E-texts will read students

In a year or so, when students read e-textbooks, the books may be reading students’ “engagement” and study habits.

Community college instructors are “flipping” — putting lectures online to use class time for discussion, coaching and collaboration.

Duncan pushes e-textbooks

The Obama administration wants an e-textbook in every student’s hand by 2017, writes USA Today.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants states to use textbook funding for digital learning materials and tablet computers. They’ll jawbone companies to lower prices to schools.

Administration officials say Web-connected instructional materials help students learn more efficiently and give teachers real-time information on how well kids understand material. “We spend $7 billion a year on textbooks, and for many students around the country, they’re out of date,” Genachowski says. In five years, he predicts, “we could be spending less as a society on textbooks and getting more for it.”

While up-front costs for tablet computers are high — new iPads start at $499 — he says moving from paper to digital “saves a ton of money” in the long run. “We absolutely want to push the process.”

Core Knowledge blogger Robert Pondiscio said the enthusiasm around educational technology is “magical thinking.”

“I wish there was even 10% as much thought as to what is going to come through these devices as in getting them into kids’ hands,” he says. “It’s not a magic bullet. We need to worry about what is on these tablets while they’re sitting in kids’ laps.”

Karen Cator, the U.S. Department of Education’s technology director, says tablet computers will extend the school day and engage students.

In my school days, I’d go home, finish my homework and read for three hours or so. OK, I was not normal, even among my studious friends. But I don’t think that gee-whiz devices will engage kids who don’t read well. Not for long, anyhow.

On a visit to my mother this week, I picked up a 1945 book on teaching remedial reading that must be left over from her master’s program in education back in the ’50s. (It advocates delaying phonics till second grade, after students have memorized a bunch of sight words.) Among the strategies for motivating struggling readers, the author suggested letting them use a typewriter to write the new words they’ve learned. Kids will be excited by the technology, the professor wrote.

I’m sure that e-books are the wave of the future, but schools should be careful not to spend before they’ve figured out how new learning materials will improve learning.  Do students need an iPad? A Kindle or Nook equivalent? Some new, cheaper device not yet available? Yes, publishers will lower prices to compete for market share, but schools need to make sure they’re not locked into one company’s products or blocked from using free open-source materials.