Saturday, August 8, 2009

As Classrooms Go Digital, Textbooks Are History; New York Times, 8/8/09

Tamar Lewin via New York Times; As Classrooms Go Digital, Textbooks Are History:

"Textbooks have not gone the way of the scroll yet, but many educators say that it will not be long before they are replaced by digital versions — or supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.

“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite.

“They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks...

But the digital future is not quite on the horizon in most classrooms. For one thing, there is still a large digital divide. Not every student has access to a computer, a Kindle electronic reader device or a smartphone, and few districts are wealthy enough to provide them. So digital textbooks could widen the gap between rich and poor.

“A large portion of our kids don’t have computers at home, and it would be way too costly to print out the digital textbooks,” said Tim Ward, assistant superintendent for instruction in California’s 24,000-student Chaffey Joint Union High School District, where almost half the students are from low-income families.

Many educators expect that digital textbooks and online courses will start small, perhaps for those who want to study a subject they cannot fit into their school schedule or for those who need a few more credits to graduate...

The move to open-source materials is well under way in higher education — and may be accelerated by President Obama’s proposal to invest in creating free online courses as part of his push to improve community colleges.

Around the world, hundreds of universities, including M.I.T. and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, now use and share open-source courses. Connexions, a Rice University nonprofit organization devoted to open-source learning, submitted an algebra text to California. ”

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