In West Michigan, textbooks go digital

Aug 27, 2012

Schools around the county are considering digital textbooks as a more affordable and modern update to paper textbooks, and a West Michigan school district will pilot an "etextbook" program this year.

The Muskegon Chronicle reports Mona Shores Public Schools' students in select classes will receive their own computers to test how the etextbooks compare to traditional methods.

The Chronicle reports two seventh-grade social studies classes and high school English, math and psychology classes will be assigned their own computer within which to test out the software in the classroom.

The younger students in the pilot will use the computers as the primary educational resource, while high schoolers will learn from a mix of digital and paper and textbooks.

The Chronicle reports that eventually, students could watch their teacher lecture on their computers at home, and use class time to complete what was once considered "homework":

By the end of the school year, the hope is that some students will be able to take computers home with them. That is necessary for implementing “flip” learning that is becoming increasingly popular with students and teachers.

In flipped classrooms, teachers videotape their lectures that their students watch at home on computers. That allows students to do the related assignments – traditional homework – in the classroom where the teacher can answer questions and ensure students do the work correctly.

This digital transition occurs when many are questioning the efficiency of the current textbook market.

This March, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and CEOs of major education publishers discussed transitioning to all digital textbooks in K-12 schools in the next five years.

In a press release from that meeting, the leaders analyzed a study that found that interactive, digital text books would cost less per pupil, per year than the current model.

Even the largest textbook publishers admit the paper model is antiquated.

In a recent New York Times article, Will Ethridge, chief executive of the North American of Pearson P.L.C., the world’s largest education publishing company said over the last decade Pearson's already invested nearly $10 billion in what they call "digital instructional solutions." He said,

“One way to describe it would be an act of ‘creative destruction.’ By this I mean we’re intentionally tearing down an outdated, industrial model of learning and replacing it with more personalized and connected experiences for each student.”

And other major education publishers are following suit. McGraw-Hill launched a program called McGraw-Hill Connect which creates a platform for classroom education using smartphones, laptops and desktops, because, the introduction video says, "students are growing up digital."

Beyond K-12 schools, the etextbook model will likely transfer to colleges and universities, where students are responsible for covering the cost of the textbooks, which, AnnArbor.com reports, runs public university students about $1,168 each year.