Student’s today are likely still left carrying around heavy, disheveled, out-of-date books. These texts may be loaded with inaccuracies, with no fast or easy way to update or correct them. As reported in the Statesman, things may be changing, slowly.
Someday students won’t carry heavy textbooks with them, but that day isn’t quite here yet
The same digital revolution that upended the music industry and is transforming TV, movies and books is slowly working its way into classrooms.
In many schools, students are just as likely to carry a cell phone as a backpack. Schools and libraries are wired, outfitted with desktop, laptop and netbook computers with high-speed Internet access. Many of them are beginning to experiment with touch-screen computer tablets like the Apple iPad or increasingly powerful smart phones.
But when it comes to the holy grail of electronic education — the e-textbook — Texas schools haven’t quite arrived at the date when students can stop carrying printed textbooks around.
But they’re getting there. For this first time, school districts in Texas had the option for the 2010-2011 school year to decide what percentage of their textbooks were electronic or printed and could use textbook money to instead purchase things such as electronic devices or supplemental Web-based educational materials.
But school districts, lawmakers, educational software developers and officials in the Texas Education Agency say a lack of ubiquitous Internet and computer access for students, weak e-textbook content and costs to schools and publishers are major obstacles that have to be overcome before printed textbooks are gone for good.
What is an ‘e-textbook’?
Part of the problem with getting electronic textbooks into the hands of students in Texas has been that “e-textbooks” itself is a broad term that, for all its promise, doesn’t really mean anything.
“The term ‘e-textbooks’ has been thrown around pretty indiscriminately,” said state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston. “There’s been electronically produced textbooks since the mid-’90s.”
Hochberg, who co-authored legislation last year that allows the state to purchase electronic content and distribute it to students instead of, say, printed texts bundled with CD-ROMs, said the term covers a wide variety of formats and devices.
The most basic kind of e-textbook a direct reproduction of a printed text in an electronic PDF format. But, under state law changes, it can now also be Web-based educational material, including video, interactive quizzes and discussion forums.
Legislation that passed last year also opened up billions of dollars in textbook funds that also can be used for laptops, smart phones, e-book readers or other devices we haven’t even dreamt of yet that will access textbooks that are housed online.
Hochberg said he believes that the state and school districts will save money by distributing educational material through “open-source” licenses. The state would purchase electronic content from a publisher once and be given the ability to distribute it as many times as needed to students and teachers instead of paying for each textbook. If a print version were needed, it could be printed from the electronic version for about $25 for a single copy.
“We’d have as many copies as we needed,” Hochberg said, “We’d never again have to buy Shakespeare.”
Open-source, Web-based texts, he said, also allow the content to be accessible from any device, from an iPhone to a Kindle e-book reader to a desktop in a school’s computer lab.
It’s a large shift that puts the state in the position of managing large quantities of data and beginning to solicit new kinds of educational software and texts.
“It really puts Texas out front in the educational materials market,” he said. “There’s not a lot of states with enough students to get into the content development market.”
Digitizing the district
John Alawneh , executive director of technology for Austin Independent School District, said many students, including his own three children, would love to abandon their bulky school books. “They would love to access everything they need online rather than carry their textbooks with them,” he said. “They rely on Google to look up concepts they’re exposed to in class to get quick information. I think that’s what electronic textbooks will do.”
But Alawneh and Dave Sanders, director of educational technology for the Austin district, both said that although administrators, teachers and students are excited about the educational opportunities new technologies might provide, issues of access and a lack of truly interactive content is delaying the shift.
“I think the value and the benefit is very clear,” Alawneh said. “But I don’t think the challenges have been resolved. How do you take full advantage of the electronic book and why is the cost still the same?”
In many cases, Alawneh said, publishers won’t sell an electronic copy of a book without the purchase of a print edition as well. And frequently, that electronic copy is a PDF version of the text with no added interactive features or content.
Though the electronic texts are easy to print from and searchable, making it easy to find keywords, they’re not the future, they said.
“An electronic textbook should be a lot more than a PDF of what the hard copy is,” Sanders said. “It’s online, so that’s one step forward, but it should be a lot more.”
Sanders and Alawneh said that a bigger concern is that as school districts move to electronic textbooks it’s important that all students have access to them, whether they’re at school or at home.
“Going electronic with the books at the state level is going to cut down a lot of cost. But then you need these devices at the school level,” Alawneh said. Whether it’s a netbook, iPad, smart phone or e-reader, he said, “Equipping each kid with some kind of device is not cheap. Most likely the district is going to have to take on that responsibility if the state or the community does not find a solution to make sure all kids have the tools and digital resources to access (e-textbooks) from anywhere.”
