Migration to Digital Textbooks by 2017 – The ‘Playbook’

[Note: Snagged spotlights some of the latest and most stimulating articles on educational technology. This article by David Nagel was brought to my attention by ETCJ science education editor Harry Keller. Please send your catch of the day to me, jamess@hawaii.edu, for possible snagging. -Editor]

David Nagel, in “Feds Look to Accelerate E-Textbook Adoption with ‘Digital Textbook Playbook'” (THE Journal, 2.1.12), describes the “Playbook” as “a guide designed to help schools overcome the challenges associated with the shift to e-textbooks. The ‘Playbook’ is the product of the Digital Textbook Collaborative, a group put together by ED and the FCC and composed primarily of technology companies and textbook publishers, along with two education organizations, one school district, and one university.”

Nagel quotes FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski: “‘When we talk about transitioning to digital textbooks, we’re not just talking about giving students e-readers so they no longer have to carry around backpacks filled with 50 pounds of often out-of-date textbooks. We’re talking about students having interactive learning devices that can offer lessons personalized to their learning style and level, and enable real-time feedback to parents, teachers, or tutors. Imagine a student who has trouble doing his geometry homework; the digital textbook automatically inserts a supplemental lesson. Imagine a teacher who has instant access to the results of a pop quiz; she can immediately see that four of her students didn’t understand the concept of photosynthesis and is able to offer an extra lesson.'”

According to Nagel, “The 67-page document provides advice for educators and administrators in four key areas:

  • Planning and leadership during the transition, with links to case studies and exemplars;
  • Ensuring connectivity at schools, including calculating bandwidth requirements, moving to the cloud, connecting classrooms, securing the network, and funding infrastructure upgrades;
  • Ensuring connectivity outside of school, including cost management, planning curriculum for mobile access, and adding WiFi to school buses; and
  • Adopting the right device for the purpose, with suggested considerations and a look at the pros and cons of BYOD versus school-supplied devices.”

Your thoughts on this initiative? -js

27 Responses

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  3. I really like this post. I sat through a whole Cybereducation initiative for many hours to learn a lot about this initiative. I have asked the person who talked the most about it to write for us. Here is the article that is on the Concord.org site. I think you will enjoy it.

    Of course I am also worrying about the people who do not have access. There are groups that are trying just to get broadband and I think the “haves” do not think about the gap in technology in education very much. . Even if we gave a computer to everyone, the use, the sophisticated use of technology seems to have evaded mots of teaching and learning , the transition is very slow and it is a shame that broadband is a gating factor.

    • I’d like to see a national initiative along the lines of rural electrification over half a century ago. If we can bring electricity to everyone, we can do it for Internet broadband. Especially, lower the cost too. Maybe, Internet should be a government entity instead of a few big companies trying to rip everyone off.

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    • I think that taking textbooks all the way into the 21st century with the promotion of a complete e-book is a very positive and green move. I think at this generation with the advent of advance technology has a responsibility to preserve and take care of the earth. Books are made from natural resources which are trees. With the use of electronic technology one can have real-time updates and corrections to books and abort the less efficient way of buying new books that waste our natural resources. I am one who has adopted the green lifestyle and going to eBooks 100% by 2017 is a positive move in the right direction.

  6. The migration of textbooks to e-books could be a good thing and a bad thing for students. The good thing is that the students wouldn’t have to carry so many books around huge college campuses,however, these books could cause strain when trying to study away from campus. Simply because notall students have access to the internet. I have read an interesting article regarding e-books and I think you guys should read it. The link is below:


    • Thanks for the link to that interesting April 2009 WSJ article. The ebook reader situation has notably changed since: back then, there was no iPad, and though android was around for cell phones, it wasn’t yet for tablets. Bezos of Amazon had already irritated blind people by welshing on his promise to make the Kindle 2 (released Feb. 2009) accessible to them and added insult to injury by caving in to the Authors’ Guild’s claim that text-to-speech created a derivative work. But the Depts of Justice and Education had not yet sent the “Dear Colleague” letter to all US American and Colleges forbidding the adoption of the Kindle because it discriminates against the blind (available on the Department of Education’s site and on the U.S. government’s ADA site). So the Kindle was pretty much the main reader in April 2009.

