School District Dumps $2 Million 'Online Textbook' Program After Discovering Some Students Can't Afford Broadband
from the 'you-must-have-the-latest-version-of-flash-installed-before-learning...' dept
The Digital Reader recently posted an article detailing a Virginia school district's problems with digital textbooks. Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is making the switch back to paper textbooks, to the tune of $2 million, after running into system requirements that prevented some of its students from taking advantage of the digital books.
According to the Washington Post (and confirmed on an official website) Fairfax County Public Schools is currently in the process of replacing some recently licensed math textbooks with even newer paper copies.
FCPS has always been at the forefront of adopting new tech in classrooms, whether it is setting up 1:1 classrooms or pushing for greater participation in BYOD programs, and this school year they decided to go into digital textbooks in a big way. FCPS signed up 3 publishers, Pearson, Holt, and McGraw/Hill to provide online math textbooks for all students in all grades, K-12.
That’s an ambitious project, no? It would save students the effort of carrying the textbooks around while avoiding the need for expensive hardware like the iPad. I mean, almost everyone has a computer with internet access at home right?
Well, no, they don’t. And even for the ones that do have access, it turns out that is not enough.
The underlying problem here isn't an ill-timed leap into the digital world. It's the limits built into the e-textbooks by the publishers. In fact, FCPS's FAQ on the digital textbooks calls them what they really are: “online textbooks.” Even if schools could purchase cheaper e-readers for students lacking access to broadband or a computer, the publishers are, at this point, unwilling to provide a downloadable option. In fact, the textbook publishers are constantly adding additional bells and whistles to their “online textbooks” (note the long list of additional software needed to use the curriculum) in order to avoid ever having to provide a stripped-down, downloadable version. Here are the system requirements for the “online textbooks” used by FCPS [PDF]:
So, the issue here isn't so much that FCPS made the mistake moving forward with digital textbooks, leaving some students out in the cold, but that Pearson and other publishers are unwilling to relinquish complete control of their digital offerings. This is what's keeping the situation from being more equitable. Offline options would remove the broadband requirement, and offering downloadable versions for e-readers would eliminate a large part of the technology gap. Hoffelder's underlying point that “education is supposed to be the great equalizer” is true, but the publishers' “online textbooks” are doing more to keep this gap from closing than this school district's pursuit of the next, newest thing.