Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age, a new report from the State Education Technology Directors Association is calling on schools to make plans to transition from traditional textbooks to digital texts in the next five years. The paper looks at the benefits that districts might gain from using digital resources in the classroom and examines the progress made by states that have already taken steps to shift to the new medium — and the challenges and successes they’ve encountered along the way.
The report doesn’t just focus on the academic benefits of using digital educational resources, but also lays out how switching away from printed texts could give schools both unprecedented flexibility and achieve real cost savings. Digital updates don’t require a mass repurchase; therefore, a digital edition of a textbook can be used way past the time a real book had reached its end of life.
There’s also a matter of portability and availability. Electronic materials are available any time and can be used in class without having to ask students to carry the extra weight, making the choice previously forced on teachers to either allow students to keep texts in school or at home obsolete.
It is the user experience, however, that excites the authors the most. Because digital media includes more than just words, including videos and animations, they are transformative. Instead of pictures to illustrate concepts, students can view simulations or experimental videos. Instead of a dry list of problems for homework, there are virtual labs, interactive lessons and online assessments.
The report indicates that 22 states have already opened the doors to digital educational resources, either by changing their definition of textbooks to include digital resources and consequently make funding available to purchase those types of materials, or by launching digital textbook or open educational resources initiatives. However, the report points out that these policy changes alone are insufficient to ensure that the shift to digital resources takes place in a manner that is conducive to student achievement and engagement.
In order to move the transition along and ensure its success, states need to adopt specific policy points such as ensuring continuing funding for digital devices that can make full use of the potential offered by e-textbooks. In addition, the districts that have not been wired for broadband internet need to have that in place along with sufficient money to maintain and repair the infrastructure. The report also says that schools must develop policies that regulate the use of digital media, but at the same time encourage experimentation and innovation.
The core recommendation of the report is that states and school districts should start shifting to digital instructional materials with their next major “textbook” adoption cycle and that they should complete the shift from print to digital within the next five years. Otherwise, the report warns, schools will be stuck with static, inflexible content for five to ten years, depending on the length of their adoption cycle.