by Dr. Richard E. Ferdig
The creation and adoption of innovative technologies often provides opportunities to rethink current education practices. For instance, the development of low-cost laptops and their portability helped schools rethink 1:1 technology initiatives (one computer per child). The high adoption of gaming devices at all age and socioeconomic levels gave rise to new thinking about the gamification of learning environments. And the engaging nature of virtual environments have helped teachers reconsider the concept of the field trip.
A new report from the State Educational Technology Directors Association follows suit and asks readers to reexamine and reconsider textbooks and the delivery of content to students. In "Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age", the authors even suggest not calling this new media e-texts or e-books, as they suggest such terminology perpetuates "the old notion of a single textbook per subject as being the optimal source of instructional material" (p. 6).
The authors make a strong argument that there are a variety of important reasons for schools to shift away from traditional textbooks. "It is not a matter of if reimagining the textbook will permeate all of education, only a matter of how fast" (p. 6). The authors note the challenge is that most schools are ignoring digital texts. "The educational environment isn't exploiting digital content for all of the benefits that can accrue for today’s learners. The gap is widening for what we do in our lives—how we communicate, work, learn, and play—and how we’re educating our kids" (p. 5).
According to the authors, the benefits of using digital content (the re-envisioning of the current textbook) are many. Content can be updated immediately; students are no longer required to engage old content just because schools can't afford new print books. Students can also access their texts anywhere they can take their electronic device. And, teachers can push personalized learning immediately to their device. Finally, given the widespread development and availability of open education resources (OER), content can be much richer and more engaging.
The report includes examples from multiple states where e-content is currently replacing traditional textbooks in all content areas. For instance, "the work of CK-12 focuses on middle school and high school Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects; but Utah will be using the platform for support in K-6 and language arts as well" (p. 19). The report also highlights requirements to make this a smooth transition, including recommendations at the policy and practical level.
What impact does this shift have on and for literacy educators? There are at least five considerations.
- Perhaps the most obvious implication is that literacy educators need to reexamine their current textbooks. What does an anthology of literature look like in a 21st century digital format? How could one draw on the affordances of such tools to move beyond just print stories? How do vocabulary textbooks draw on the promise of personalized learning through just-in-time delivery of differentiated practice and feedback?
- Successful programs prepared teachers for these transitions. How are we preparing our literacy educators to live in a world where delivery and consumption of content will be electronic?
- There has been strong argumentation for the connection between literacy, digital literacy, and 21st century literacies. There has also been important research into how students are learning to read and write online. Removing print text will force a deeper understanding of how to best support our readers and writers. As such, there is an immediate need for more funded research in this critical area.
- A related, critical area of study is multimodal composition. This is the notion that students are not just reading and writing print text in a digital format. Reading and writing is being expanded to include multiple media such as movies, blogs, animations, voice, etc. We need to make sure that the push to digital content does not fall back to print only. And, perhaps more importantly, we have to ensure that teachers and students are not just consumers of such content, but also producers.
- How can e-content support struggling readers and writers? At the surface level, there is strong argumentation that such text could support such readers and writers more than traditional methods because of the affordances of the tools involved (the report has a timely discussion of CAST's work on UDL). However, just because it can support them does not mean it will do so automatically.
Some are recommending that e-content, e-books, or e-texts completely replace print textbooks within 5 years (p. 3). As literacy educators, we need to not just prepare, but also capitalize on this opportunity to re-think literacy instruction in the 21st century.
Dr. Richard E. Ferdig is a professor of ITEC and the Summit Professor of Educational Technologies at the Research Center for Educational Technology, Kent State University, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).