There are good reasons to use digital content. They don’t seem to come up that often in the articles and posts I’ve been reading lately. Below, with some degree of hyperbole, I mock them. I’m not saying these arguments ought to be negated in their entirety but there are certainly better reasons out there. Granted, they aren’t as easy to chant or fit into pithy catch phrases.
- Physical texts are out of date by the time they’re published! Mars is not a planet! The idea that we’re regularly having major revisions in the kind of knowledge published in k12 textbooks is crazy.1 As a matter of fact, I’d rather have a textbook with errors assuming the teacher knows what’s right and what’s wrong and can help students challenge things.
- Digital textbooks will be more engaging!/Kids love technology! We wouldn’t expect crappy a writer to suddenly become awesome because they switched from printing their books to using ePub. Traditional textbook authors seem to come to digital content with all the baggage inherent in their previous medium. I don’t know if they’re the right people to be rethinking things or at least they shouldn’t be doing it in the isolation they currently appear to be in. Adding movies students don’t want to watch to the text kids don’t want to read doesn’t really do anything but take up hard drive space.
Kids don’t love technology. Kids like the fun and interesting things technology enables. That’s a fairly large difference. Adding technology does seem to make unpalatable things slightly more palatable but that’s a far cry from real interest and engagement (warm dog food vs cold dog food).
Digital content is cheaper! Maybe but I doubt it. This is one of those things that’s likely to be misleading. There’s no way so many companies would be so excited about digital content if they didn’t see ways to make more money than they’re making now. There are also some missing cost pieces that need to be considered. If the content you want is above and beyond a PDF version of the print book you need to start thinking.
- What people do you have in place for device repairs, device management etc.?2
- What about bandwidth infrastructure?
- Do teachers need PD?3
- Is the ebook-ish thing in its own LMS? How many LMS’s will you end up with? What is your strategy for getting content build by teachers out of these silos if you go with other publishers in the future? etc. etc.
- Have you thought through all the AUP, student content, parental communication issues?
Backpacks are too heavy and are crushing our children! If your child is bringing home a 50lb backpack and the child weighs in at 60lbs, the issue is not that books are too heavy but that your school is apparently requiring insane amounts of homework. Don’t treat the symptom.
In other cases, I wonder what a mixture of helicopter parents, an absolutely shameless panic promoting media, and an obesity epidemic is doing to our expectations of student capacity. This article on the terror surrounding heavy backpacks is a good example of why I have to put the word “news” in quotes.
1 I also don’t care if you get the last leg of President X’s term. If it’s recent, wouldn’t I be better off using the actual real news? I also have no faith that any textbook company would do a good job updating their books aside, possibly, from fixing typos or pretending they didn’t say slaves were happy fighting for the Confederates.
2 Maybe you can escape this with a BYOD but you’ll still have to provide and manage for economically disadvantaged students.
3 Probably so if you’ve got a product that isn’t just a PDF book.