“It’s safe to say that paper, printed texts continue to be the bulk of the demand,” said Elio DiStaola, spokesman for the Follett Higher Education Group, which manages 800 bookstores in North America, including those at Delaware State University and St. Mark’s High School. “But we’re seeing more of those texts available in the electronic format. Our bookstores are preparing for that shift to accelerate. We have to assume that it will.”
There are about 4,500 college stores in the United States that survive because of those heavy tomes. With average sales hovering around $3 million the owners are unlikely to push for computers being the new textbooks. Computer teaching has a more self-study approach than standard textbooks approach. Information on the computer is grasped in a different way than when it is obtained by reading a book. It’s hard to write in the margins of a computer after all. While higher learning institutions don’t see the textbook being replaced by computers United States school systems may be nudging towards that day. A report in The New York Times shows that many school districts are providing their students with computers for lessons and homework assignments. Some teachers see the day when the computer is the textbook.
“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite. “They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”
In California some science and math texts are being replaced with open source digital versions. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes that this initiative could save hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The computer is not a reliable text tool though unless every student is equip with not only their own device but also with Internet access.
“A large portion of our kids don’t have computers at home, and it would be way too costly to print out the digital textbooks,” said Tim Ward, assistant superintendent for instruction in California’s 24,000-student Chaffey Joint Union High School District, where almost half the students are from low-income families.