Av fast Internet connection in homes is also an obstacle. Data from the state show that although 97 percent of homes in the state have access to broadband Internet, only 62 percent use it. The situation is more dire in Hispanic and black non-Hispanic homes. According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, only 39.7 percent of Hispanics and 45.9 percent of black non-Hispanics have high-speed Internet at home in the U.S., compared with 65.7 percent of white non-Hispanics and 67.3 percent of Asian non-Hispanics.
Nevertheless, AISD is optimistic that eventually costs will go down and that the growing world of educational mobile apps and video-rich Web content will be the future of classroom learning.
“We know we can’t go 100 percent digital at this moment in time,” Sanders said. “But we feel we’re headed that way.”
The devices they’ll use
What that educational future looks like has been the central preoccupation of Michael Mayrath, president of a small Austin company called GetYa Learn On. Mayrath has a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Texas and spent a year at Harvard University as a post-doctoral fellow studying educational testing.
Along the way, he’s been a tester of e-textbooks for the Texas Education Association (a position he’s leaving soon to focus on his company) and has developed an iPhone/iPad app, “Statistics 1,” that has sold about 5,000 copies.
From what he’s seen of e-textbook submissions and in his own education research, he believes the materials can improve substantially.
Big publishers aren’t using the advantage of the digital medium, he said. “If an e-textbook is Web-based, think of all you could do with online learning.”
Mayrath said that could include virtual worlds (like the online game “Second Life”), educational games, simulations and programs that cater to the student’s individual learning needs and interests.
In addition to multimedia, built-in quizzes and flash cards, e-textbooks could also offer more tools for teachers and continuous assessments that would give educators more insight into a student’s learning.
Those kinds of e-textbooks will need to be available for a wide variety of devices, but Mayrath and many teachers and software developers are impressed with the capabilities that apps for smart phones and for devices like the iPad are bringing to the table.
One app in particular, “The Elements: A Visual Exploration,” a visual representation of the Periodic Table, has been a hit in some classrooms and was mentioned several times by sources interviewed for this story as an example of the next generation of educational tools. In “Elements,” each element is represented as a 3-D object that can be rotated by touch.
Apple Inc. itself has been doing iPad pilot programs in Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, in Beaumont and in White Oak Independent School District in East Texas.
Closer to home, Dell Inc. is bullish on the market for its devices as e-textbooks begin to take off. Mark Horan, vice president and general manager of the company’s educational business, said the company was an advocate of last year’s law changes based on demand from its customers.
“I think we played a big role in making that happen,” Horan said. “We believe the technology will engage students and help them a great deal.”
Horan said he believes school districts will opt for devices that do more than simply access textbooks from a website. “Offering up a multifunction device like a PC or a tablet allows you to collaborate online and prepare content and do more than one thing,” he said.
The company has an education lab at its Round Rock headquarters and is eyeing devices that could be used in schools. This month it released the Streak, a mini-tablet with a 5-inch screen that can also work as a smart phone. The company is also expected to release a larger tablet device soon.
“We’re definitely looking at all different possibilities,” Horan said. “It’s a great opportunity for Dell to work with publishers and content providers in the (education) industry.”
What’s available now
In April, Gov. Rick Perry predicted that electronic textbooks would be the only textbooks by 2014.
“I don’t see any reason in the world we need to have textbooks in Texas in the next four years,” he told a computer-gaming education conference at the time.
After the education laws were passed last year in the Texas Legislature, the state authorized the creation of a Texas Education Association Commissioner’s List of electronic versions of textbooks.
So far, about 15 texts are on that list, mostly in areas of literature and English. Anita Givens, association commissioner for standards and programs at the TEA, said the list is expanding to include science materials and resources for teachers. Though it takes about three years for textbooks to go through the State Board of Education’s selection process, e-textbooks bound for the commissioner’s list will only take one year.
Not everyone is thrilled with the TEA’s progress. In an editorial published in May, State Board of Education member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller worried about outdated electronics, the cost of books shifting to districts and a lack of standards for electronic texts that aren’t properly vetted.
“\u2026 If we don’t have quality content, the devices will simply be empty boxes,” she wrote.
Givens is optimistic that e-textbooks, especially ones that will offer more interactive features, will feed a growing demand.
