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The Promise of Rich Digital Content

Digital content is literally revolutionizing today's classroom.

The next revolution in learning

Just as the invention of the printing press in the 15th century revolutionized communication and education, today’s digital technologies are, once again, revolutionizing the way people communicate and learn, causing many education experts to re-examine the role of print content in the classroom.

The textbook—the staple of the 20th century classroom—is quickly losing ground to digital alternatives. Higher education has led the charge away from print, driven by student concerns about the rising cost of books required for college classes. According to a September 2, 2009, article in the Washington Times, “Booksellers say they see a palpable backlash against the cost of paper books, which quickly go out of date and cost the average college student about $1,000 a year.”

In response, publishers of college textbooks have begun offering a variety of digital options. McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and a number of other publishers now sell entire books or individual chapters in digital format, and several companies have worked together to launch CourseSmart, LLC, which offers thousands of textbooks online in an e-book format.

eBooks are gaining ground

While not as common in the K–12 market, e-textbooks are becoming an option there as well. Their appeal to schools that have one-to-one or other technology-rich implementations include lighter backpacks for students and the ease with which the texts can be distributed, stored, and updated.

And yet, while e-texts address some of the physical problems of print, many people feel that they do not go far enough. In the college world, criticisms range from concerns that the price for the digital version of a book is still not low enough, especially considering the fact that it can’t be resold, to dissatisfaction with the hardware platform on which the e-textbooks are viewed.

A July 20, 2009, article in the Wall Street Journal cited dozens of students from a Northwest Missouri State University e-textbook pilot who “dropped out of the program, complaining that the e-texts were awkward and inconvenient” and an assistant dean for scholarly communications at Penn State University delivered scaled-down devices.

Digital classrooms better support learning

Digital learning environments are the key to addressing what one might call the “three C’s” of learning; 21st century schools are charged with teaching students to:

  • Consume (read and interpret text and imagery)
  • Collaborate (share what they’ve learned and work with others to extend their knowledge)
  • Create (demonstrate understanding by synthesizing and using higher-order thinking and creativity skills to build new content)

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