Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Electronic Textbooks

This is the time of year when my boys are asked to bring back the textbooks they have had at home all school year. Each time they brought these heavy books back and forth to school I asked them how much they actually used them. The only text books I saw them use with regularity were the math books. And, don’t get me started on math kill and drill instruction! That’s another post, but as far as textbooks are concerned, I think our governor may have come up with a brilliant idea that we should have been doing for several years now – digital textbooks.

You can read an editorial about Gov. Schwarzenegger’s electronic textbook plan here:

The pros: it’s good for the environment, it reduces costs, it makes backpacks lighter, it uses more interactive materials in a medium kids are used to, it encourages less traditional textbook instruction. The cons: not everyone has a computer. But, pages could be printed for those students that need them, so I don’t see this as a real negative. Plus, the Kindle (an electronic reading device from Amazon) is getting lower in price and may become accessible to more students and teachers.

According to this editorial, “today California spends about $100/student a year on textbooks. That cost is rising, while the cost of the Kindle & other electronic devices is dropping. The hope is that digital products will be cheap enough to be available to everyone or at least cheap enough for school districts to buy them for those who now qualify for free lunches.”

How can we encourage this great idea? Email the governor with your support at: Tell your friends to do the same. I just did it, it took about 15 seconds.


  1. I can definitely see the pros of this, especially after reading the Times editorial. The editorial also mentioned how publishers push products on school districts, some of which is of questionable merit. I can see this working well in more affluent districts where pretty much all kids I know have access to computers, both at school and at home. I wonder how it would work is poorer districts--that was my only cconcern. The "start-up" costs of getting the kids access to the technology. Would that be worth it?

  2. An assortment of schools should be elected from a pool comprised of schools from high and low tax brackets (districts) and try it out as a pilot program to see how it works. This would maybe make it possible to get the computer equipment req'd for schools w/o the money to make it happen. I think electronic texbooks is the way to go! -- Mom (Costa Rica)

  3. e-texts are a winning idea.

    Language e-texts could speak phrases to you.

    You could e-highlight and quickly re-find key passages by searching.

    They could also include hyperlinks, so that when you are looking at a new math topic you have a quick link back to an older supporting topic you had forgotten about.

    ...and much more. I write a fair bit about this in my book.

  4. A related article from the NYTimes called, "Connecticut District Tosses Algebra Textbooks and Goes Online"

    I saw this on

  5. This is so obviously the way that things will go! Just think how we rely on Wikipedia (and all those hyperlinks) versus using an encyclopedia (something I certainly haven't done in the current century!). And the environmental and longterm cost-savings are unarguable. I guess it's just a matter of "do we let it evolve naturally?" or "push it through, maybe ahead of its time". As we used to say in the software biz, "You can always tell the pioneers ... they're the ones with the arrows in their backs".

  6. The common sense of this approach is hard to dispute. The weight of the textbooks in the backpacks, coupled with there almost non-existent use, makes this a no-brainer. SRVUSD -- are you listening?

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me about California's Digital Textbook Initiative. I value the opinions of people like you who care about the future of education in California.

    As you know, students today are innovative and they use technology now more than ever before. From downloading music on their iPods to receiving Twitter updates on their cell phones, young people are immersed in technology. And a digital textbook should simply be another element in a vast array of technologies and media sources that kids can use for anytime-anywhere learning.

    Starting this fall in high school math and science classes, California will be the first state in the nation to provide schools with a state-approved list of digital textbooks. The digital textbooks will not only benefit students, but they'll also be good for the schools' bottom lines. The average textbook costs up to $100 - so if each of California's 2 million high school students used digital math and science books, we could save the schools $300 to $400 million, and that's money that could be used for hiring more teachers or making class sizes smaller.

    Digital textbooks will also prevent our students from having to carry bags full of heavy books. They'll help the environment because we won't be cutting down as many trees, and education and learning will be more fun because these books are interactive. Any school can take advantage of the textbook initiative. Schools that are unable to provide computers for every student can still print out this information at a fraction of what textbooks cost.

    Thanks again for your interest in digital textbooks. I truly appreciate your personal commitment to the future of education our great state.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger