Digital Textbooks. This is an introduction to digital textbooks and why they are so important in education today.
Textbooks have been in school systems for a very long time. They are the major source of information for most students, that is besides the teacher of course. Textbooks provide valuable information that can help them learn things quicker and easier. They provide a constant source of information when the teacher in not present and they make it easier for students to follow along with lessons. Textbooks themselves are not meant to be the only source of information for a student. The main source of information should first and foremost always be the teacher.
There are a few pressing problems that pertain to textbooks. According to CVS health resources, the average middle school student carries between fifteen to twenty percent of their own body weight in their backpacks. According to Lynn White, an assistant professor of research at Northeast Ohio University's College of Medicine, that is the equivalent of an adult carrying a small refrigerator on their backs. That’s unbelievable! Textbooks are one of the main reasons that backpacks are so heavy. The average textbook weighs anywhere between three to five pounds. That means that just three textbooks could weigh up to fifteen pounds. That an abnormally large amount of weight to put onto a child’s back. There is change going on the textbook industry that may reduce and even eliminate this problem.
The solution to the overweight backpack problem may be the digital textbook. Along with many things in the 21 st century, the textbook is becoming digital. Now, this has been happening gradually for some time. It began with textbook websites that offered handouts, study guides, and extra information that went along with the textbook. One example of this extra help is the McDougal Littell ClassZone. For the British Literature Textbook, this site offers a look at the unit, and vocabulary from the unit along with links to historical background sites, sites about the authors, and research project starter sites. These supplements to textbooks made them easier to use and made it easier for the students to learn. More recently, textbooks have begun to offer a digital copy, or an online copy of the book that can be seen with purchase of the hard copy of the text. The most current advancement with is the ability to buy only the digital textbook and not the hard copy. This could mean never having to but a hard copy of a text ever again. This opens up a whole new door for schools.
Now, some of you may ask, what is a digital textbook anyway, and that is a very good question. According to the Random house Dictionary “digital” means anything “available in electronic form; readable and manipulable by computer.”, so naturally, a digital textbook is a textbook that is available electronically for students to use. A digital contains the same information as the printed version if not more. Another name for a digital textbook, and a simpler one, is an eBook.
To some, the thought of a purely digital textbook can be completely overwhelming, but don’t worry. They are a lot easier to work than it sounds like. The way to get a digital textbook is to download it onto a computer. It can then be read, just like a normal textbooks, through software or online. A few examples of software to read textbooks are Adobe Reader and Adobe Digital Editions eBook Reader. Adobe Reader is a PDF reader. It allow one to “view, search, print, and collaborate on Adobe PDF files” 5 . Adobe Digital Editions eBook Reader is designed specifically for eBooks. It allows one to “download and read books on or offline. It includes a search and bookmark ability to find things easily and also allows you to organize a personal bookshelf to easily find a specific book. 6 ” Both versions available to the public for reading documents and eBooks. Some downloaded books have the ability to be seen for only a short period of time, like a semester or a year, and some have the ability to be owned forever. It states on the download page how long the text is good for. Specific eBooks have the capability to be shared, printed or copied. This allows for more mobility of the digital book. Again, some companies limit the number of times a textbook can be shared or printed. Since computers are needed to view these books, some schools have bought laptops for the students that are loaded with the textbooks and checked out at the beginning of the year, just like a normal textbook would be. ~~~~~~~~
As you may suspect, the students are the main group of people that will be affected by the switch to digital textbooks. Students will now have access to their textbooks without having to take the bulky books home. Now they will be able to access their books with the click of a mouse, which, I think, will make studying a little bit easier for the students. The availability of supplemental material increases with digital textbooks as well. With digital textbooks, students now have access to online dictionaries for words they don’t know, links to supporting websites to help them better understand the topic if they need more help, and there is also the ability to take notes in the book, which I know is not allowed in schools. With digital textbooks, students now are able to interact with the material that is presented to them. They have more ways of learning instead of just reading This means that all of the students who learn in ways other than just reading now are able to understand the material better.
How will digital textbooks affect the classroom? Well that’s a very good question. Since print versions take a while for the next edition to be made with updated information, teachers are stuck trying to keep up with information in outdated sources. With digital texts being used in the classroom it will eliminate the waiting period for updated information. New information can be downloaded as soon as it becomes available. Digital textbooks also offer a more interactive learning experience. There are more options available for ways to study and learn with these digital texts. eBooks will also keep students up to date with new technology. In the age of technology it is important that our students know how to use all of the technologies out there. Digital texts will help them to learn about technology as well as the subject matter. Another major benefit for classrooms is that the laptop that the textbooks are loaded onto can be a tremendous help to under-privileged students. There are many students who do not have access to a computer at home. By providing them with laptops, they will now have access to not only their textbooks, but they will have access to writing programs, like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, which many schools purchase with their laptops. This will give them the ability to keep up with students who do have computers at home.
There are some pros and cons to using both digital and printed textbooks. Digital textbooks are obviously more environmentally friendly as opposed to printed books. According to Conservatree.com, “nearly half of the trees cut in North America go to papermaking. 9 ” Imagine all of the trees we could save if we switched to digital textbooks. Another pro of a digital book is that it takes up less space and is not as heavy as a normal print textbook. The last pro for the digital textbook is that they are generally cheaper than printed textbooks. According to Jeffery Young in his article 6 Lessons One Campus Learned About E-Textbooks “e-books generally cost half the price of printed textbooks 9 ” These digital books also have some cons to them. For one, the battery life can be a problem. Some laptops have short battery life and need to be plugged in to charge. This can pose a problem in class when all the outlets are full. With a printed textbook there is no need to have a plug; you can take them anywhere. Another problem that the printed textbooks do not run into is that there are not a lot of subjects available on digital textbooks.
California is one of the first states to try out digital textbooks. According to their website, California spends up to 400 million dollars annually on K-12 textbooks. This price is an estimate and continues to rise every year. That a lot of money to spend strictly on books. TO reduce the amount of money they spend, they started the California Open Source Textbook Project. What this project does is it offers easy online and electronic access to open source textbooks. “Open source means that the textbooks are available to read, copy, and print online at little or no cost to the consumer 10 ” What this means for California is that they will save upwards of 200 million dollars per year within 5 years. That’s amazing! Not only will they be saving enormous amounts of money, but they are entering into the digital age of texts.
There are more advancements that will come once digital textbooks become more widely used. One of these advancements is the personal reader. A personal reader like the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Sony Reader are hand held electronic books. They have all the same features as the computer software and are easier to transport than a laptop. According to Barnes & Noble, the nook can hold up to 1,500 standard books at one time and a memory card can be added so that the Nook can hold up to 17,500 books. These eventually could be loaded with every book a student will ever need for their entire K-12 learning career. As the prices for these readers go down, they will become more accessible to schools and, in my opinion will be very beneficial to the educational world.
The question that everyone is asking is whether or not paper textbooks will eventually disappear from classrooms forever. Personally, I believe that digital textbooks will become more convenient and better for the classrooms. People are starting to see that laptops can be used for reading as well. Soon students will be doing all of their work on computers and it just makes sense that they should be able to access their books on a laptop as well.
But until a time when digital textbooks become the more affordable and accessible option, the majority of school systems will continue to use the paper textbooks.