Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

It’s a Digital World, so Why not Digital Textbooks ?

We live in a digital world. Look back on the history of digital cameras replacing traditional cameras–no one will ask why it happened, it just did. E-books on e-readers had already drawn much attention and, of course, market share from paper books in these past years.The internet, delivering information and knowledge in thousands of ways (all efficiently), had broadened the definition of reading before e-readers even went public. The static-book format is only one way of carrying human intelligence. The interactivity, flexibility of conservation, transfer, archives, re-use and re-mix , real-time property and lower cost of digitized contents enables active reading and nourished creativity. Paper books can’t be tagged, linked, or searched, and in general not as efficient in knowledge management, so some people supported replacing them with digital books.

The way we learn has been changed forever. Do paper textbooks still dominate schools? Or are we standing on the verge of an important transition ? Al Gore’s “Our Choice”, a digital book distributed as an iPad app that was introduced in a TED talk earlier this year, points to some of the potential for what ‘digital textbooks’ may be capable of. Getting to know a digital textbook by Dr. Cavanaugh explores more advantages of digital textbooks, such as text-to-speech, note-taking and auto summary functions.

The definitions of digital textbooks are still evolving, but these following articles offer ideas for our future textbooks. While reading,  you can refer to the fact summary on textbook current status.

e-reader, digital textbook

What’s happening to digital textbooks ?

CSU System Shares E-book Pilot Results (By Tanya Roscorla) – says that digital textbooks piloted in 2010 weren’t quite ready yet.

So you want to use e-textbooks next year ? (by Hans Mundahl) – a review about 3 e-textbook providers : CourseSmart, CK-12 Flexbooks, Inkling. CourseSmart has the most titles and very recent offerings. Their books are rental material. Inkling made the textbooks right–e-books should not just be electronic version of printed books. This is the one to watch for in 2012-2013. CK-12, open source textbook provider, offers free text books in a wide variety of subjects. As of now they have more than 4500 titles which can be fully customized by the teacher. Teachers can mix and match chapters and books to create a fully customized textbook.

6 Companies Aiming to Digitize the Textbook Industry (by Sarah Kessler) – CafeScribe, VitalSource and Inkling provide social features. Students can join groups to automatically pool their notes and make studying collaborative; professors can create groups for their classes. Inkling packs its titles with quizzes, interactive infographics and tappable key terms; it allows students to purchase books by chapter.  Nook Study is the FREE desktop e-reader for textbooks by Barnes & Noble. It allows students to read, search and annotate textbooks, as well as keep track of related documents and use the Internet to look up definitions, formulas, and other information directly from the text.

Textbook Publisher Announces ‘App’ Approach to Learning Materials (by Jeff Young) – on the new e-textbook publishing platform of Cengage Learning, the traditional textbook content take up only a small part. Cengage Learning bundles other materials and an electronic test-bank system, and allows professors to customize the presentation of the material by adding their own slides, video lectures, articles, or free online content from elsewhere and plug in apps like tutoring services or the ability to trade margin notes with other students. They are also working with third-party e-learning companies to let them build add-ons that can be added directly onto the e-textbooks. 

Amazon Launches Cross-Platform Textbook Rentals (by David Nagel) – textbook rentals are available through the free Kindle reader app, usable on almost all devices as well as with Kindle. It is estimated that rentals can save as much as 80 percent off the list price for a print edition. In addition, all the notes that students have taken and highlights the students have made in their textbooks will remain available to them in the Amazon Cloud even after a rental expires. The available titles are limited now, but more will surely follow.

Textbooks Go Electronic (by Amy Standen, Edutopia) – the digital format allows students to interact with the material, conduct computer-based experiments, and move at their own speed. The low-cost textbook combines a complete course’s worth of instructional text, with hundreds of simulations, game-like exercises, and assessment tools. The program includes homework that students do online and submit electronically to their teacher. The assignments are graded instantly — kids can see how they did and try again if they wished, so it’s easy to differentiate individual learning.

