The promise of students carrying lighter backpacks accompanied the promise technology advocates and educators made in shifting from printed to digital textbooks (also called e-books).
A few years ago, I predicted that digital textbooks would be common across school districts. While there have been some movement toward switching to digital textbooks, I was way off in my prediction.
What are digital textbooks?
In most cases, they are digitized versions of printed texts. These digitized texts are licensed so they are sold to districts and can be downloaded from publisher websites to school, teacher, and student devices.
Promoters of digital textbooks point to the following advantages:
“Cost – Although e-readers may come with a fairly large price tag, the savings between digital and traditional textbooks adds up quickly.
Faster Searches – Instead of thumbing through pages of text, students can find the passages they are looking for with fast keyword searches.
Supplemental Information – Students have the ability to add to their knowledge warehouse by simply performing online searches for additional information as they are reading.
Environmental Friendliness – Digital textbooks save trees and never end up in landfills like traditional textbooks.”
They also underscore the reduced weight students will have to lug around. Young children and youth will have to tote only the laptop or tablet in their backpacks.
What curricular and instructional problems do digital textbooks solve?
None that I can detect. Like all textbooks, digital ones deliver the state and district curriculum that teachers are expected to teach their students at all grade levels. While boosters of digital texts promote them as ways students learn more, faster, and better I have found no evidence that students learn more or less from using digital textbooks than printed ones. If readers of this post know of such research, please let me know via your comments.
Where have digital textbooks been adopted?
While most states allow districts to use money for printed texts to be used for digital ones, larger states, such as Texas, California, and Michigan, have already moved forward in funding districts converting to digital texts.Digital texts seem to be more apparent in secondary than elementary schools although they are evident at both levels. For elementary schools, see short video on digital texts in Omaha (NE) elementary schools..
Why was my prediction so far off?
I fell for the hype about digital textbooks being cheaper and easily accessible to students and teachers without allowing for the innate conservatism of public school officials and teachers in slowly, if at all, adopting a change to a basic classroom practice, that is, using a textbook for daily lessons (see here)