“The main thing is our schools are hungry for these new types of instructional resources,” Givens said. “These are new and innovate ways of engaging students.”
Some months back I received an e-mail from the folks at PayPal. It was the kind of message I am usually accustomed to instantly deleting. Though I cannot recall exactly what it was, but something in this message caught my attention. I proceeded to open and read the message and subsequently clicked through the message, ending up at the PayPal site.
After reading through the information on the site many times, I finally became comfortable with what was being proposed. PayPal was offering a pre-paid debit card, specifically for students. This offer was not targeted at college-age students, as is usually the case. Instead, this card was intended for any student 13 and older. After contemplating the pros and cons of providing a teen age student with the power of a debit card, I decided to give it a try.
My wife and I have three very active boys. My oldest is now 16. My middle son is 14. My youngest is 13. They are constantly turning to us for money for the things that teenage boys like to buy.
I ordered the cards for the boys, which are attached to my PayPal account. In a matter of days, the cards arrived in the mail. After discussing the need to handle and use the cards responsibly, the boys quickly came up with their own ideas about the potential use for these cards.
Each time we get paid, my wife and I transfer an allowance to each of the boys’ PayPal Student Cards. The process is simple. Since we linked our bank account to our PayPal account, we are quickly able to transfer money via the PayPal site. There is an option to indicate what the transaction is for. For example, each time we pay the boys their allowance, we indicate “allowance for date.” This put an end to the argument “you never gave me my allowance for…” Now we can go online together and se whether or not the allowance was paid.
The PayPal site shows us the balance on each card. It also allows us to review all purchases made by each boy. This affords us the opportunity to point out to the boys some of the purchases we feel they should think more carefully about, before making a similar purchase in the future.
The boys can also login to PayPal at anytime and can also see their purchase and transaction history. This has resulted in some changes in their spending patterns and also helped to instill in the boys, the ideas of planning and budgeting . In an emergency situation, the boys can use their cell phones to request money be added to their card. This request comes to us as a text message on our cell phones. Now when one of the boys goes over a friend’s house and unexpectedly ends up at the movie theatre or bowling alley with no money, we can effortlessly get money to them, right from our cell phones. Our boys also get a text message sent to their cell phone, every time we transfer them their allowance. This inevitably leads to a text message from the boys, simply saying thanks.
While placing their allowance on their cards can create some issues for them, by and large they love it. One issue that occurs is that although their credit agreements prevent it, some merchants insist on a minimum amount for the card to be used.
Again, there have been a lot of real-life lessons learned by the boys. In the case of the minimum charge, much as their parents have done, the boys have made note of these stores and choose to take their business elsewhere. One even pointed out, “well they just lost my business.” Granted the amount of their “business” is minimal. It is the principle they are learning about value shopping and choosing which merchants to do business with and which to stay clear of.
My wife and I will also go out of our way to avoid gas stations that charge us more for the privilege of purchasing gas with our debit card. The difference per fill up amounts to cents, not dollars. It is the principle though. Why should we frequent a merchant that charges more than a competitor for the same product?
As we find is usually the case when we put new technology in the hands of the kids, my wife and I are often surprised and impressed by the creative ways the boys come up with to use the new technology. Right away, the boys came up with the idea of using their PayPal Student card to fund their iTunes account. Even though a typical iTunes charge is minimal, prior to the cards, we had a long list of these little charges on our bank statement each month. Collectively, these minor charges added up quickly, each month. Now the boys are less likely to download a new song or video impulsively. Since the charge is coming out of their allowance (and account), they are now much more selective about what they buy.
The card can be used anywhere Visa and MasterCard are accepted. The boys have used their cards to pay for the monthly (or yearly) subscription to XBox Live. They now also use their card for making purchases on eBay or other online retailers. Again, all charges are easily reviewed online by my wife and me or the boys via any Internet browser, on any device connected to the Internet.
The moral of the story is that one mass e-mail (AKA SPAM) from PayPal, provided my wife and me with an opportunity to teach the students in our home about the value of money, decision making, prioritizing, budgeting and an efficient and effective way to utilize technology (cell phones, computers, Internet) for real-world uses.
Apple Insider is reporting that Office for Mac 2011 is almost ready for prime time. This long awaited update to the Microsoft suite of applications is to include Outlook for Mac, for the first time.
Microsoft announced Friday that Office for Mac 2011 is now classified as “Release to Manufacturing.” The software should be on track for release by the end of October as previously announced.
