From Georgia to Malaysia, Digital Textbook Use Growing


Classrooms across the country are becoming more dependent on technology, and just this week the Obama administration provided more funding for the expansion of high-speed Internet access in a pledge to connect 99% of students through their school or library.

A new proposal in Georgia by State Senator John Albers would see all classrooms in the state using e-textbooks by 2020, if the proposal makes it through the Legislature this year. The specifics of the bill are still in the works, but Albers has said that schools would not be held financially responsible for moving over to digital materials.

Albers would like school districts to be able to choose the best options for them in terms of how kids use the materials, while other states have chosen to purchase laptops and tablets.

"We need to have a goal," he said. "Technology can prepare out students for the business world, but it's also the great equalizer whether you live in a suburban, urban or rural environment."

There is no word yet on how much the new technology would cost or what the state can afford. While lawmakers are in agreement about the advantages of using digital materials, time is needed for schools to phase out textbooks and upgrade technology within their buildings.

Other states have also used the deadline method that Albers would like to see used in Georgia. Florida, for example, recently passed a bill asking for districts to put at least half of their textbook budget toward digital materials beginning in 2014 and increasing each year after.

A pilot program in Miami-Dade County schools is participating in the state mandate by providing portable, digital devices for all 350,000 students in the district. This year, the program gave 30,000 seventh and ninth graders HP laptops instead of textbooks.

The tablets allow teachers to be more creative with their lesson plans, and students to work more efficiently and gain more ideas. However, teachers are also unable to monitor what students are doing online, poor Internet connections waste precious classroom time, and sometimes the e-textbooks don't work.

"I think the potential is there, and I really see what the superintendent's plan is — but they've got to get some of these things straightened out," said Brian Firtell, a seventh-grade teacher at Lawton Chiles Middle in Hialeah.

Chicago startup RedShelf is also looking to e-textbooks, providing an online textbook rental service for colleges and universities across the country. So far the company is working with four of the top five textbook publishers and has deals with 120 colleges and universities.

Similar technological plans are taking place across the globe.

In Malaysia, where the Education Minister is expected to launch the Smart Interactive Digital Textbook, a second wave of digital textbooks, to be used between 2016 and 2025. The new books will come at no cost to parents. Instead, equipment, including the Google Chrome Books, will be given as a gift to schools for students' use.

Schools in South Africa are also seeing steps taken toward using more technology, as digital libraries are being created in schools which are also seeing a higher rise in the use of e-texts.

11 26, 2014
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