Teacher-Written Digital Textbooks: A Cheaper Alternative?

Tired of constantly replacing their outdated — and expensive — statistics textbooks, officials in the Anoka Hennepin School District have let their teachers write their own digital textbooks instead, writes Abigail Wood at the Heartlander.

"The teachers thought we could do a better job writing our own book that fit our state standards and the needs of our students," said high school math teacher Michael Engelhaupt, who helped write the digital textbook.

Three teachers were asked to create the book and were paid $10,000 each. The whole project saved a total of about $175,000.

"I think the biggest impact [comes with] giving students a book that exactly covers what they need to know," Engelhaupt said.

"Also, the potential for saving school districts tons of money is unbelievable."

Engelhaupt believes that the fact they're easier to update makes them more adaptable and gives the teachers more of a sense of ownership.

However, Nicole Allen, textbook advocate for Student Public Interest Research Groups, doesn't believe that the transition from print to digital is happening as fast as it could, despite the advantages.

Digital textbooks are becoming more refined, incorporating better note-taking, application, and interactive tools, yet 75 percent of students, according to a 2010 survey, would rather use print than digital. Maybe believe that's because digital textbooks can be perceived as boring, but that's about to change.

"Publishers are still making a ton of money on print textbooks, so they are not in a hurry to start undermining that with digital sales," Allen said.

"But they still know that digital is the future and see a lot of potential for it."

Looking to the future, Cornell and Brown universities have recently begun the transition towards making all of their assigned textbooks digital.

Despite it being a sellers' market, where professors require students to purchase specific textbooks, publishers will likely have to embrace digital publishing as many students and educators are wanting to turn away from heavy, expensive textbooks.

"To fix the problem they need to fundamentally change the structure of the market and allow consumers to have more power." Allen said.

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