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Friday, June 4, 2010

As the publishing world evolves are textbooks headed for extinction?

In a St. Petersburg Times news story dated Wednesday, June 2nd a high school in my local area made an announcement related to textbook publishing that merits discussion. In Clearwater, north of St. Petersburg, FL, the local high school has made a milestone decision. Beginning this fall, for its 2,100 students, textbooks will be replaced with Kindle electronic readers and digital texts.

Bennie Niles, 17, shows off a Kindle reading device. Next year his school, Clearwater High, will replace traditional textbooks with e-readers for all 2,100 students.

This topic uniquely connects to my interests. As an author, the flux of the publishing world from print to digital format demands daily attention, impacting much about my personal career plan. From another viewpoint, I taught high school biology, anatomy, and ecology for seventeen years. I have fond memories of helping over 3,000 teenagers on their learning and life journeys. Changes that impact the lives of students still concern me.

Reasons for the switch at Clearwater High School included lightening students’ backpacks, since all texts would be stored on the devices weighing less than a pound each. I can see this value. Students’ packs often weigh thirty or forty pounds, certainly enough to cause back strain. Having taught science I continually battled the safety hazard of tripping on book bags while working in laboratories. The danger was real and my classes held to a strict policy of stowing them in a specific location in the room. I’m certain for safety reasons, science teachers at that high school are relieved.

Another key reason cited for the school’s shift was the convenience of keeping all textbooks together on one, easy-to-remember source. I know all too well only the most organized students get correct books home regularly. Past puberty, socializing, peer pressure, and making initial attempts at adult responsibilities take precedence. Any method to aid a teen’s organization is a huge plus for e readers.

Thirdly, Clearwater High specifically selected Kindle as their e reader because of its ability to read aloud. Fluency of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) pupils is a tremendous concern, especially here in Florida.

Lastly, this change was also described as a money-saving method for the school. While the devices cost about $259 each, not including the price of electronic texts, this will provide ultimate savings. Hardback texts range from $70 to $125, so within short time the new format will more than pay for itself.

My only hesitation would be the lack of large, color graphics. Current Kindles do not produce color images. Teaching biology requires visualization of living structures. Coping with black and white diagrams would be a limitation. However, as a whole, I believe the positives outweigh this concern. It is an exciting change for those students, and other districts will certainly follow in the same direction. Undeniably, this establishes a demand for change from publishers.

What are your thoughts about this change?



Anonymous said...

In all honesty, I applaud them for making that choice but there is still that part of me that thinks they will miss that elation and joy of running their hands over a brand new book that you know you are going to spend intimate moments with for the year.
My son is in year 10 and they have started utilizing online programs rather than having to spend the (AU)$80 odd dollars that at the end of the year you find you can not sell back to school due to it's condition or they have updated "a" sentence or "a" page....

J.L. Stratton said...

Wow, what a great post! Personally, I applaud the introduction of electronic reading media and devices into education. I believe it will go far in keeping students engaged and learning. I also can see the pitfalls of using such media, for instance, the lack of color photos. One other issue I believe schools will have to contend with is whether or not the devices will remain Internet capable. I would assume that there must be some way of loading these readers with the appropriate material but can only imagine the problems associated with allowing the students to access online services while in class.
I taught at a college and was excited when our new computer lab opened up. I actually used the computer lab while teaching some sessions but I do remember spending an inordinate amount of time trying to keep students off of myspace and online gaming sites. The computer lab actually was closed for some time while the school looked into ways of controlling the problem. They eventually had to pay for additional security systems.
Overall,, I believe, with you, that the benefits of this advancement in technology outweighs the negatives.

Cleverly Inked said...

Coming into the the digital age
lighter, no need for back packs

using ereaders for other things but what the are meant for

Heather Haven said...

Marsha, great article, first off. I am in favor of the ebooks for a variety of reason, most stated by you in your article. Will the 'real' book ever fade away? Probably. But not in our lifetime. It will take generations for it to do so. Someday, museums will hold important books to show people and lesser quality books for people to hold in their hands to show them what it was like to actually flip the pages. Brave New World every day.

Marsha A. Moore said...

My 84 year old mother marvels at the computerized wonders I show her. So much change in her lifetime -- it is incredible.

Thank you all for your thoughts. It boggles the mind at the speed of this change, good or bad.


Cheryl said...

I have to tell you that the Kindle changed my whole opinion of eBooks. For books that I really want to hold onto, I still buy a paperback; but more and more I find myself loading books onto the Kindle. They're usually cheaper and I can search on things while I am performing a review. I can also make notes while I am reading so that I can refer back to them.

I think this is the wave of the future and schools need to keep up with the rest of us where technology is concerned. My only issue is what would happen if a child lost the device. At $259, it's not cheap to replace. Would the parents be responsible? Probably. What happens if they can't afford a replacement? It's not like when a student loses one book. The loss would impact multiple subjects.

Other than that, I think it's a fabulous idea.


Katie Hines said...

I read about this in the news yesterday, and I have mixed feelings about it. I know when I was in college, I marked up my books but good, and so when I went back to study for a test, I read the highlighted information. Plus, I was able to visualize where on the page the answer to that test question was. I'm a die hard love-my-book type gal. I see the benefits, but I'll mourn the passing of good print books.

J.L. Stratton said...

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,

Sorry. I've just always wanted to say that. I wasn't sure were else to post this on your blog so here goes.

I've nominated you for a creative writer award. Please claim your award on my blog and follow the directions to continue bestowing this award to others.

Thanks, You're great!