Publishers Launch First Digital-Only Textbook for K-12 (by Sarah Kessler) – McGraw-Hill launched its first all-digital, cloud-based textbook for the K-12 market at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. Its new format, CINCH, is a cloud-based curriculum for K-12 math and 7-12 science. It makes all course materials, including e-books, presentations, assessments and animation clips, available from any device with a browser through the new digital resource platform. Students in a class can also participate in Facebook-like conversations that stay with the text. Pearson announced that its digital K-8 program for mathematics and reading would be joining McGraw-Hill’s new CINCH texts on the cloud.

What happens when all textbooks are (only) digital? Ask the Koreans! (BY MICHAEL TRUCANO, from A World Bank Blog on ICT use in Education) – the potential issues such as privacy and security are raised.

Supporting Hardware Technologies

The infrastructure and hardware are all necessary for supporting the elements that facilitate the digital curriculum.

South Korean Schools Go Paperless. Can Others Follow? (by By Audrey Watters, MindShift) – to build cloud-based computing system and boost the WiFi infrastructure, the government says it will give tablets to low-income students.

Google’s Chromebook Plan Could Be the Answer to Updating Outdated Schools (by Lisa Nielsen) – in many cases of one-on-one rollout laptops in schools, there are issues with internet access and device repair. These factors are determinative to succcess.

The solution to most issues surrounding the going-digital process can be found in the whitepaper by David Thornburg Ph.D(founder of Thornburg Center). “As early as 1984, John Gage, from Sun Microsystems, had coined the phrase “The Network is the Computer” to describe the then-emerging world of distributed computing. Web-based applications reside in the Internet “cloud,” not on the user’s computer. So we don’t need expansive devices for students. The bigger challenge for schools is bandwidth. Consider having a class full of students streaming different videos to their computers during class. The challenge is not generally in the local area networks connecting the classrooms – modern networks operate at blindingly fast speed. The real issue is the speed of the school’s connection to the cloud. The solution is to trade bandwidth for local storage –‘storewidth’.”

More and more schools go digital by implementing one-to-one or BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs in classrooms. For example, PoweronTexas is a collaborative project initiated by TEA (Texas Education Agency) to share experiences about using technologies to transform education, especially BYOD. Education policy is crucial to preserve the equity of device accessibility to every student. We believe the most cost-effective solution will prevail in the future. Actual implementation of digital textbooks with varied devices in different scale are happening in many states, and some states had set the goals for going digital in schools ( Florida looks at taking school textbooks completely digital by 2015 By Marlene Sokol and Jeffrey Solochek ).

Different points of view 

Some Resources For Moving Beyond Textbooks (by Patrick Larkin, from Connected Principals) – contains a very inspiring statement : “I think it is also important that we do not jump too quickly at the e-versions of textbooks that companies are scrambling to sell to us.  It is my belief that the textbook companies are banking on the fact that public schools will take the easy way out and become dependent on the e-texts. However, given the time, I know that my teachers can create a much more meaningful resource for their classrooms.” Some resources for creating an e-curriculum are shared in this article.

In this featured Cerritos College-led open educational resources project by : “The use of open educational resources (OER) will reduce textbooks costs, eliminating a significant obstacle to success for low-income students, says M.L. Bettino, dean of academic affairs for Cerritos College. It will also allow institutions to collaborate to refine and improve course content, closing the loop between course design and student learning outcomes.”  With digital resources available on the internet, OER and OCW can solve the unaffordable- textbook status. Many universities have worked on collaborative publishing open-source e-textbooks from educators. OER is a big topic and absolutely worth studying. The effort in there is very inspiring for the cost-down process in education.

There are too many articles and discussions about digital textbooks within 2011 to include in this post. One thing is for certain–many things have yet to be done before the transition will be embraced. But from the 21st century mindset we would like to share this quote to end this post :“Content is King”: What Is The Role of The King (Content) Today? – Let’s not make students “sit and get” when it comes to digital content, but instead, make them part of the engaging content assets. (so do teachers). 

You are welcome to share your experiences and thoughts in comments.

photo credit: libraryman via photopin cc


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4 Responses »


  1. Why don’t Teachers Publish Their Own Textbooks ? (K12) | Classroom Aid
  2. Growing Your Textbooks by Thinking Outside The Box | Classroom Aid
  3. Moving forward to Digital Classrooms | Classroom Aid
  4. So Why Aren’t Your Students Self-publishing Their Own Books? | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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