updated 12:40 pm EST, Thu February 2, 2012
Obama adminstration calls for five-year goal
The Obama administration is urging both schools and companies to make a transition to digital textbooks within five years, says the Associated Press. The message was delivered by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday. Switching to digital is said to be a way of not only providing interactive learning, but potentially saving money and updating the content of textbooks faster.
"Do we want kids walking around with 50-pound backpacks and every book in those backpacks costing 50, 60, 70 dollars and many of them being out of date? Or, do we want students walking around with a mobile device that has much more content than was even imaginable a couple years ago and can be constantly updated? I think it's a very simple choice," says Duncan in an interview. The US government has also released a 67-page guide for schools, not only promoting the textbook plan but offering guidance on how to implement it.
"When a student reads a textbook and gets to something they don't know, they are stuck," says Genachowski. "Working with the same material on a digital textbook, when they get to something they don't know, the device can let them explore: It can show them what a word means, how to solve a math problem that they couldn't figure out how to solve." Jay Diskey -- the executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers -- notes that textbook makers have actually been working on digital textbooks for about five to eight years, but that the main obstacle may be schools, which either can't or have yet to adopt the necessary technology, such as tablets, notebooks, or sufficient broadband. Budgets and lengthy textbook adoption procedures are principal obstacles.
The announcement comes relatively quickly after an Apple event where the company revealed its own digital textbook format, as well as a dedicated iTunes U app with full online courses. The Obama administration has not made any reference to Apple efforts, but may have had them in mind, given the company's prominence and its support from several textbook publishers.