The Mac Business Unit team at Microsoft published a celebratory post on their blog Friday announcing that they had “signed off on final testing” and sent the product to production. This latest release was two and a half years in the making, with team members in Redmond, Silicon Valley, Beijing, Dublin Tokyo.
Office for Mac 2011 should be Microsoft’s “best release yet,” according to Product Unit Manager Geoff Price, who authored the post.
Key features added include Outlook for Mac, co-authoring, ribbons, cloud-based storage, in-document photo editing.
Macworld reported earlier that online retailer Amazon.com had an Oct. 26 availability date listed on its website, but the release date has since been removed. Microsoft had announced in August that the product would ship by the end of October.
Customers who purchase Office 2008 for Mac between Aug. 1, 2010 and Nov. 30, 2010 are eligible for a free upgrade. All other users will have to purchase the standalone versions. Prices start at $119 for the Home and Student version, which lacks Outlook, and $199 for the Home and Business version. An Academic version will also be offered to qualifying students and educators for $99.
EdTech accurately recognizes schools face significant challenges when trying to provide technology resources for students. The mantra “do more with less” is probably tattooed somewhere on the body of most district technologists. If not, it is certainly etched in their minds.
Doing more with less is more than just a mantra. In many schools it is a way of life. Schools need to keep in mind that creative thinking can often result in amazing technology solutions that are both attainable and effective.
Doing more with less has been a major focus of schools and districts recently — and for good reason. But schools need to maintain the balancing act of running as efficiently as possible with limited resources while ensuring students receive the best possible educational experiences and opportunities. Not surprisingly, some schools have discovered they can achieve both goals, with great results.
One example is Lorain City Schools. In 2008, the Ohio district needed to replace its aging textbooks but faced budget constraints, so the IT staff was tasked with looking for creative alternatives. After much research and negotiation, they found their solution.
Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, Deputy Super intendent for Teaching and Learning Maria Sanchez, CIO Gary Brantley and the IT staff realized that to avoid incurring steep costs by purchasing new textbooks, they needed to turn to a digital alternative. The school district, which was in the process of implementing a one-to-one computing program, decided it made sense to provide e-books for core classes on each student’s computer. That way, students would benefit from a more interactive, digital learning experience that uses information more current than what’s available in traditional textbooks.
“It’s important for our students to have computer access, and it was cost-effective,” Atkinson says. “Because we were able to negotiate good prices for the e-books, we could provide students with netbooks. And with the books loaded onto their computers, we no longer have to worry about buying replacement textbooks.”
Students adapted easily to the computers and e-books, says Atkinson, who has seen the benefits as both an administrator and a mother. Her youngest son currently attends high school in the district. “We must ensure that students are provided with the best resources. It’s imperative if they’re going to compete in this global economy.”
At Rancho Christian in California, school admin is trators were looking for a way to provide students with a curriculum that emphasized literature, but they didn’t want to rely on traditional textbooks. Around that time, they learned about Sony e-book readers and realized the devices were the perfect solution for the school.
“The Sony Reader allows us to provide a huge variety of literature,” says Michael Rea, superintendent and acting high school principal. “We’re discovering that [students] explore the reading materials that we load onto the reader. If they find a book that’s not to their taste, they move on to something else. Eventually, they find something they’re captivated by.”
For more examples of innovative schools doing more with less through technology, read to Rewriting the Book.
Another school that’s providing unique and innovative educational experiences through technology is Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School in Florida. The school is crossing oceans and overcoming language barriers using distance learning, partnering with schools in Tanzania and China to teach students not only curriculum material, but also history and culture in a global society.
The response from students in all three classrooms has been positive. The classrooms connect weekly through video conferencing, which allows the students to interact and learn in ways they’ve never done before. “It’s the way of teaching in the 21st century,” notes Head of School Janet S. Pullen.
To learn more about video conferencing collaboration programs, read It’s a Small World After All.
Whether you’re consolidating mountains of mate rials onto a netbook or providing the opportunity to take students on a field trip around the through video conferencing, let innovation be your guide for building a better 21st century classroom experience.
For years now, I have been replacing aging and/or broken printers with new printers from OKI. Both the color LED line and the mono laser printer line of products have proven to be tremendous work horses, much like their OKIDATA dot matrix predecessors.
In classrooms and offices, the OKI solutions have been a very cost-effective way to meet our printing needs and stay within our limited budget. For example, unlike printers from other manufacturers, the OKI mono laser printers are designed to allow for the replacement of just the toner cartridge, without requiring the replacement of