Textbooks Going the Way of the Dodo?

By Bryan Toporek — August 10, 2009 1 min read
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Educators predict that textbooks will eventually become a thing of the past — although opinions vary on when this transformation will take place, according to the New York Times. William M. Habermehl, superintendent of the 500,000-student Orange County schools, believe this change could occur within the next five years, claiming, “[digital textbooks] can be better than traditional textbooks.”

“[Kids] don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear, and rote,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, La. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger capitalized on the potential for change this summer, as he announced an initiative that would replace some high school science and math textbooks with free, “open source” digital versions. Gov. Schwarzenegger hopes the free textbooks will save the state money and will free kids from carrying around heavy, outdated, beaten-up books.

Yet educators remain wary of sweeping digital reform, as a number of students in many school districts across the country do not have personal access to a computer, Blackberry, Kindle, or other technological reading devices. These educators believe a technological revolution would only deepen the digital divide.

“A large portion of our kids don’t have computers at home, and it would be way too costly to print out the digital textbooks,” said Tim Ward, assistant superintendent for instruction in California’s 24,000-student Chaffey Joint Union High School District, where nearly half of the students are from low-income families.

Given the current state of the economy, many educators and technology experts believe the widespread K-12 digital revolution is coming — in due time.

“There’s a lot of stalled purchasing and decision making right now,” said Mark Schneiderman, director of federal education policy at the Software & Information Industry Association. “But it’s going to happen.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.