NOT so long ago, brick and mortar schools were about the only kind of schools that existed. Growing numbers of people choosing to home school have only slightly disrupted the traditional model. Even the increasing popularity of virtual schools is only slightly upending what we think of as “school.”
For most students, school looks almost exactly as it has for decades. Sure, white boards that replaced chalkboards have now given way to interactive smart boards in many schools. And instead of special time set aside to “do technology,” schools are increasingly looking to integrate technology into everyday learning. We can't help but wonder if we'll look back a decade from now to discover that one of the last vestiges of traditional school — textbooks — will be collecting heavy layers of dust on the shelves.
Textbook publishers are well into the effort of adapting their biggest moneymaker for the digital age. As Education Week recently reported, publishers aren't necessarily in agreement about the best digital strategy. Even as students use the print version, some textbooks are available in an electronic format for students or parents who want to view the books at home. Pearson, a giant educational publishing company, offers that option now for some of its textbooks, but it doesn't necessarily plan to stick with that model.
“What we've done to date is use digital technology to still support a pretty traditional direct-instruction model,” a Pearson executive told Education Week. “We're going to see our digital instructional content look less like glorified PDFs.”
The vision is a more interactive approach that puts the phrase “e-textbook” quickly out to pasture. What many teachers also have discovered is that the Internet already offers plenty of options to enhance or even supplant traditional instruction materials.
The ongoing transition to common core academic standards is an opportunity for schools to take a fresh look at instructional materials and define a new balance between paper and digital. But whether they'll be able to shift that balance isn't only a matter of instructional strategy or even technological know-how (although the latter is a significant issue). Whether schools have the technological capacity and infrastructure to tip to the balance toward digital varies widely across the country and within Oklahoma.
Schools that still rely on a computer lab either alone or with one or two outdated desktops per classroom simply aren't equipped to make a real digital leap. But providing more computers — whether a desktop, laptop, tablet or another device — isn't cheap. Schools have little choice but to make financial provisions for changing technology and related demands.
In two years, Florida will require schools to make instructional materials available in electronic or digital formats. Other states may follow. And even if a mandate doesn't create a sense of urgency, the reality that the workforce simply demands students be comfortable with integrated technology certainly should.