Digital texts could turn page on print costs

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“Just think about the last six years, all the things that happened,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said when announcing the program. “For instance, the Iraq war, the country’s first African-American president, and all of this you wouldn’t have in [traditionally printed] textbooks.”

A smaller-scale experiment is under way in Virginia. The state recently approved use of a physics flexbook. The book, written by 13 K-12 science teachers as well as several university professors, has been available for use since last spring. The flexbook is aimed at enriching and complementing other materials already in use.

“The physics flexbook is unique because it was written by teachers in Virginia for use in Virginia,” said Myra Thayer, science coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school district in the state. “It could very much change the way we do things.”

However, change is likely to be slow, Ms. Thayer said. Most teachers do not teach from textbooks during class, so textbook work is done mostly as homework assignments. While a majority of households in the county have Internet access, the access is not universal. Ms. Thayer said that until every student has a computer — which is becoming more realistic with the inexpensive option of netbooks — most school systems will have to rely on traditional textbooks, with digital resources as supplemental options.

“What do we do about the kids who do not have access?” said Ms. Thayer. “We have to look at access outside of school. Some teachers say it is not a problem, that kids can go to the library.”

Diana Hasuly-Ackman, social-studies supervisor for Arlington County Public Schools, said economics likely will impede the full embrace of digital textbooks. She also says digital versus traditional is not “an either-or situation.” Traditional textbook publishers are already offering a host of optional high-tech materials to supplement books and turn them into more interactive experiences, Ms. Hasuly-Ackman said.

“Just like newspapers, some people feel that sense of touch is important,” she said. “To others, reading online is a personal preference. There are probably a host of studies that say which materials are a better resource, but it really depends on the student. There is not a clear-cut answer.”

About the Author
Karen Goldberg Goff

Karen Goldberg Goff

Karen Goldberg Goff has been a reporter at The Washington Times since 1992. She currently writes feature-length stories on a variety of topics, including family issues, pop culture, health, food and technology. Follow Karen on Twitter.

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