Below are my comments from yesterday’s 2010 CETPA conference panel discussion.
Thanks to Secretary Thomas’ vision, last year California embarked on a journey to promote digital textbooks as a viable alternative to print.
Phase One of the Digital Textbook Initiative rocked the boat more for some than for others. Publishers embraced the idea, having foreseen the change coming. Talk to one of the big print publishers and you’ll hear them say that they’re not in the book binding business. They’re in the curriculum development business. They know the medium will change and they’re preparing for it. Some have already created first-generation products, like Discover Education Science, which was adopted in Oregon and Hawaii. Both McMillan and McGraw Hill have created platforms for professors to edit textbooks to suit their needs.
Others, though, only saw the problems associated with the Phase one solution and couldn’t shift their focus to the horizon. Yes, critics are correct when they proclaim that schools largely don’t have the technology to integrate digital books into the classroom. Critics tend to focus on the problems encountered on the journey, not the destination.
This is a change process, though, a Disruptive Innovation, that will continue to evolve for years to come. Disruptive Innovations, are defined by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn in their book, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation will Change the Way the World Learns.” In it, they outline the change process when an innovation rocks an industry. While their book is primarily about how online learning will change brick and mortar education, their thesis applies to all disruptive innovations.
Take digital photography.
Kodak engineers invented the digital camera in 1975, but its designers couldn’t sell the idea to their company leaders. 16 years later, in 1991, they created the DCS-100, a one-megapixel camera that cost $13K.
Who would pay so much for a camera that takes lousy pictures?
NY Times 1992: “ON July 15, 11 minutes after Gov. Bill Clinton appeared on the podium as the Democratic nominee for President, an Associated Press picture of that moment was being laid out for the front pages of the next day’s newspapers across the country. This speed was possible because there was no film to develop: the photographer had made his picture with the Kodak DCS 100 digital camera and transmitted it via a computer modem, saving as much as 20 minutes in processing and transmission.”
It’s non-traditional customers who are attracted to disruptive innovations because the product meets their needs.
NY Times 1999 – 7 years later: “Early digital cameras were expensive and had such low picture quality, or resolution, that they fared poorly in a comparison with a $10 disposable camera…..A new generation of even better cameras, with two-megapixel resolutions, arrived this summer for about $1,000.”
So, seven years later, quality had improved and price had declined. Both were still insufficient to tip the scales, because film still produced a better product.
NY Times, Xmas 2001: The digital camera market just exploded this year.
With Disruptive Innovations, non-consumers are the sole customers in the beginning because the innovation meets their needs. Traditional customers are repulsed by the expense and primitive nature of the product. However, over time, quality increases while price decreases causing a tipping point. Eventually, the innovation replaces the original product.
The same is true with digital textbooks. Change is a process.
Phases one and two of the Digital Textbook Initiative focused on open-source, PDF files that could be downloaded and printed. While as primitive as a 1991 camera, there are non-consumers who are making use of this current generation of digital resources including charter schools, one-to-one laptop schools like Minaret HS in the central valley, and Riverside Unified.
In the meantime, though, e-reader prices have fallen dramatically, making it much more attractive for schools to put their literature collections on eReaders. The only obstructions to e-Readers reaching a tipping point are unrealistically high prices for digital books and Digital Rights Management, which cripples ebook files so that you can’t share books or give them away.
During Phase 2, we encouraged publishers to release their books in the EPUB format, an open source platform for digital books. CK-12 agreed, and you can now download any of their books as EPUB files and display them on any e-reader, including the iPAD and Kindle.
Phases one and two were proof of concept, asking the question, “Are there high quality, open-source digital textbooks out there, and if so, are educators ready for them?”
The answer to the high-quality question is yes.
Ten of the 17 phase 2 books met all the content standards for their subjects (67%). In all, fourteen phase one and two books meet all the content standards for their courses. An additional five books meet all but one standard.
One of the advantages of being digital is that publishers can update content as new facts or developments occur, instead of waiting seven years for the next textbook adoption cycle. Four books from our phase one reviews, that did not meet all the standards, were rewritten by their publishers (CK-12 and Dr. Benjamin Crowell) and resubmitted for phase two. Three of those books now meet all the content standards while the fourth now meets 93% of the standards.
That’s proof of concept.
Phase 3 of the initiative began last August and focuses solely on online, interactive digital textbooks with no expectation that the book can be downloaded. By the October 1st deadline, CLRN had received 14 submissions: 6 from open source publisher, CK-12 and 8 from two commercial publishers, Glenco/McGraw Hill and Teachers’ Curriculum Institute.
We received six Science, two mathematics, and 6 history-social science resources, all of which are currently being reviewed. A full report of their reviews should be ready by late November.
With this move to online resources, we’re acknowledging that digital textbooks won’t be books for much longer. They won’t be linear or flat either. With online resources, Students will have access to embedded lecture clips, animations, activities, “live” links, and assessments. In essence, digital textbooks are becoming more like online courses.
Which is where CLRN is focusing for Phase Four.
Last summer, with permission from Secretary Reiss and the Department of Education, CLRN assembled a rather large stakeholder group to define a process and criteria for reviewing online courses. We’re not the first state to undertake this task. Both Texas and Washington have an online course review process that is defined in legislation and both use the national standards endorsed by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).
We’re currently editing both the national standards and the data our reviewers need to find to verify those standards. However, the criteria will cover six areas: Content, Instructional Design, Student Assessment, Technology, Course Evaluation and Management, and Professional Development and Support.
CLRN will pilot the criteria during the winter, program them into our database and web site next spring, and begin to accept online courses for review next summer.
During year one of CLRN’s Online Course Review project, we’ll limit our work to high school math and English-language arts courses, subjects our assistant superintendents of curriculum have identified, as a high need. We’ll accept courses aligned to either California’s current content standards or to the new California Common Core State Standards, which were adopted by our state board last August and have been adopted by 39 states to date.
We are in the middle of a revolution, where electronic learning resources, digital textbooks, and online courses are becoming more like each other. And CLRN is here to ensure that they meet state and national standards.