For E-Learning to Succeed, Schools Need Support Infrastructure

Modernizing the education system is debated than done. The first step for schools might be replacing print textbooks with digital books, but before adopting e-textbooks, they need a reliable infrastructure to support the use of mobile technology. According to Ben Lowinger of New York Daily News, most school districts do not have the necessary infrastructure to support online and computer-based learning that advances in education technology require.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said that "as a nation, we spend $7 to $9 billion a year on textbooks that, by the time you receive them, are out of date. It doesn't make sense to me." New York City, the nation's largest school district, is planning to create the nation's most extensive e-textbook store. The city is seeking proposal for the e-books store, where schools can search for, buy and download digital books.

The school district is using a variety of technologies to promote online education, but very few schools have given a computer or a tablet to each student. This means that the e-books won't be accessible to most students or even to teachers. The city's efforts could be hampered by infrastructure issue.

Owning a digital book does very little unless you have a device on which you can access it and a network on which to run it.

Even so, in a high-tech nation that spawned companies like Apple, Google and Amazon, most of our public schools remain remarkably low tech. While some major school districts, like Los Angeles, are bucking the trend (this year the city bought tablets for more than 30,000 students) a recent study found, among K-12 schools, just 21 per cent are currently using digital textbooks.

New York City's plans to move textbooks from paper to digital form is an important first step in modernizing the city's 1,600 traditional public schools. To get benefits of e-books, the city would need to provide a computer or tablet to every student and give schools access to a fast Internet connection.

New York City's considerable buying power could also help remove one of the biggest barriers to digital learning-access to content. Publishers who rely on the nation's largest school system for business will certainly feel the pressure to convert more of their texts to a digital format. But to be successful, the city's strategy must also consider several other essential components, including connectivity and content delivery.

Three-quarters of city schools might not currently have the download speeds necessary to support such an e-textbook system, according to a recent report by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

With the potential to reduce long-term costs while at the same time improving the classroom experience, technology can be a game changer for public education. But it needs to be implemented thoughtfully. If not, it will just be another well-intentioned strategy that falls short of expectations.

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