Friday, December 14, 2012

Another Nail in the Coffin of Textbooks

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Digital textbooks are great, right? Education Secretary Arne Duncan thinks so – and is calling for the US to move as quickly as possible to make the switch. “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete”, he said. Part of the push comes from not wanting to be late to the game – students in many other countries are ahead of the US in adopting new educational technologies.

Aside from not wanting to be the slow kids on the playground, there are a number of compelling reasons to make the shift to digital sooner rather than later. We’re sure you can come up with a million other reasons on your own, but here are the ones that really get us excited for a major shift to digital:

1. Save A Spine

You know what stinks? When your back hurts. You know what stinks even more? When your back has been hurting since you were in the first grade because you had to carry so many darned books around. We’ve all seen kids waddling to school carrying backpacks nearly as large as they are, filled to capacity and visibly pulling down. Lots of studies are showing that heavy backpacks can cause chronic back pain, especially in children, who are still growing. “Back pain” is pretty generic. But nerve damage in the neck and shoulders, stress fractures in the back, inflammation of growth cartilage, and back and neck strain are not. We bet you don’t want any of those and you wouldn’t want your students to, either.

2. Interactive Features Rule

We’re moving away from a learning tradition of being lectured at and doing exercises and reading from a book, so our textbooks need to catch up, too. Digital textbooks are so much more than simply a digital version of a paper book. Many include features such as videos, interactive models, and moveable diagrams to keep students engaged and enrich the explanations of topics. Since all of these are now located in the textbook, there’s no need for teachers or students to collect many materials from many sources to have all they need for a topic.

3. Bringing Books and Notebooks Together

Many digital textbooks have the ability to add ‘layers’ right on top of each page. Students and teachers can take notes, add drawings, write questions, and work out problems as needed. No need to keep a separate notebook or binder for class notes, homework, or miscellaneous associated work.

4. More Personalized Curriculum

Many (print) textbook publishers encourage (read: basically force) schools and districts to purchase a package deal for their textbooks. So if you really want the extra super fabulous Algebra 2 textbook from X publisher, you’re probably stuck with their bordering on crappy basic math text, too. With digital, its much easier to pick and choose from the best of the best texts in each subject matter. Furthermore, if you (as a teacher or a student) want a copy of a different text then your class is using, it is much easier to obtain a copy than trying to get a single hard copy textbook from a publisher.

5. Save Money

It seems pretty obvious that you’ll save trees when you buy something digital vs. paper, but you also save a lot of money. Pricing for both buying and renting digital textbooks is lower than for paper. Additionally, digital textbooks don’t need to be replaced for wear and tear or damage, but they also don’t need to be physically reprinted when they’re updated. New editions are available much more quickly and easily.

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