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The Possibilities of Digital Textbooks

Digital textbooks are all the rage these days.

They’ll save schools billions of dollars, and relieve kids from the burden of carrying around the paper versions. More than a few education “experts” have applied the “revolutionary” tag to the concept.

And on that very subject, the US Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission this week held a big meeting just up the road in Washington on that very subject, with the purpose to determine how the US can “move all K-12 schools to interactive digital textbooks in the next five years”.

So, who attended these high level discussions?

FCC Chairman Genachowski and Secretary of Education Duncan hosted a discussion with CEOs, senior executives, and other leaders from the education technology ecosystem to develop ways the industry and states can meet their challenge to move all K-12 schools to interactive digital textbooks in the next five years.

Representatives included senior executives and leaders from Apple, Aruba Networks, Chegg, Discovery Education, Idaho Department of Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Inkling, Intel, Knewton, Kno, the LEAD Commission, McGraw-Hill, News Corp, Pearson, Samsung, Sprint, and T-Mobile. [emphasis mine]

Education technology ecosystem?

Anyway, with the exception of the participants from Idaho (a known leader of instructional technology innovation, right?), do you see any actual educators in that list? Or any organizations representing the various educational open source initiatives?

No, what you see are the very large companies that already control the printed textbook business, some major tech companies, plus a few tech startups with interests in digital distribution. All of which stand to reap large profits from controlling the digital textbook business.

That’s what Duncan, Apple, Pearson and others really mean when they talk about the “possibilities” of digital textbooks.


  1. CJMBS

    I have a better idea. Districts write their own digital “textbooks” using web resources that includes primary sources, graphics, and videos. Using the districts very own curriculum, local education experts, and community, content can be updated immediately and address special populations. This could have the caveat of saving districts all textbook costs and investment in teaching staff can be restored. However, K-2 should have paper text, grade 3 can be a digital transition year, and beginning grade 4 students can enjoy the full benefits of this delivery. I think we’re at a point in education where traditional textbooks just aren’t cutting it anymore. For educators who know their craft and their subject, this can be empowering and students will have full and rich resources. Not sure how such a model will fly with the corporate reformers who want us to buy their brand of education products, and I’m also thinking this will fly in the face of the test-prep paradigm. But in terms of your discussion, I like this idea very much.

  2. MarjeeC

    CJMBS- I love your idea.

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