Textbooks give way to the digital age in Virginia

Textbooks may soon follow 8-track tapes, film cameras and instant coffee into oblivion – although I’m admittedly not sure about the latter. What I can report is that beginning November 1, students in four school divisions in Virginia discarded their heavy, thick social studies textbooks and replaced them with Apple iPads loaded with interactive content, media and Apps aligned to state history and social studies standards.

At this point, the so-called “Beyond Textbooks” initiative is a 12-week pilot program to test the potential of wireless technology and digital textbooks to enhance teaching and learning. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced, “Digital technology holds enormous potential for transforming instruction and for cost savings for Virginia school divisions, which currently spend $70 million a year on textbooks.”

More than 200 iPads that will be used by students in the four school divisions were purchased through a grant from the Governor’s Productivity Investment Fund. Virginia is partnering with Pearson publishing, which developed four new iPad Apps plus a digital curriculum that’s aligned to Virginia academic standards.

“We are always looking at the newest technologies to advance our goal of personalizing learning for every child,” Pearson’s CEO for K-12 Curriculum Peter Cohen said. Pearson has created digital editions of an American History text for 7th grade and a world history text for 9th grade. Both programs include three components: interactive learning games that introduce concepts to students through puzzles and fast-action challenges; eText on iPad where students access the social studies curriculum and take control of their learning by creating their individualized texts; and the personalized assessment with remediation App for students to review and self-test.

The digital textbook revolution may be in its infancy, but it has been launched. Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright explained, “The experiences of students and teachers will be evaluated, and the knowledge gained will help policymakers, educators and our private sector partners  better understand the potential instructional uses of interactive digital media and wireless technology.”

Wright says the next step in Virginia will be to determine what works in this program and to build on it. It might be the beginning of the end of textbooks as we have known them. Certainly, children weighed down by 40 pound backpacks would hope so.