      Still, apart from its historical interest, there is another fascinating thing about this WSJ article: its discussion by Diigo users in Diigo annotations added on it. Now that’s something you can’t have on a tablet application. As Tim Berners-Lee pointed out last April in a conversation with Gordon Brown (from 1:23:48), apps for mobile devices are outside the general internet conversation.

      A further related problem is that of “Adopting the right device for the purpose, with suggested considerations and a look at the pros and cons of BYOD versus school-supplied devices.” mentioned by Nagel, quoted in turn by Jim Shimabukuro. Interestingly, the FCC’s Digital Textbook Playbook (PDF) itself says, about BYOD (Bring Your Own Device: “Having a variety of devices could cause them to be incompatible with the school’s chosen operating platform, content, and even connectivity systems.” but does not draw the logical conclusion: if you choose BYOD, make sure all your learning resources are in compatible, open. un-DRMed formats. I.e., for instance, NOT in the DRMed pseudo epub format imposed by Apple for diffusion via iTunes, produced with APple’s iBooks Author.

      However, as to your remark about people not having internet access at home, while it is valid for all use of internet-based tech in education. even in 2009, the Kindle 2 offered the possibility to read texts when you were not connected. And nowadays, the same obtains for iPads and android-powered tablets.

  7. I like the idea of having e-books for students. Although there are plenty of pros and cons, I believe that this should really be looked into by the education system. I believe that it will save money and have a great outcome for both the students and the teachers. I have had a couple of classes where I used e-books and found it quite interesting how I can move through the pages as if the book was physically in front of me. I have added a link to an article that I read about ebooks for younger children. Here it lists the pros and cons of an ebook. Let me know what you think. .


  8. I find the idea of switching from normal text books to e-books fascinating. I believe that there are some great pros as well as some cons of making this switch. I think children, young adults, and adults are so used to technology at this point in our society that it would not be hard for a student to pick up how to use an e-book. I also believe by having e-books there is the possibility of having far more of the students studies be interactive. I know that I like to do things when they are more “fun” they hold my attention longer. I also think e-books can cut costs of books for schools as well as students and stop using so many natural resources (trees). My issue with e-books is I believe that we in our society are forgetting the importance of regular books. I loved as a child being able to pick up a book and feel the pages and work through the book. I see how many book stores are shutting down and it bothers me that children these days will not have the same experience that I did. There are pros and cons in every change and advancement in the world but I can not see any extreme harm in this. Not only that is it will make the load for students to carry around on a daily basis far lighter and then parents can not complain about how heavy their kids books are and the damage it causes them!
    Here is a link I also found interesting when I was looking into this topic: http://thejournal.com/pages/cdwg/21st-century-classroom_e-books.aspx

  9. I personallt agree with the migration of regular reading materials to e-books. I have used several e-books during my academic career and think they are alot easier and convient than a paperback book. Since this generation revolves around technology such as social networks, internet,and cell phones anyway migrating from regular books to e-books is a very smart move.

  10. I think that moving from textbooks to e-books is a great idea for the earth and low income students. It will help with the green efforts to become more compliant with efforts to save the earth in which we live. it will also help students that cant buy books maybe recieve help from other students around them.

  11. Moving in the direction of digital textbooks, I feel, would benefit University student more. The cost of books and the hassle of carrying them around can take a toll on students. No matter the economic background most individuals have some sort of device that can have documents and large text loaded. It will also help with the preservation of the go green incentive we are all turning to.

