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Digital Textbooks: Key to a Brighter Future?

Things are changing quickly in the digital age. Young people are accessing content from many different sources using an increasing number of devices, from smartphones to ebooks. As a result, the way content is created and accessed is changing how young people learn in school. Several years ago, a shocking study, indicated that a decreasing number of college graduates can read at a proficient level–a number that has been on the decline for over a decade. But one possible cause, according to Mark S. Schneider, education statistic commissioner, might be the old educational methods aren’t equipped to teach a generation raised on TV and computers, who learn about the world on a daily basis through images, and, increasingly, interactive content.

Former Californian governor Schwarzenegger’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative has only been implemented by one district–the Riverside Unified School district–where thousands of students use ipads and other devices to access ebooks instead of textbooks. But, as Education Week‘s Katie Ash reports, these aren’t just digital copies of the paper textbooks other students are using throughout most of the country, but allow students to access interactive links, to watch videos, to repeat lessons, get instant feedback for practice quizzes, and record audio notes, among other features.

New technology and ebooks are being offered to school throughout the district, including those with populations of students of lower socioeconomic status.  For example, Saul Villa, who goes to Central Middle School, shares the netbook he received for school with his family: it’s the first computer he has ever owned.

But one obstacle to a greater state-wide or national shift from paper to digital is the K-12’s set system. Because of this, the burgeoning market of digital textbooks publishing has focused most of its efforts on higher education. But there are huge advantages to going digital. Science textbooks are often discarded and replaced, as new discoveries are released, creating growing costs for schools and students. Similarly, Thomas Adams, a high school history teacher, spoke of the influence of current events, and how old textbooks were often not as effective because digital books allow him to keep his classes current and accurate.

A huge change we’re seeing in the emergence of digital content is interactivity between “audience” and “author” and the influences of many fluid and different perspectives, as opposed to one authoritative, unchanging, printed take on a subject. As students can repeat lessons at their own pace, and interact with educational content the same way they interact with content on a daily basis, there’s potential for an increasing number of people to improve in literacy, math, and other skills. Often, schools have treated technological devices as threats to education–distractions to be confiscated, sources of habits and in ways of thought in students to be combated. But perhaps, it is these devises, these new, innovative ways of approaching content, that hold the key to producing better-educated generations of Americans.

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