At this year’s BookExpo America publishing event, GoodeReader got the chance to attend a presentation and talk with the leadership of a small Connecticut high school that has gone almost completely digital in terms of its textbooks, and nearly paperless in regards to student assignments, thanks to the incorporation of tablets for each student.
There are a few concessions that have to be made in order for complete digital adoption to work. First, the teachers are going to have to abandon their tried-and-true lesson plans and be willing to at least attempt the switch to something new, a daunting task for some teachers who may have begun their teaching careers before the advent of graphing calculators, let alone iPads. Also, South Kent does enjoy the status of being a private school, so while it’s not about the funding issue, it is definitely an oversight issue; the school is fairly autonomous, as opposed to public schools who have an elected school board making broad, sweeping, one-size-fits-all curriculum decisions for every school in its district.
One of the excuses for avoiding the broader acceptance of digital textbooks that cannot be abided is the claims that the costs are prohibitive. Public schools around the country are emerging as quiet supporters of digital technology in light of sources that say a typical cost for a high school student’s textbooks is around $400. While schools can—and do—get several years’ worth of use out of a set of student textbooks before they become too damaged to use, they do so at the cost of not having the most current information for students.
In Alabama, for example, where the state board of education adopts textbooks on a ten-year rotation in each subject due to the high costs of examining materials and purchasing new textbooks, social studies textbooks were approved in 2009 and will not be approved again until 2019; science books will not be adopted again until 2020. While some subjects like literature do not suffer from not having cutting edge information, history and science cannot wait ten years for the curricular materials to catch up to what advancements and events have taken place.
The switch to digital all but erases that. With site licenses that bring the costs down compared to print counterparts, and with automatic updates and supplemental files that make sure the users have the most recent information, e-textbooks just make sense.
So how did South Kent succeed? They established one-of-a-kind relationships with several digital textbook publishers, they channeled funds into the purchase of a high volume of iPads (one per student and one per teacher), and they essentially told their faculty, “Here is your iPad. Now decide how you’re going to incorporate it into your teaching by this fall.” The administration realized that the students needed to be on top of the technology that they would be using in higher education and the workforce, and they adopted something else when they adopted digital textbooks: an attitude that this is vital in today’s climate.