In Fairfax County, Virginia, (where some of the Mead descendants are negotiating the county’s excellent public schools) paper textbooks are becoming a thing of the past. New online social studies textbooks are cutting costs, lightening backpacks and upping student achievement. From the Washington Post:
It is the Washington area’s most extensive foray into online textbooks, putting Fairfax at the leading edge of a digital movement that publishers and educators say inevitably will sweep schools nationwide…
The online books are generally cheaper than their hard-copy cousins and look similar, but they’ve been souped up with interactive maps and links to primary sources and History Channel video clips.
Unlike printed books, which the system purchases about every six years, the online versions can be updated regularly to correct errors and reflect current events. Students can take notes in the margins, highlight important ideas and prompt the computer to read passages aloud.
Those are helpful features, [seventh-grade history teacher Mark] Stevens said, but the online books won’t revolutionize teaching by themselves. They’re only textbooks, after all — “just one tool,” he said, “not the magic bullet.”
The switch to e-textbooks isn’t moving as quickly as the e-book trend in the rest of publishing. According to the piece in the Post, the market share for online textbooks is still less than 10%. It’s an inevitable shift, but it ought to happen more quickly. Online textbooks can reduce overhead costs and they appear to increase student satisfaction and achievement. Successful local experimentation will help speed along the national shift. Well done Fairfax County.
Sure it’s a small change, but education reform is going to come a piece at a time. There is no Big National Fix; it is about school systems, teachers and parents figuring out new ways to perform one of humanity’s oldest jobs: giving the next generation the knowledge and values they will need to make their way through this sometimes difficult world.