"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Digital is Cheaper?

I often wonder what educators thought when televisions became readily available. It probably implied a revolution in education. Informational programs could be broadcast and children could view lessons in homes. Video tape recorders and players also came. With these new tools, students no longer needed to wait for an educational program. They could view programs any time as long as the tape was available. Audio tapes likewise had significant impact. With recording capability, one could store their favorite songs once it was played on the radio and had the convenience of playing it back, whenever, wherever. A "seek" button was a great innovation for it allowed to either fast forward or rewind back to a specific segment one wanted to hear. Digital video and compact discs were even better since there was much less "wear and tear" on the medium with repeated playbacks, rewinds and fast forwards. Indeed, these were all new technology that found some impact on our lives.

With online courses, TED lectures, encyclopedia, newspapers available on the internet, has technology really made education cheaper and accessible? Caroline Vanderlip wrote an essay in Inside HigherEd, "Digital Content is not equal to Lower Textbook Prices".  Her main argument was:

Consider the dual paths we are taking. First, there’s the all-encompassing push to “go digital,” as if somehow the output format of a book, whether it is electronic or print, is the sole determinant of cost. 
That is the wrong way of thinking. Input – the price of content – is much more important to the total cost of course materials than output – the format in which those materials are ultimately consumed by the student.
The above is in fact no different from music compact discs or downloads. Of course, the new medium allows for greater convenience and better quality, but the cost is, of course, more or less the same, or even higher. After all, it is still the content that we are mostly paying for. No one should really expect something different with textbooks. The real labor and worth come from producing the content. This does not change by simply altering the medium. Nowadays, I can even build my own home theater, complete with surround sound and a big screen. I need not go into a movie house. Still, on top of the price I pay for the huge television, a disc player, and a surround speaker system, I still have to pay for the content, for the movies I want to watch. Whether I save money in the process is obviously untrue after I add all the expenses in building my own home theater. Still, there may be advantages.

Andrew Campbell, a grade school teacher wrote the following ways or measures by which digital technology can enhance the classroom:

The Future of Digital Textbooks
in Looking Up by Andrew Campbell
  1. Reliable Interconnected Devices: Textbooks are reliable and sturdy so digital textbooks must be the same. 
  2. Customizable Content: The true convenience and capability of a digital medium lies in its ease of assembly and revision. 
  3. Personalized Interface: Digital content is delivered to a personal device so this device must have software or applications that custom suits the user.
  4. Interactive: Unlike traditional textbooks, software can be added to digital material that allows for problem solving and exercises.
  5. Facilitate Personal Connections: The internet is a communication tool so digital textbooks must provide channels of communication among students and between students and the instructor.
  6. Integrated Assessment: Intelligent software that measures the current standing of a student can adjust reading content and level. 

Aside from the additional software or applications, most of what is needed to exploit fully digital textbooks lies on the teacher. Michelle R. Davis captures this fact in the first three paragraphs of her article, "'Big Three' Publishers Rethink K-12 Strategies": 
Arizona's Vail school district is the kind of customer that gives big textbook publishers pause. 
The 12,000-student school district swapped out printed textbooks for digital material in 2006, but students aren't using e-textbooks. Instead, the district collects instructional materials the way a teenager creates a song playlist, taking digital content from various places, often for free. Meanwhile, for a fee, the Vail district shares its electronic library of resources with 68 partner districts across the state. 
"We are not beholden at all to the big textbook publishers," says Superintendent Calvin Baker. "We used to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in the textbook cycle, but we don't do that anymore."
Similar to the way we collect and choose songs in creating a personal music compact disc, a teacher is needed to create a digital textbook. Otherwise, the new technology is really no different.

No comments:

Post a Comment