  12. In this article on the “Playbook”, it discusses the latest in learning through technology. This will eliminate backpacking heavy textbooks to and fro, which are often out of date, but is all that the district can afford or pass out. This is definitely something I wish I had coming through high school since books would have to be carried everywhere I went. If one was to be left somewhere, it meant trouble, because I didn’t have it, or that I may have lost it in some form or fashion. I dare not mention book fines.

    With these interactive learning devices, lessons can be personalized to students learning styles as well as their levels. Another advantage is that teachers, tutors, and even parents could remain up to date immediately. By this system offering automatic supplemental lessons, as well as a teacher implemented lesson, we found that if a student doesn’t understand, there are things in place to assist. Also there are no books to leave or lose. This system will improve learning for students all around since the connectivity is arranged throughout the school building, outside, and even on the school buses. I consider the “Playbook”, learning at its best.

  13. As a future educator, I am still on the fence about this. I am an old-school kinda guy. I prefer something tangible in my possession. I do embrace new and improved technology, but I am hesitant to phase it out for K-12 education. The two main hurdles I foresee are the costs of supplying each and every student with a Nook type device, and all of the online textbooks. The other is what happens when a student misplaces the Nook or the device gets stolen? I wonder if this idea was REALLY been thought out well. Experimenting with children’s education is not something I am fond of doing. Each district, heck, each school is unique. This should not be a one-size fits all model. I say back to the drawing board ladies and germs!

    • I agree with you, Robert, about the need for something tangible, but as you said, I think we are just old school. I also don’t think we need to make this type of technological move for the lower grades just yet. I can certainly see the positive outcome it can yield for grades 6-12, but I think for young children, there is still no replacement to old fashion instruction.

  14. I believe that there are many different ways to learn. Everyone has a different way of understanding things. As human beings we have free will and the ability to reason. I can say that there are some advantages to the environment that e-books do provide, and een though everyone may not use this method of learning, it will improve the environmentto a certain extent. here is a link that describes the many different types of learning:http://www.learningrx.com/types-of-learning-styles-faq.htm

  15. In world filled with so much technological advancements, I feel confident in replacing the idea of wasting our precious natural resources on books that are constantly beiiing updated and overpriced and rather invest in e-books which are more efficeint. As a future educator I can forsee a plethera of multi-instructional oppurtunities for teachers in daily classroom settings. Automatic updates, cleaner facilities where as with books they tend to overcrowd and tke a space. But of course I would have to agree with Robert Reese with the concern of cost and being able to provide every student with one. What if the student can’t afford this, will there be a funding for this through financial aid of some sort? We must pose these questions in attempt to make such a drastic change in the fabric of education.

  16. Using e-books and digital textbooks in the classroom would be convenient and money saving; however, I believe that they take a lot from people’s health, especially, from the young children’s health. Reading from digital screen may causes a risk to their eyesight. Also, carrying a digital device all time may cause serious illnesses. Since books are natural, they have no harm to the human health.

  17. I am coming into the 21st century kicking and screaming. When the idea of e-books was first presented to me, I turned my nose up and stated that I would NEVER consider buying an e-book. I love spending hours in bookstores, touching and feeling the pages of a book. I love looking at the shelves of my bookcases that are full of books that I have read. I feel a sense of accomplishment. But with the close of one of my favorite bookstore chains, the reality of the demise of the tangible book came rushing to the front of my mind. It could really happen, tangible books are becoming a thing of the past. Now I have to consider the subject of this blog: e-textbooks. I agree that there are pros and cons to the subject. As a student at the University, I do find that carrying books around is a great burden and would welcome the alternative of an e-textbook. I don’t agree that the student will save money as the publishers are selling information, not the paper on which it is written. I don’t evision that the cost of the information will go down just because it is electronic. I agree that, at first it will take some adjusting for school districts which are experiencing tough economic time to provide each student with e-reading devices and that student will misplace them. But students misplace books and have to replace. I believe that if e-readers become common, their cost will lower as with any other technology. I am accepting the reality that e-books will become the norm in the future. I have purchased a NOOK and am learning to enjoy reading books on it. Just like anything else that is new, the world will adjust. Remember albums?

