Indiana School District Embraces Education Technology Boom

Traditional textbooks are being replaced by interactive computer programs, as Munster, Indiana made an all-in leap removing all math and science textbooks for its 2,600 students in grades 5 to 12, writes Alan Schwarz at the New York Times.

The transformation cost $1.1 million and required a huge change in the mindset of students, teachers and parents.

“The material we’re teaching is old but everything around it is brand-new,” said Pat Premetz, chairwoman of the math department at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster, who described the initiative as both “very overwhelming” and “the most exciting thing to happen in my 40 years of teaching.”

“This isn’t stressing out students,” Ms. Premetz added. “It’s stressing out teachers because of some of the technological problems, and parents who are wondering why their kids are on the computer so much.”

This comes as more and more schools across the country are looking to go digital. Schools in Mooresville, N.C. are now 90 percent of their curriculum is online, as reported by Education News.

“It didn’t happen overnight for us — it was an incremental change,” said Mark Edwards, Mooresville’s superintendent of schools. “The competency is evolutional.”

This is the beginning of what officials say will be a profound digital transformation of county schools, writes Emma Brown at the Washington Post.

Florida, Louisiana, Utah and West Virginia approved multimedia textbooks for the first time for the 2011-12 school year, and Indiana went so far as to scrap its textbook-approval process altogether, partly because, officials said, the definition of a textbook will only continue to fracture.

“We’ve stopped pretending that the state board of education is the biggest school district in the state,” said Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction. “I believe in local control, and we don’t have the ability to be the keeper of knowledge we have been in the past. We’ll be better off if we uncuff people’s hands.”

Ms. Norman is a seventh-grade science teacher using material from Discovery Education, which included videos from Discovery’s “Mythbuster” series, an interactive glossary and other eye candy to help students investigate whether cellphones cause cancer.

“With a textbook, you can only read what’s on the pages — here you can click on things and watch videos,” said Patrick Wu, a seventh grader. “It’s more fun to use a keyboard than a pencil. And my grades are better because I’m focusing more.”

Schools nationwide are spending an estimated $2.2 billion on educational software a year. And vigorous debate continues over whether technology measurably enhances achievement. And it was left to Maureen Stafford, Munster’s director of instructional programs and assessment, to convince skeptical colleagues and parents.

The town contributed about half of the $1.1 million to build the wireless infrastructure in the district’s three elementary schools, middle school and high school, with district funds covering the rest.