Updated 2/28/14 to reflect recent legislation.
Five years ago, California’s Secretary of Education, Glen Thomas, on the behalf of Governor Schwarzenneger, asked CLRN to participate in the Digital Textbook Initiative. Our task was to find and solicit digital textbooks, to arrange and conduct their reviews of California’s standards, and to write a final report for each stage of the initiative. This post compares where we were then, where we are now, and how California should adapt to embrace the digital revolution. While now dated, our digital textbook page remains one of the most visited sites at CLRN.
During our presentations five years ago, we anticipated that digital textbooks would evolve in three directions: 1) digital representations of flat, linear textbooks; 2) interactive textbooks that blended text with video, animations, and interactive components; and 3) online courses.
eReader Textbooks (aka a digital book on an eReader)
In this version, print textbooks are simply transferred verbatim to an electronic form to be read on one’s computer or an eReader. In 2009, ereaders ran in the $259 range, but today they can be had for a quarter of that price. A $60 eReader that can hold a thousand books is an affordable, disposable commodity. Send students home with a six-ounce eReader or 40 pounds of books. Lose the hard copy of a book and you’ll need to purchase another copy. Lose an eReader and you only need to replace the eReader. A one-to-one initiative with eReaders is much more realistic today than it was five years ago. Add that many states, including California, require publishers to supply digital versions of their adopted books and you’ve greased the paper to ebook transition.
Five years ago, CK-12 was the primary developer of open-source, high school textbooks, mainly focusing on math and science. At the time, CK-12 published these books as PDF or EPUB files. Today, their mathematics books are written for the Common Core State Standards, their science books will soon be aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, and grade six to eight textbooks are now available. Kindle readers now have access to CK-12’s books through the MOBI format. CK-12 has also added instructional videos and assessments to their site to support these texts.
Interactive eBooks (subscription & web-based, or self-contained apps)
While some textbooks will remain in a flat, linear form, breaking up the content and embedding a variety of interactive components provides a more authentic experience for students. However, as digital content increases in complexity, so must the hardware required to play them. Interactive eBooks won’t play on $60 ereader. Instead, districts will need to invest in laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets. Five years ago, interactive eBooks were already present in the form of Discovery Education’s middle school science techbooks. Today, an increasing number of states and school districts have chosen this online, interactive eBook in lieu of a printed text. Since 2009, many other publishers, including Pearson, have stepped up with interactive eBooks for the iPad.
One of the few things that separate Discovery Education’s Techbooks from being full online courses is a learning management system. Otherwise, these resources include most of the instructional, practice, and assessment activities found in online courses. Take content from a full-course textbook; break it into small chunks; add video lectures, demonstrations, formative and summative assessments, authentic learning experiences, and small group online projects; embed these in a learning management system; and you have an online course.
In the past, California has adopted digital-only resources, particularly Compass Learning’s Odyssey Focus Math and iLearn’s iPASS Math Intervention in 2007. In 2013, California’s Common Core mathematics textbook adoption included three online courses by Edgenuity: California Common Core Mathematics for grades six to eight. These three adopted textbooks are actually full online courses.
National and State Digital Textbook Initiatives
Why has California stood still since the Digital Textbook Initiative? Our first problem is an attitude that if a “red state” has an innovative idea, it must be bad. Think Texas and Florida
First, to credit California, our legislature has passed several digital textbook-related bills the past five years. AB 1398 redefined “technology-based materials” to include the electronic equipment required to use them, meaning that districts can now use textbook funds to purchase the hardware to play digital textbooks. SB 247 allows districts to use textbook funds to purchase electronic versions. Recently, AB 133 requires that publishers provide digital versions for each of their adopted products and allows school districts to create a district-wide online digital database for classroom use..”
Florida digital textbook initiative.
A 2011 bill, SB2120, outlined that “all adopted instructional materials for students in kindergarten through grade 12 be provided in an electronic or digital format.” The state legislature, in order to provide a smooth transition, is currently allowing districts to conduct pilot programs to test a variety of resources and technologies, including Kindles, Nooks, iPads and netbooks.
