Posted on Oct 25, 2012
Posted on Oct 25, 2012
In an effort to increase the technological literacy of students and to improve learning outcomes, President Obama recently set a goal to have students using exclusively e-textbooks delivered on tablet computers. Even more recently, Julie Lawrence, writing for Education News, reported that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed “what he thinks the classroom of the future will look like – and one thing he doesn’t see is a heavy paper textbook.”
Drawing inspiration from South Korea, a country that outperforms the United States when it comes to student achievement, supporters of the e-textbook movement argue that “a comprehensive shift to immersive, online learning experiences could engage students in a way that a textbook never could,” while also delivering benefits to districts and teachers in the form of cost savings and increased flexibility in curriculum.
As far as the students are concerned, e-textbooks would not be limited by what can be displayed in print. An e-textbook could include interactive features, quizzes, and videos, while also including standard features like highlighting, underlining, and commenting. Additionally, as many students will tell you, print textbooks have a tendency to be bulky and, at times, challenging to transport when you have to carry more than one or two.
It is believed that school districts could see savings by utilizing e-textbooks because, while tablet computers can be somewhat expensive, it follows that the rights to use textbooks should be cheaper, seeing as how publishers would not be obligated to provide physical print resources to schools. Furthermore, Lawrence says that “using e-textbooks allows schools to view curriculum not as a cudgel, but as a list of suggestions that they, for themselves, get to decide how to implement.” Instead of being forced to stand by and utilize the material that exists in whatever textbook a district provides for a class, e-textbooks allow curriculum to become more customizable, potentially allowing districts to even build the textbook that will best suit teachers.
A major question, though, is whether or not students will accept e-textbooks. As of right now, the only students making extensive use of e-textbooks are college students, and according to Brian Browdie, writing for NY Daily News, “Books published electronically may be growing in popularity, but some students say for textbooks they still prefer print.”
A recent study involving five universities and thousands of students, “e-textbooks can be ‘clumsy’ and difficult to use.” The main point of contention seemed to be ease of use, because students liked the idea of not needing to carry heavy textbooks and the potential of saving money. Despite the potential benefits, if e-textbooks are not accessible to students, then the widespread use of e-textbooks may actually prove detrimental to students.
Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.