Florida: One State Looking For Digital Textbook Solutions

Tablet RentalsAdvancing technology has been making its way into classrooms across the nation over the past several years.  Some schools have embraced this change, others have struggled, but most know that it is inevitable.

Florida is one state that has mandated that all schools will use some sort of digital device to replace all textbooks by 2015.   The rising cost of textbooks, approximately $100 per book, is one reason e-readers are now being used.  Devices like a Kindle or Nook can take the place of six or seven textbooks at a much reduced cost to the school district.  However, many opponents are questioning the durability of an e-reader vs. a textbook.  If students are carting these devices around all day dropping them on the sidewalk when they fall out of their backpacks, little siblings grabbing them, sliding off the desk and crashing to floor at school, just how long will they last?  What happens when a textbook gets destroyed?  It gets replaced.  Would it be that easy with digital devices?

There is no arguing that moving in this direction would be beneficial to the students.  Backpacks would become considerably lighter, fonts can be changed for easier reading, highlighting can even be performed.  One school in Clearwater, Florida that is already using e-readers has reported that their testing scores have dramatically improved.  It is a technology that students are already familiar with and use with ease and, in some cases, even engages students on a more consistent basis than a regular textbook.

The big question marks:  Funding and Maintenance.  The changeover could be costly and estimates are quoting dollar figures as high as $1 billion to a medium-sized school district.  It is not only the purchase of equipment but the purchase of the digital downloads.  Then add on top of that professional development costs for the teachers.  This will dramatically change how teachers prepare and implement lessons in class.  Finally, the maintenance of the devices is the most important piece.  Technology is great unless it doesn’t work.

William “Andy” Shaw was a economics and social studies teacher at a Clearwater, Florida high school when they implemented more technology.  His job changed even more dramatically when, because of his certification in computer science, he became the technology coordinator.  “I manage over 3300 devices and accounts”, says Shaw.  Students use Kindle Keyboards and Kindle Nooks provided by the school or BYOD (bring your own device) from home.   Most schools are making major cuts to their budgets but creating a technology position was unavoidable in making this transition.  Another cost to consider will be wireless networking if the school is not already equipped.

This is a concept that will be spreading to more and more states leaving more school districts in a quandary trying to figure out how to comply with yet another state mandate.  All K–12 schools in Florida are required by law to have digital textbooks by 2015. Florida’s Digital Instructional Materials Work Group—a nine-member group of parents, educators, district leaders, and a businessman—was created with the mission of figuring out how to realize that goal.

However, districts are unsure if a simple Portable Document Format (PDF) textbook constitutes a digital textbook, as required by the Florida digital initiative. Shaw thinks that BYOD is the way to go.

“Maybe the individual districts could then negotiate deals with different companies to provide devices to students who don’t already have their own—so many possibilities,” he said.

That brings up a very viable option for families and school districts.  Techtravelagent.com in Florida, as well as all states across the nation, is equipped and prepared to offer large quantity and individual rentals of notebooks, laptops and computers.  School districts are going to have to do plenty of research and be able to keep costs down and offer their families options in complying with state mandates.

Sources:  Education News by R A Johnston and the Epoch Times

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