e-Textbooks and the Three E's: Enabling, Engaging, Empowering
E-textbooks are finding their way into the lives of school age-children everywhere, as the technology that enables smartphones and tablets enhances how they learn. A growing body of research suggests that the lives of people today are so entrenched in technology that the best way to reach them is via any media they relate to — especially mobile electronic devices.
The Speak Up Project
The Speak Up National Research Project was sponsored by Project Tomorrow, a national educational non-profit organization out of Irvine, California. Project Tomorrow aims to push schools to provide solid math, science and technology instruction so that kids are prepared for the demands of the 21st century. Speak Up conducted research for eight years and asked questions related to online instruction, e-textbooks and the use of mobile devices for learning. It also looked at emerging technologies to determine how students would use them and what potential improvements they would need before they were released into the marketplace.
That research led to the Three New E’s of Education — enabling, engaging and empowering. For this study, the researchers looked at how students leveraged new or emerging technologies for learning. They focused on mobile learning, online and/or blended learning, and the use of e-textbooks. The Three E’s, at a glance, mean:
- Enabling: To enable students, schools and teachers must provide access to all sorts of resources to improve the overall quality of learning, and through this, to further enable students to challenge themselves to exceed their potential.
- Engaging: The way to engage students today is by challenging them, pushing them to dig to find information and think critically. Since technology speaks to people today, it’s the best way to engage students and sustain their interests. Curiously, even if the material in a textbook isn’t very interesting, students at all educational levels are probably more likely to do the required reading if it is in a form that appeals to them — and that is digital media, or e-textbooks.
- Empowering: The best way to empower students is by inspiring them to look for information, to be hungry for knowledge and to develop a lifelong curiosity that will give them the determination to be lifelong learners. Since technology is so appealing to students today, they will be more inclined to want to look for information if they can do so electronically.
The Divide that Disconnects
There is a divide that disconnects education from real-life experiences and the dissemination of information in the real world. That is the full-blown dependence that students at every educational level have on technology, and the lack of technology that they are exposed to in school. Parents who are tech savvy and reliant on electronic devices themselves are concerned about their children’s lack of exposure to technology in school. Many parents are finding themselves in the position of having to find ways to provide their children with access to digital information so that they can keep pace with changing technologies.
The use of small mobile devices makes it possible for students to learn anywhere. Mobile devices are changing learning largely because students want to engage in the process of learning and because technology speaks to them. Mobile learning appeals to students in the same way that video games, smartphones and text-messaging technologies do.
The Potential of e-Textbooks
Families, school administrators and state legislatures are excited about the prospect of using e-textbooks. For starters, they provide a way for schools to use existing technologies while lowering the cost of traditional textbooks. The area of digital or e-textbooks is gaining interest because of the attention it gets through the media, through non-profit educational organizations like Project Tomorrow and through school districts everywhere. Despite the interest, digital textbooks are not widely used in many school districts or communities.
Statistics on e-Textbook Use
The Speak Up project’s statistics on e-textbook use indicate that just over one-quarter, 27 percent, of middle school students were using online textbooks and other online resources as part of their school curriculum in 2010. High school students using the same electronic information that year numbered just over one-third at 35 percent. When asked whether they wanted to use digital or e-textbooks, the overwhelming majority of students between third and 12th grade agreed that digital textbooks are essential to their education. For grades three through five, 48 percent of the students favored electronic textbooks, while 53 percent of the students in grades six through eight and 55 percent of students in grades nine through 12 favored them.
According to an August 2011 article at PBS’ Media Shift, there are multiple reasons to believe that within the next decade, if not sooner, digital textbooks will really take off. That article referred to another article written by Dr. Rob Reynolds, (an educator who worked with publishers and is now working to speed up the transition from print to digital educational products) who believes that within the next five years, the sale of digital or e-textbooks will easily surpass the sale of printed textbooks. Given the number of school districts that are purchasing tablets for students to use during the school year, that may happen sooner.
The popularity of all sorts of electronic devices and their widespread use in everyday life may mean that kids who use these devices and take advantage of e-textbooks as well as other forms of electronic learning will not only receive a far better education, but they may also be more prepared to live and work in a digital and technology-driven world.