Digital Textbook Companies Struggle to Stay Ahead

Some schools have been switching from traditional textbooks to tech-infused solutions, although it appears that digital textbook companies may have jumped the gun on getting enough clients to support their expenses. Paper textbooks cannot update information like technology can, but school districts and state legislatures are slow to approve the transition — and that means many digital textbook companies are finding it hard to stay open.

Kno, a digital textbook company that started with a bang accumulated almost $100 million in venture capital and debt before being sold in 2013 for a fraction of its early potential value, says Om Malik for GigaOm.

Inkling, another digital textbook company, is also closing its textbook branch. Inkling has laid off 25% of its employees as it makes a shift from selling to schools to getting its business from publishers, reports The Digital Reader.

There are, however, success stories in the digital sector.

In Mooresville, North Carolina, "digital conversion" was six years in the making and is now a reality. At one time, the school district was struggling. Now, it is a success story that has accrued widespread, international praise, not to mention a visit from President Barack Obama. With an ethnically diverse student body of 5,600 children, the Mooresville district has around 40% of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, says Frank Florence for EdSurge.

Its transformation to the digital world has been helped along by its superintendent, Dr. Mark Edwards. He has been a long time advocate of equipping students with technology so that they acquire 21st-century skills. The Mooreville graded School District (MGSD) has put into action a six-year educational plan that has several goals for the implementation of technological resources in all classrooms. The district's goals also center on academic achievement, engagement, opportunity and equity.

The 2006 graduation rate was only 64%. Also, the 2006-2007 academic composite, which looks at a mix of all subject state standardized exams taken by high school students students in North Carolina,had just a 68 pass rating%. This was all before Edwards' being put into office and the creation of the new plan. The graduation rate is now 86%, reports Florence.

"Six years into our digital conversion, our culture has dramatically changed," confirms Dr. Scott Smith, MGSD's chief technology officer. "We now have a student-centered, digitally-rich environment where we can personalize learning for all students. The content and resources have opened up brand-new capabilities. We can reach students in the world in which they're living, and we can look at real-time data to meet their needs so they can become successful."

Another success story involving digital conversion is that in San Francisco, after a successful pilot program in the 2013 school year in which instructors at 12 middle schools used iPads in their classrooms as part of a $2.7 million donation from the Salesforce Foundation. The Foundation has pledged to double down on its investment to help San Francisco schools in the 2014-2015 school year, writes Laura Dudnick for The San Francisco Examiner

At an Autodesk event that praised the 31 math and science instructors who transformed their teaching with the implementation of more than 1,200 iPads, San Francisco Unified School District officials announced an increase in funding for technology, writes Dudnick. The goal for school year will be to expand the program to the sixth through eighth grades at the district's eight K-8 schools. This would integrate an extra 1,800 tablets into the classrooms of 50 more faculty.

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