Back when I was in school, students thumbed through 800-page textbooks detailing the history of the Warsaw Pact or the intricacies of calculus. But that’s the case no longer: When today’s students need to catch up on their course readings, they turn to technology.
According to a recent study from ASCD and e-book distributor OverDrive, Digital Content Goes to School: Trends in K-12 Classroom E-Learning, 80 percent of administrators surveyed said that their schools or districts use e-books, audiobooks and other digital texts to enhance learning; another 9 percent plan to get on board with the trend in the next year or so.
Why Digital Texts Took Off
There’s no mystery behind the rise of digital textbooks. I’ve heard educators heap praise on the interactive, multimedia content for its ability to engage students in new and interesting ways. And respondents to the ASCD and OverDrive survey lauded the technology for delivering individualized instruction and giving students increased opportunities to study independently.
The availability of Open Educational Resources (OER) also drives the adoption of digital content. Encompassing everything from e-books to instructional videos, OER provide a free alternative to increasingly expensive paper textbooks. The Consortium for School Networking’s fourth K–12 IT Leadership Survey Report found that the resources are so popular, 45 percent of survey respondents expect OER to account for at least half of their digital content in the next three years.
Digital content also surpasses traditional textbooks by providing students with anytime, anywhere access to course material. Additionally, reading e-books lets students practice screen-specific learning and comprehension skills that will become increasingly important as society shifts even further toward digital texts, both in the classroom and in the world beyond.
So How Do Schools Deliver Digital Content?
Although digital texts seem to have become the standard across schools and districts, the means for disseminating this content varies. According to the survey, administrators said students access digital resources using notebooks (75 percent), tablets (62 percent) and smartphones (17 percent).
Through conversations with customers, I’ve also learned that two-in-one devices, such as convertible Google Chromebooks and the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, support the shift to digital textbooks. Tablet-like features make the ultraportable devices ideal for consuming digital resources, while keyboard components allow for content creation.
Devices Can’t Do It All
Two-in-ones, notebooks, tablets and smartphones may be the answer to providing unconstrained access to learning materials, but they don’t solve every issue surrounding digital content deployment.
In many instances, budget constraints represent a major obstacle: Schools and districts just don’t have the funds to put one of these devices into the hands of every student. In other cases, the devices that schools have deployed are not compatible with the resources they’d like to use.
Inadequate infrastructure can also stand in the way, as schools and districts first need to provide solid Wi-Fi coverage across campuses before students can benefit from online resources.
Finally, poor teacher training and professional development can make it difficult for schools and districts to get the most out of digital textbooks. Educators need to understand how classroom devices function and how the digital resources fit into the curriculum.
Thankfully, schools and districts can overcome many of these challenges with the right support: Managed tablet services provide cost-cutting benefits that can help stretch IT resources, while implementation experts can walk administrators and IT personnel through the device-selection process to avert content-compatibility issues.
A knowledgeable partner can also equip schools and districts with the back-end technologies they need to provide reliable access to digital texts in classrooms, libraries, hallways and anywhere else students choose to learn.
This article is part of the “Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.