E-Textbooks Open Up Opportunities For Special Education Students

Disabled students are often overlooked as beneficiaries of the conversion from traditional textbooks to digital, but according to The Guardian, many special education students will be able to use ebooks to overcome some severe limitations imposed by the heft and the small fonts of books published on paper rather than on a screen.

Over 11 million students in the UK alone will now be provided with easier to use learning materials thanks to growing popularity of epublishing. As Finnuala Duggan writes, this could serve to level the playing field between special needs students – especially those suffering from visual impairment.

It is here, in the place where educational resources and students with disabilities intersect, that technology has a vital role to play. Technology could operate as the great equalizer. It could – and indeed, it should – help move all students towards a level playing field. This is particularly true in when it comes to learning resources, and specifically textbooks.

Textbooks are core to the university learning experience, yet for students with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairments, they can be a challenge. Static print sizes, outdated tools to translate print to speech, and complicated page layout and design can make it harder for those with a disability. This in turn impacts on the quality of their educational experience.

Recognizing the advantages of e-textbooks over traditional books, governments are adopting various methods to speed their adoption. In Utah, where digital texts are quickly gaining supporters among students, faculty and administrators, one of the more popular steps has been to ease the expense of conversion by asking that any texts used in state schools be made available under the open source license – which means the content is available for free to anyone.

So far at least five districts as well as several charters have adopted etextbooks for at least some subjects. Two math textbooks used in the state have been made available online and according to The Salt Lake Tribune, a science textbook is being made available this summer.

Open-source textbooks seem to be effective, according to Wiley's research so far. Substituting them for traditional books did not appear to correlate with any change in student test scores, according to his work published in The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning last June.

In more recent research, he found a small but statistically significant improvement in test scores when students used open-source materials versus traditional textbooks.

Lawmakers in Utah recently considered a measure that would have mandated a switch from traditional to e-textbooks in all Utah districts, although later the language was softened to asking for an annual review. Still, it appears that the measure's sponsor, Jacob Anderegg, was moving ahead of public sentiment, as the bill failed to get out of committee. He has, however, promised to introduce it again.

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