US should read into e-book use
Published: Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 18:06
A movement is afoot in Florida to revolutionize our textbooks, and it's time that we all got on board with it.
A recent article on the blog GOOD.is reported that Florida passed a new law requiring all public schools in the state to make the switch to e-textbooks by the 2015-16 school year.
This move will require an investment of a few hundred dollars in a Kindle, Nook or iPad. As the article points out, the digital textbooks are only about $10 cheaper than their hardback counterparts. An article on the website of News Channel 5 states that Palm Beach County School District officials could not put a total cost on switching all of their students to digital devices, but that the cost would top $30 million.
Gary Weidenhamer, a school district educational technology director cited in the same article, said the district would need to expand its Internet infrastructure to provide hundreds of thousands of students Internet access at the same time in classrooms. Adding that bandwidth would cost at least $9.8 million, according to Information Technology Director Deepak Agarwal. Despite an initial investment, there are several long-term benefits to making this transition.
E-readers can be used to obtain many books, which include classics, such as Romeo and Juliet. Because the copyrights of many of these classic textbooks are expired, they are part of the public domain. Students with e-readers can download these books for free, saving schools the cost of ordering hardback copies and paying high shipping costs.
Changing to this new technology will require that students be educated on the upkeep of these products. Schools can adapt to this not only by teaching students basics on how to care for these devices, but they also have the option of paying for insurance to cover damages. The article points out that a pilot program of this sort has already taken place at Clearwater High School in Clearwater, Fla., where parents had to pay a $20 insurance fee.
This fee is a small price to pay in light of the potential savings for schools. It also gives parents another safety net in case a student damages a device.
This change will, of course, come with some drawbacks. Students who are used to being able to highlight sections of their hardback books will have to adapt to new technology in order to do so. This may be one of the reasons that these textbooks have not yet been a hit with students.
In 2010, digital books made up only 3 percent of textbook sales, according to the National Asociation of College Stores. According to a column in USA Today, analysts say this is because digital textbooks really aren't anything more than PDF copies of normal books. Students that are used to color-coding their textbooks and simply happen to enjoy the aesthetic quality of hardback books are less inclined to enjoy the new digital books.
Ultimately, however, the benefits of switching to e-readers greatly outweigh the cost — no pun intended. A recent study in USA Today found that second graders carry 5.3 pounds of books and supplies in their backpacks on an average day. Once these students get to sixth grade, the weight they carry increases to 18.4 pounds. A switch to digital books can save these students a good deal of back pain.
Digital textbooks will greatly benefit students and save schools money. Hardback books will always be with us, as well they should be. Making this change in our schools, however, is an important step toward providing a good education at a lesser cost.