manager of the North Carolina Textbook Warehouse, said that other districts do not even have the money to buy printed textbooks, which need to be renewed every five years in their state.
“We are all over the place with who’s got it and who doesn’t,” Fairchild said. He has been managing the N.C. Textbook Warehouse for the past 10 years. He said that digital books would probably be good for children’s backs since printed books may weigh more than the child does, but he also thinks that making the transition is a process.
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