  18. The great shift in students’s learning styles parallels the uptodate technological revolution we are experiencing nowadays. As nothing is perfect in life, the play- book has both its pros and cons. Some of its pros are being a time and money- saving tool, also it is a fun learning device. Yet, it harms reader’s eyes and exposes them to more radiation which if excessively faced can cause cancers. In addition, it deprives the contemporary reader from the habit of carrying books and read in spare times.

  19. I believe that the e-book transition should be more of a collaborative integration into dual technological and paperback usage of textbooks into our schools. There are several pro’s, as well as con’s to this situation and as previous contributors have stated; and I, too am worried about our children not being able to have a love and appreciation for a hardback novel or that decreased eyesight because of focus on a screen too long causes certain health ailments in our children’s futures. I also feel that as we become more technologically advanced, the change may seem quite evident but we still need to produce various books in some form of paperback product because everyone will not be able to adapt to this particular change.

  20. I think that this migration can be good for the long term health of the backs of students. It seems like the higher up in classification you are in school, the heavier your books become. The only downside to this is that, if your internet connection ever goes down, or another solar storm happens, how do we access our books and information?

    • @Grady White – you raise a very important point: there are e-books you can download and these continue to work when you are without internet connection. Unfortunately, there also are e-books that stay in “the cloud” and which you can only stream to your computer/device, for alleged copyright motives: you do need a connection for that.

      MediaLibraryOnline (the Italian libraries’ eBook lending platform) and BookRepublic (a platform of 150 small-medium Italian publishers) struck an agreement last month, allowing registered library users to download recently published e-books without restrictions or time limits (1). These e-books are only “socially DRMed”, i.e. the PDF files have a watermark indicating the library they were borrowed from and the users’ data, but otherwise they are unprotected. This means that users might share them with others in their close relations, but are unlikely to publicly offer them for download, which would be silly when they can be legitimately downloaded.

      And there is an interesting twist: not all BookRepublic works are offered with this social DRM: some are still only available in streaming. So MediaLibraryOnline does list the latter, but only if you view the site from a PC, not from a portable device. Because – as they explained in an e-mail to me – streaming is likely to not work on a wifi-connected portable device in Italy, as there are few public wifi connections available: no point in frustrating users.

      Coming back to your comment: when you cannot avoid using a streamed e-book, you can always make screen captures of the pages you are going to need when no connection is available: not even the most draconian copyright laws make this illegal, provided you only do it for personal use or under other fair use exceptions.

      (1) See Accordo MLOL – Bookrepublic (in Italian, but Google Translate renders it OKish).

  21. As with many other technological advancements, this sounds like a great idea, but I fear that this “playbook” will cause more damage to the work ethic of the students. Devices are so dangerous because they eliminate some of the basic skills that are beneficial to educational process such as, penmanship of the students as well as spelling. The issue of responsibility would be my concern too, what if a student breaks a device and can not pay for it? What if he/she misplaces it? There are just so many things that complicate the learning process, like some have said previously; internet connection issues, malfunctions etc. While technology is awesome, it has already crippled latter generations from developing descent social skills. I guess this will just be another bitter sweet advancement to society and schools.

  22. A collaborative effort is most essential in an industry like this one where the need to establish a production standard is paramount. Like nut and bolt sizes or clothing hangers, it is absolutely necessary for the companies creating/editing e-textbooks to establish a standard format by which to present the material. At this point in time, that has not happened yet. The various e-book companies, in competition with each other for customers, provide proprietary products that make a switch to that medium impractical. With a variety of e-readers available, they do not all follow a consistent format, and each only able to run its own proprietary material. Students and teachers cannot be expected to purchase a different e-reader for each course of study, or each new book. There should be one e-book format that can run on any e-book reader. Without this, I believe the conversation of officially switching to the electronic text book format is moot.

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