Image courtesy of Engadget
Since the dawn of the digital age we have been transitioning from old technologies and mediums to new ones. Today, everyone is heralding the demise of print: magazines, books and newspapers are increasingly being viewed online through computers, cell phones and tablets. Yet the textbook industry is stuck in the days of the printing press.
For years, we’ve heard reports on the rising costs of textbooks and the amount of strain that a backpack full of books can put on the spine of an 80lb 5th grader. But while slow, change is coming in the form of digital textbooks increasing their market share in higher education. According to a report by Dr. Robert Reynolds and Yevgeny Ioffe, digital texts currently account for .5% of the overall textbook market, but they will increase by 150-200% each year, reaching 18.8% by 2014.
One roadblock that has long stood in the way of digital textbooks is hardware. With the explosive popularity of netbooks, tablets and readers (the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and the Apple iPad) having inexpensive eBook readers is becoming less of a concern. Take for instance the Kno tablet. The first of its kind, the Kno is a 14 inch touch screen tablet specifically designed to display digital textbooks and is being marketed to college students with the slogan “with savings of 20%-50% on textbooks, the Kno pays for itself in three terms.”
And higher education isn’t the only market. K-12 teachers across the nation are putting this technology in the hands of their younger students. At Clearwater High School, in Clearwater Florida, 2,000 students received a school-furnished Amazon Kindle preloaded with all the books they would need for the semester. Students were excited about the new technology and administrators were excited about the savings. John Just, assistant superintendent for management information systems for Pinellas County schools, said that the Kindle saved the English department so much money, it was able to fulfill its wish list, getting books like Superfreakonomics and Into the Wild.
Going even younger, this past November five second graders at Seneca Grade School in Illinois received their own Kindle to begin reading books from the “Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne. After brief lessons on operating the Kindle, the young students were able to jump head first into their reading assignments. Dawn Stuedemann, their teacher, said the Kindle is “a powerful tool to make the kids feel they are responsible for their own learning.” Kathy Parker, the library media specialist responsible for the pilot program ,was able to start it only after finding lesson plans online written by Lotta C. Larson, assistant professor of elementary education at Kansas State University. Thanks to her lesson plans, called “Going Digital: Using e-Book Readers to Enhance the Reading Experience,” Parker got clearance from Superintendent Eric Misener to launch the program with younger students, and the districts middle school students already received several Kindles last year.
With cheaper prices, less weight and more interactive features, digital textbooks are superior to printed versions. The adoption process is slow, but more schools, teachers and students are taking it upon themselves to bring the 21st century into the classroom. It is not hard to imagine a day when printed textbooks are seen as archaic, and students simply download texts during their first day of class. Until then, we must get by with printed texts as we wait for publishers to transfer their collections to digital format.