In 21st century classrooms, blackboard chalk is on the endangered list, the pop quiz has been replaced with clicker questions, and bowling alley technology (overhead projector transparencies) have disappeared, thanks to digital projectors and document cameras. But if you're going to point to any aspect of the classroom that still hasn't covered much ground on its trip into the 21st century, it has to be the textbook. In a world rich with alternative methods of delivery of content exemplified by Google books, the Kindle and iPad, and digitized conversation, the textbook is the next classroom object worthy of transformation.
Realigning the Budget with Netbooks
"Everyone has a different 1:1 approach," says Gary Brantley, chief information systems office for the Lorain City School District. "Ours was to eliminate the books."
Lorain City Schools is located in a city 35 miles from Cleveland. The district has 18 schools and 8,400 students. By moving to digital delivery of textbooks Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson saw an opportunity to address several larger district challenges than simply replacing outdated texts. A majority of families are low-income; its schools were struggling to meet yearly academic progress measures; and the district had just come out from under a state-mandated "fiscal watch."
That was the atmosphere under which initial discussions began, he says. The district quickly realized that adopting a 1:1 program with digital textbooks and Acer Aspire One AOD150-1577netbooks at the heart of the initiative could reduce textbook expenses and help bring students into the 21st century. "We're an inner city school district," says Brantley. "We saw this as a way to level the playing field for our kids and give them equal access and opportunities with
The publishers the district is working with on the program are the traditional ones: Pearson Prentice Hall; Holt McDougal; and McGraw-Hill/Glencoe. They have provided versions of the texts, Brantley says, that go beyond simply a PDF of the book. "It's interactive. For example, if you have someone like Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy in a history book, you can click on a picture, and it will tell you information about [that person] or [you can] do a search from the book to get more information about that particular person."
Brantley is quick with numbers. He says that for 2,600 math books -- the number of texts needed for grades nine through 12 -- the cost was going to be about $182,000. That's $70 per book. The e-book edition for that same math book was about $15,000. The savings on that one text alone covered a large part of the expense of that first rollout of digital textbooks. The savings don't stop there. An English textbook was priced at $163,673.05 for 2,475 books -- about $66 per book. The digital version of the same volume was a fourth of the cost -- $36,554.45.
Explains Brantley, Superintendent Atkinson "was very persistent" that the district find a content supplier for the program, even if it wasn't one of the three or four big textbook publishers. The publishers were willing to try the program in pilot mode. "A lot of trust was built on both sides to make this happen," he says.
Now, says Brantley, students don't have to travel to labs to gain access to computers. "Basically, there's a lab in every classroom. Every kid is using that netbook as a textbook and as a computer."
Brantley knows the technology is making an impact. "I think it's pushed us a long way. It's allowing the students to become a lot more creative in what they do and how they do it. It's also leveled the playing field. A lot of these kids don't have computers or Internet access at home. Because the books are loaded on the hard drive, [Superintendent Atkinson] has given kids the ability to work on things they'd only have access to in a limited time within the classroom or in the lab."
Although Brantley says student testing scores have gone up, he can't confidently point to quantifiable results tied directly to the digital textbooks. "We brought different pieces of technology into the district in the same period, so we have to let the program run for a little while," he explains.
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