Two years after the bill was signed, a related workgroup final report stated, “The work group believes that every Florida student in grades K-12 should have equitable access to a device through which each student can access high-quality digital content anywhere and anytime.” All resources must undergo a thorough vetting process and should meet industry standards for interoperability. They also recommended the state evaluate their current textbook review process to include digital content and to become more flexible.
In 2013, their Governor signed a bill to “shift funding to digital textbooks and other instructional materials across the state by 2017.
In Texas, H.B. 4294 allows the state to adopt electronic textbooks and for districts to use textbook funds to purchase the technological equipment necessary to support electronic textbooks. eTextbook publishers may submit updated content for review and districts/schools may select a subscription-based electronic textbook. Additionally, H.B. 2488 authorized colleges or the state to develop open source textbooks for use in classrooms.
Texas Ed Code regarding textbook adoption
“…the provider of material on the list adopted under Subsection (a) may update the content of the material if needed to accurately reflect current knowledge or information.”
Most recently, in 2012, the FCC published the Digital Textbook Playbook to “help K-12 school educators plan for the transition to a rich, interactive, and personalized digital learning environment.” However, the feds see only one type of digital book, “A true digital textbook is an interactive set of learning content and tools accessed via a laptop, tablet, or other advanced device.
Moving California Forward
How should California’s textbook adoption process evolve to embrace the digital and online course revolutions? First, we have to understand that that most adoption processes were designed for static, printed content that would remain unchanged for six to eight years. Even if Pluto were to become a planet again, you can’t expect school districts to discard their recently purchased books and then pay for version 1.1.
It’s different in the software world though. We’ve all grown up knowing that every software product is both imperfect and part of an evolutionary path. As technologies improve and users’ needs change, products are regularly updated with bug fixes and new features. Why can’t digital textbook adoptions do the same?
Take Edgenuity’s recently adopted math textbooks/courses in California. Under previous adopt cycles, these textbooks/courses were frozen in place for the next six to eight years. This is counterintuitive to the eLearning industry, which tends to update their online courses every two to three years. By the end of this current math adoption cycle, Edgenuity may have updated these resources two to three times. However, California’s students would still be using version 1.0. While CLRN has reviewed online courses for the past three years, we’ve already removed 40 reviews of courses that have been updated since they were first reviewed.
Most importantly, California must fully embrace the digital revolution. When disruptive innovations appear, those of us who want to survive must answer some tough questions. Will this new technology put me out of business? How can I adapt or evolve to compete? With digital textbooks and courses, one might also ask, “Why do we have an adoption process and why are resources only reviewed every six to eight years?” Certainly, great new resources will have come and gone before the next adoption cycle returns, so how can we adapt to provide buying information on a timely basis?
Fortunately, 2012′s AB 1246, written to support the new Common Core mathematic textbook adoption, also included language that would allow for publishers to update their adopted materials and submit those updates for CDE review. California Ed Code now states, “60200(b)(2) If a publisher or manufacturer submits revisions to currently adopted instructional material for review after the timeframe specified by the state board, the department shall assess a fee on the submitting publisher or manufacturer in an amount that shall not exceed the reasonable costs to the department to conduct a review of the instructional material pursuant to this section.”
Version 1.1 of a digital book shouldn’t warrant a full and complete review, but a targeted review of the updated or added content. This is specifically what CLRN does with our re-reviews. When CLRN created our online course review process, we utilized the Texas model to allow publishers to improve their courses and submit those improvements for a re-review. Basically, the publisher tells us what was improved, where we can find those improvements, and what standards are affected. I’m pleased that California’s AB 1246 established this new updating route.
Sometimes during a disruptive innovation, it’s best to stop what you’re doing and rethink your customer’s needs in a new light. In an era where paper textbooks may be going away, does organizing adoptions on a six to eight year cycle make sense any more? How can we provide timely information to school districts regarding standards-aligned resources? If digital resources are evolving beyond straight text, what additional criteria are needed so we can judge their quality and effectiveness?
While it has been five years since California’s Digital Textbook Initiative, the Great Recession has basically kept states static while the eLearning industry was continuing to evolve. Now it’s time to modify our adoption processes to address the current and coming changes to digital textbooks.