Remember the first day of school? Covering a crisp new textbook with a brown paper cover. Then spending the whole rest of the year doodling on it? Well, those days might be over. The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, just announced that school districts would be replacing some math and science text-books with free, digital versions. In Arizona, they’ve already started an online initiative called “Beyond Textbooks,” where teachers upload and share PowerPoint presentations, videos and other online materials. Some schools have even provided computers to kids, so they can download lessons and hear podcasts of their teacher’s lectures.
Doctor Sheryl Abshire, the Chief Technology Officer for a school district in Louisiana, says that kids learn differently these days. They don’t see information as being contained in books, because they’re used to the endless expanse of the internet. They’re computer savvy and they get bored easily by paper textbooks. So teachers need to find additional sources for teaching, like videos and games to keep them engaged. That’s exactly what online textbooks provide. In California, the governor says that the digital textbooks won’t just help kids learn, it will also save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Traditional textbooks cost about $100 apiece; an online textbook costs about $10 to $20.
There’s a downside. Many poorer school districts can’t afford to outfit classrooms with new technology, and they definitely can’t afford to do what Arizona has done, and hand out computers to students. What about kids who don’t have access to the internet or computers at home? In those cases, even if the district saves the money by not buying books, the students wouldn’t have any way to access the information. Most educators agree, the digital revolution is coming. However, the goal is to figure out how to use online resources without leaving some school districts in the dust. That’s why many states are taking it slow. They’re hoping that in the next few years, they can figure out how to afford to bridge the digital divide, in every classroom.