U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced that over the next decade, every school should replace their textbooks with tablets or e-reader devices. According to Education News
, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
is on board with this plan, having conducted studies on the cost effectiveness of this switch for schools. But despite the initial savings, some experts have expressed concerns with high Wi-Fi costs and decreased retention of reading materials among students.
In a Project RED report, the FCC
did a cost breakdown of traditional learning versus “New Learning” with tablets replacing textbooks. A traditional environment costs an average of $3,871 per student annually, including hardware, assessment and curriculum costs. The New Learning cost came to $3,621 per student annually and included paperwork, connectivity and professional development costs. Additionally, tablets will cost less over time, bringing an even greater savings to districts. While the savings would be significant nationwide, districts are concerned with “hidden” costs, most notably Wi-Fi services. Mashable
reports that New York City schools had to ban new devices from accessing school Wi-Fi due to servers being maxed out. The FCC
is prepared with plans to combat this challenge, like “Learning-on-the-Go” devices, an e-rate program to bring affordable connections to schools over fiber lines, and “School Spots” so that schools can provide Internet to the community outside of regular school hours.
High-performing South Korea is using digital textbooks, and the FCC
reports that students who have access to technology at home have graduation rates of six to eight percent higher than students with no access. Additionally, many of the textbooks used in schools are outdated, often containing obsolete information, and must be periodically updated to remain current. Education News
reports that textbook publishing giant Houghton Mifflin Harcourt conducted a pilot study in California, at the Riverside Unified School District. Students who used Algebra I digital texts scored higher on standardized tests compared with peers who used standard texts. While these arguments for digital texts are compelling, there may be retention issues associated with digital materials. Mashable
cites a study conducted by Kate Garland, a psychology professor at the University of Leicester. Using both digital and traditional texts, she found significant differences between the two when students were asked to answer text-based questions. When students read traditional print texts, they understood more information on a deeper level.
Looking to the Future