Online Textbooks Here We Come

Educators are turning the page on school textbooks — the future is online.

A pilot program in Fairfax County will provide classes at certain schools with netbooks which will give access to textbooks online instead of in print. Social studies classes at six high schools and six middle schools will be part of the year-long study.

Fairfax is following the lead of Frederick and Arlington counties, which are moving toward the use of online textbooks.

Naturally there are drawbacks to phasing out printed books and moving online. One concern is access: Will all students have the ability to get on the Internet and access online books when not at school? And what will happen when teachers open the Pandora’s Box that is the Internet? Will students use their netbooks for accessing online textbooks? Or will they goof off during class by surfing sites like Facebook?

There are, of course, positive aspects to the plan as well. One big advantage to online textbooks is cost. The printed behemoths that have lived in our children’s classrooms for decades are expensive. Doing away with them would be a big cost-saving measure for schools.

You can read more about this at The Washington Post.

The truth is that fate outweighs opinion on this issue. As the printed page moves online in all aspects of our culture, schools are sure to follow suit. If they do not, students might find themselves at a disadvantage.

Observe the chaos in the newspaper industry as periodicals increasingly move their pages online and attempt to find new business models to sustain them.

Watch how the Kindle, Nook, and other digital reading devices transform the book publishing industry.

Pay attention as bloggers and other online writers begin to sway the conversations once left to the established American intelligentsia.

The Internet has transformed our world like nothing before, and the changes are coming whether the schools want them or not. The choice left is whether to be early adopters or latecomers to the digital party. Either way, especially with financial crisis lingering for the foreseeable future, schools will probably end up adopting online textbooks eventually.

Whether this change is a good idea or bad is something that will be left to others to decide. But is it inevitable? Probably so. And schools would do well to recognize that fact.

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