Thanks to a $200,000 federal grant, this year Western Hills University High School principal Stephanie Morton took a step that is becoming more common as a growing number of educators embrace technology: she purchased for each of her 1,200 students a Nook Color tablet. Not only will the light-weight device replace the bulky school textbooks Western Hills students have grown used to, it will also provide a way for them to access academic materials and school resources online both in and out of school.
Morton said that allowing kids to get their hands on technology is especially important when they come from low income families, as do 73% of Western Hills students. The Nooks they get in school could be the only opportunity they will have to play this with kind of a gadget, without which they could drop behind their more affluent peers. In addition, Nooks obviate the need for a library or a computer lab whenever kids need the internet for a school assignment. With a Nook in their hands they can do their school work anywhere they can find a WiFi hotspot.
Switching to digital textbooks is a core recommendation by the Maryland-based State Educational Technology Director's Association, which supports efforts to use technology to improve education. It says 22 states have changed state law or launched initiatives to make it happen.
"We've been watching trends," association Executive Director Douglas Levin said. "Every day we see ways school districts look to technology as a way to supplement or replace the textbook."
The pace of digital adoption is spiking, but the use of such technology in the classroom is still far from universal. Yet, there is enough desire to bring digital tech into schools that manufacturers are committing resources to get as much of the market as they can capture.
At the moment it is Apple, with its popular iPad tablet, that is the king of the educational technology hill. The company was one of the first to recognize the growing importance — and revenue stream — of the education market, and has been laying down the groundwork to succeed in that sphere for many years. For many districts and schools considering purchasing tablets for their students, the iPad is still the most popular first choice. Yet like Barnes & Noble's the Nook, other providers are increasingly making inroads and chipping away at Apple's market share.
Several local schools have issued laptops, tablets or other devices. But so far the Cleveland City school district is the only other district in Ohio to give students take-home Nooks on a school-wide scale, according to Tom McMillen, digital sales manager at the Kenwood Barnes & Noble.
For a school district as cash-strapped as Cleveland, going digital makes fiscal as well as academic sense. Equipping each student with a full set of textbooks they will need to learn costs nearly $400. This makes purchasing a Nook, which costs closer to $200, with a case and screen protector included, a bargain in comparison. Sweetening the deal is the fact that publishers typically price their e-textbooks offerings at half the price of the paper ones. As self-publishing software becomes more widely available, there are also an increasing number of free textbooks to be had — and some of them of remarkably high quality.