The New World of Electronic Textbooks

By Naomi Dillon

Years of debate and rancor preceded the decision, but it wasn’t until 2006 that astronomers declared Pluto was no longer a planet. That bit of news forced school districts to take notice and rue the fact that all of their science books were now outdated.

Behold, the limitations of the printed textbook. Familiar, stalwart, and in some cases, even romantic, the printed word has been the preferred method of instructional delivery in schools for eons. But as Pluto shows us, a constantly changing universe and education delivered in a fixed format can be as restricting as the covers of printed texts.

Change is on the horizon, however. For a select but growing number of school districts in a select but growing number of states, instructional content is as dynamic -- and digital -- as the world around them.

In Texas, the late Ann Richards is still listed as the governor in many social studies books across the state, but not in the Forney Unified School District. Several years ago, officials launched an aggressive systemwide program to switch to e-books, chalking up the conversion to publishing lag times and their own shifting environment.

“Our school district, by percent, is the fastest growing school district in Texas,” says Roger Geiger, Forney’s director of technology. “When we started this [initiative], we couldn’t get enough textbooks for incoming students … Quite often it wouldn’t be until January or February that they would get their books.”

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