Curriculum

Technology Update

January 31, 2001 4 min read
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Education Publisher Moves Science Textbooks Online

The McGraw-Hill Cos.—one of the nation’s biggest K-12 textbook publishers—will soon post six science textbooks online, a move that industry analysts say may spur other publishers to follow its lead.

The textbooks the New York City publisher will put online this spring mirror its print editions. The “e-textbooks” will have the same text as the regular books, but will be accompanied by special electronic features such as video and audio clips.

“McGraw-Hill’s [electronic textbooks] are the most comprehensive we’ve seen to date,” said Stephen Driesler, the executive director of the School Division of the Association of American Publishers in Washington.

Because it’s such a competitive industry, Mr. Driesler said he expects that other textbook publishers—such as Pearson PLC, Harcourt General Inc., and Houghton Mifflin Co.—are considering similar plans to convert textbooks into an online format.

School textbook publishers commonly give purchasers of their printed editions a CD-ROM, or they set up special Web sites containing supplemental materials. But up until now, the industry has provided complete electronic versions of textbooks only at the college level, not for K- 12 schools.

Publishers have waited because of a range of concerns in the industry about the security of their content if it is available online, about the application of copyright law for Internet materials, and about a lack of access to the necessary technology in many schools and homes that would prevent online materials from being used.


Starting With Science: The six McGraw- Hill science texts headed for the Web are for elementary and middle school grades, and are published by the company’s Macmillan and Glencoe divisions. The online versions will be sold for the same price as the printed versions—or at a 40 percent discount if the purchaser owns the latest print edition.

“We’re starting in the area of science [because] science teachers tend to be open to technology,” said Addison “Buzz” Ellis, the president of McGraw-Hill’s School Publishing Group. A wide range of textbooks will eventually be offered, he added.

The online books will have the same content as the print versions, but will add video and audio clips and interactive maps to the usual static images and diagrams of scientific phenomena.

“For the student, obviously it will make the book come alive,” Mr. Ellis said. “There will be some video clips that will give concepts a different presentation. If we talk about tornadoes or hurricanes—you can’t show the force of it in a [printed] textbook.”

Other special features will include a “report writer’s assistant” that places footnotes in students’ word-processed compositions—including the page numbers from the printed textbook—and online quizzes that students can take on their own. Some quiz items will be interactive; in one question, for example, a student is asked to show the phases of the moon by using a computer mouse to place the moon in its correct phase.

The self-tests also will direct students to sections of the textbook where they can find information to correct wrong answers, according to Mr. Ellis.

The online books will be more up to date than the print versions, he added. Editors can change the text at any time to reflect scientific advances, instead of waiting for the next edition, which can follow a cycle of three years or more, depending on the subject. And schools won’t have to wait for their own replacement cycle to come around, which can be six years or more.

Students and teachers will have access to their online books at the company’s new Web site, called the McGraw-Hill Learning Network. They can go to the site—at www.mgln.com—use a password to open their books and print selected chapters. Teachers will be able to search through the online teachers’ edition.

Mr. Ellis said he believes that within the next five years electronic texts would be able to be downloaded into portable “e-books,” but the screens of these handheld devices would first need to have much higher definition and their cost would have to drop to a fraction of their current price of nearly $500.


Schools To Test E-Textbooks: The new online textbooks are scheduled to be tested beginning this week in two locations: the Maui schools in Hawaii, and the Celebration School, in Osceola County, near Orlando, Fla.

“This is a very powerful resource,” said Scott Muri, the dean for grades 6-12 at the public Celebration School, which will use the online textbooks in grades 4-8.

But Mr. Muri emphasized that textbooks—online or in print—are playing a lesser role for his high school students than in the past. His teachers increasingly compile their own collections of materials from a wide array of sources, including the Internet, guided by Florida’s academic standards.

Mr. Driesler, of the publishers’ group, said that the textbook is still pre-eminent in many schools, with its value rooted in the quality control that is necessary to meet rigorous state adoption standards.

But he agrees that times are changing. “Over time, the distinction between traditional print publisher and electronic publisher will be very hard to tell,” he said.

— Andrew Trotter

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A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2001 edition of Education Week as Technology Update


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