An Online Textbook Case: You've Heard the Hype, but Are Online Textbooks Coming to a Computer near You Anytime Soon? Find out What These Districts Have Learned

By Pascopella, Angela | District Administration, December 2002 | Go to article overview

An Online Textbook Case: You've Heard the Hype, but Are Online Textbooks Coming to a Computer near You Anytime Soon? Find out What These Districts Have Learned


Pascopella, Angela, District Administration


You've seen it.

Students walking through school hallways, nearly slumped over from the immense weight on their backs. It's nearly a crime.

We're talking about students carrying 1,000-page textbooks in backpacks. Many students often get bored when they open such books. Sometimes, textbooks just don't carry their own weight.

And at least one researcher says textbooks are failed with wrong information-not good when molding young, impressionable minds. According to research conducted by John L. Hubisz, a visiting professor for physics at North Carolina State University, science textbooks in particular carry numerous inaccuracies. He also adds that many textbooks pile too much information on a page, including graphs that children "don't know how to read that well." And students get most turned off to science in middle school.

While Hubisz favors hard textbooks over computerized versions, he admits that online textbooks, which are quietly entering the school landscape, "would likely have the same sort of errors, but would be more easily corrected."

Some teachers already using online textbooks say that while it's too early to tell what the academic gains will be, their kids are anything but bored.

"Textbooks are probably the most boring thing in the world, for adults, too," says Joe Greene, a seventh-grade English teacher at Memorial Junior High School in Hanover Township Public School district in Whippany, N.J. He uses Barrett Kendall Publishing's online textbooks. "To make a textbook attractive they've gone online and they've added bells and whistles the kids are used to."

Greene says the difference lies in the enthusiasm for learning.

"This is a computer generation. A written page just kind of lays there.... And one of the comments I hear from kids is, `I'm more inclined to go on a computer to do my homework first instead of first IM'ing [Instant Messaging] my friends.'"

"It's more of an `Oh my goodness, a textbook online!' response," says Kathaleen Vamos, world history instructor at East Allegheny High School in North Versailles, Pa.

Just last fall, her district started using Holt, Rinehart and Winston's online world history and social studies books, along with English and math books for grades 7-12, at the same cost as a printed textbook and instructional materials. "It's something new to them and the graphics in the book relate to the material they're actually reading," Vamos says. "I remember using other books that had graphics on a page, and they had nothing to do with what was on that page. That doesn't help them."

Heather Kight, Holt's marketing manager for social studies, agrees students are more excited. "What we hear from teachers is that the students are turned on. I look at my own children and for my seventh grader ... if someone asks her to do an assignment with a pen and paper compared to if she is asked to do the same assignment on a computer she does it with twice as much enthusiasm and half the complaining."

DIGITAL DIVIDE CONTINUES

But many educators warn that online textbooks, which also include Prentice Hall School Group's interactive textbooks in English and science, bring out a nagging concern in American schools--the digital divide.

"Our main concern with online textbooks is still access for students to that information," says Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology at Plano (Texas) Independent School District and a member of the Western States Benchmarking Consortium. The consortium is a group of superintendents and other key executives from large, Western U.S. school districts who discuss best practices and strategies to improve education. "Like it or not, backpacks have gotten heavier. But students can still have it when they need it, where they need it."

Even in Plano, Hirsch says, the student-to-computer ratio is 2. …

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