North Carolina Schools Move Toward Digital Textbooks and Resources


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Photo courtesy of Ermolaev Alexander/Shutterstock.com

In 2013, the General Assembly passed Session Law 2013-12/House Bill 44. It states:

“It is the intent of the General Assembly to transition from funding for textbooks, both traditional and digital, to funding for digital materials, including textbooks and instructional resources, to provide educational resources that remain current, aligned with curriculum, and effective for all learners by 2017.”

Even though the legislation affects only public schools, public and independent school leaders say there are advantages and challenges associated with switching from physical to digital textbooks.

Publishers’ sales reflect trends toward digital content. In 2015, digital content accounted for a third of all of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s invoices and about half of its large program invoices, says Jennifer Berlin, director of corporate communications for the company.

“It’s useful to think of digital curricula versus digital textbooks,” Berlin says. “Today’s digital programs offer so much more than a static PDF document and can allow for a more immersive and engaging learning experience for students.”

Teachers’ Perspectives

But what do teachers and curriculum administrators think of transitioning to digital textbooks? Although her independent school is not impacted by the legislation, Tameka Woodard, Charlotte Country Day School’s middle school director of studies, notes the advantages.

“Sometimes when textbooks are published, the material can already be out of date when the book hits the students’ desks,” Woodard says. “In using digital textbooks, students are allowed to have electronic updates for the textbooks. The digital textbooks are also livelier and more interactive.” Students in grades three through eight at Charlotte Country Day School use iPads; high school students use Microsoft Surface tablets.

However, Woodard says teachers also need to be ready for technological glitches, students distracted by devices and students who prefer paper-based materials.

Some teachers use publisher-prepared digital textbooks, whereas others curate materials for digital textbooks. Cary Academy math teacher Nicky Allen, who teaches in a one-to-one environment, creates her own digital textbooks.

“While creating digital textbooks is very time consuming, it is one of the most rewarding parts of my job and one of the reasons I love teaching at Cary Academy,” she says. “I can make my materials directly support exactly what I want to teach, and I don’t have to include things I don’t want to teach.”

Robin Britt, director of instructional technology in Guilford County Schools, says middle schools in the county have had a one-to-one laptop initiative for a few years as part of a federally funded Race to the Top grant. Elementary and high schools in Guilford County do not have one-to-one initiatives.

While Guilford County has not yet purchased digital versions of traditional textbooks, Britt says teachers in Guilford County can access and create a “constellation of resources” to meet students’ needs, however. They might pull in an online article to go along with a traditional textbook chapter, for example. 

Rashad Slade, director of instructional technology, media services and virtual learning in Guilford County Schools, remarks on differences between traditional and digital textbooks as he discusses a Discovery Education Science Techbook that upper elementary and middle school students use.

“In a book you can see a picture of the shark,” he says. “In the Science Techbook, you can hit play and watch the shark feed. You can watch the shark jump out of the water.”

One of the advantages for teachers, Britt says, may be counterintuitive. Because teachers can use available digital resources to assess students’ academic abilities, teachers are freer to “do a lot of face-to-face teaching.” 

Student Access

Teachers need time to learn about digital resources, according to Britt and Slade. Britt says some teachers worry about giving up control and distractions caused by digital tools. Teachers need to think about what they will do if devices are not charged or the internet is unavailable. Student privacy is also important.

While statewide initiatives such as Race to the Top provide much-needed funds for middle schools, Slade says there are still challenges in funding infrastructure and availability of devices that will allow teachers and students to access digital content.

“You’ve got rural areas that may not have signals and Wi-Fi capabilities, and schools don’t have the infrastructure to support this,” he says. “Luckily, Guilford’s in a position where we do have the infrastructure to support this type of access through Wi-Fi access and the capability to handle the load of users [who] all are trying to log in at the same time.”

Dov Rosenberg, instructional technology facilitator at Durham’s Rogers-Herr Middle School, says students and teachers at his school have digital textbooks and resources at their disposal, despite not being a one-to-one school. In addition to using digital textbooks in some classes, students access Discovery Education, NC WiseOwl, NC LIVE and Project Gutenberg. There are four computer labs, a laptop cart, and iPad and iPod carts.

Without a one-to-one initiative, teachers with digital textbooks may be printing from the textbook, Rosenberg points out. “Digital textbooks are a bit of an issue if you’re not one-to-one. Then it means that the teacher and the school are paying for a lot of printing. And I think that’s the kind of thing that most people would not think about,” he says.

Rosenberg knows the advantages of having digital content available, but also understands that the reality at many schools is not every school has a computer for every student, and not every student has internet access at home.

“It is very unusual to have an entire student population having access to a computer and the internet from home,” he says. “Then there are issues of equitability. … I love the online material. I love that it’s current, and it’s up-to-date, but I don’t like that there’s this equitable access issue,” he says.

Many school administrators and teachers agree that there are advantages to going digital. How the General Assembly’s bill will play out in districts with infrastructure and access challenges, however, might be another story.  

 

Kathryn Caprino is a professor and freelance writer in Gainesville, Florida.

 

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When Judah Ben-Hur survives an almost certain death sentence for a crime he did not commit, he begins a quest for vengeance. Angry at God and man alike, he embarks on a journey toward relief and...

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Telephone: (919) 977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
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Performances: Thursday July 25th at 7:30pm Friday July 26th at 7:30pm Saturday July 27th at 7:30pm Sunday July 28th matinee at 2:00pm $15.00 Advanced Adult General Admission $12.00 Advanced Student...

Cost: $8-$18

Where:
Cedar Ridge High School
1125 New Grady Brown School Rd.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange Community Players
Telephone: 919-619-5856
Contact Name: Orange Community Players
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Enjoy a movie under the stars and play games at 7:15 before the movie begins.

Cost: Free

Where:
E. Carroll Joyner Park
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Join us during National Moth Week to observe some of our night-flying neighbors – MOTHS! Discover how to attract moths and their caterpillars in your backyard, hear about some of their...

Cost: $10 ($9 Members): No Fee for Accompanying Adult

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden - Growing Classroom
100 Old Mason Farm Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: NCBG
Telephone: 919-962-2887
Contact Name: Mike Dunn
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Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.