Although Badin High School Biology students get a copy of their textbooks at the beginning of the year, much like students at most other schools, for many this will be the last time they handle real books until they turn them back in once the classes are complete. In Mollie Marot’s class, learning is done from the electronic version of the same text, which is provided to each pupil to use with a school-issued iPad.
Technology has only recently begun to penetrate secondary school classrooms, a setting that has been traditionally hostile to innovation. Marot, however, feels that the advance couldn’t have come soon enough. She thinks that electronic textbooks allow her to teach the subject in a way that she hasn’t been able to before. Gone are the lectures that used to take up the majority of classroom. Gone, too, is the outdated information that had to be corrected and the two-dimensional textbook illustrations that served poorly to explain the concepts being discussed. Instead, students are provided with videos and materials that are continuously updated.
Their experience with the textbook is also more hands on: highlighting and note-taking on the pages of the text are encouraged. So is sharing, like emailing a portion of the text to a classmate.
The technology also allows them to use scientific instruments that plug directly into the iPad, which also has a built-in timer, and through the virtual cloud, the whole class can collaborate on a spreadsheet at the same time and look at the results together before the bell rings.
“They’re doing things, using equipment that I didn’t get to until my third or fourth year of college,” Marot said.
As promising as e-textbooks on the iPad have been, teachers who enthusiastically adopt them tend not to consider one of the prime benefits of this technology: cost savings. At the moment, the price of providing gadgets like tablets for the personal use of every student might be out of reach for many schools, but this is changing. Some deal with it by allowing kids to “bring their own technology,” although that leaves out those whose families can’t swing the cost. However, with the prices of tech going down all the time — and the price of textbooks not following suit — this might not be a concern for much longer.
A recent study by the Fordham Institute finds that investment in technology can bring about substantial savings in per-student spending in public schools, with most of that attained through the “efficiencies of a blended education model.”
“The traditional-school model spends over half of its budget on labor, with the majority of the rest put into school operations,” according to the report, “The Cost of Online Learning.” “Content and technology costs combined are but a tiny fraction of overall costs. A blended model, by comparison, has the potential to save approximately $1,100 per student.”