Walk through an HISD high school, and you’ll notice something missing.The state’s largest school system is joining a growing group of districts nationwide that are phasing out a classroom staple: hard-copy textbooks.This coming school year, for the first time, all HISD high school students will receive laptops, and the district bought only digital materials for math and social studies classes. HISD scrapped printed science books in high schools last year and plans to do the same with English books in the next cycle. The new model: electronic text with features like hyperlinks, videos and interactive maps.The digital shift reflects Superintendent Terry Grier’s push to modernize instruction amid stagnating student test scores. The millions saved from not buying books can help fund the technology and online resources that can be updated more easily, but a tougher challenge remains: ensuring that educators and students adapt.“I’m absolutely convinced that no paper textbooks is the way to go,” Grier said in a recent interview.“It’s called a digital transformation. And every teacher is to make that transformation.”
There are so many things wrong with doing this. Non-teachers can figure out the most obvious, let me tell you what we teachers consider in addition:
- Looking at screens for a long time is much harder than looking at books. Reading on a screen is more difficult than reading a book.
- Screens use a color of light that is known to screw up your circadian rhythms. That means that it's harder to fall and stay asleep if you study near bedtime. (It's also why you shouldn't "play" on your phone shortly before bed.)
- It's often easier to find something in a book that it is to find it in a file or online. Many times we'll remember what the page looked like, if it was on the left or right side, etc, when we try to find something.
- Studying is easier with a book than with a computer.
- Much harder to highlight using computers! (more appropriate for college textbooks than high school textbooks, though)
- What else are they doing on those laptops?
- Is the infrastructure strong enough to support the laptops? (How often does the power go out? How often does the internet go out? How often does the wireless go out? Can the district handle all those kids logged on at once?)
- Do I have stable desks, and carpeting?
- How am I, the teacher, supposed to handle a kid who forgot to charge his laptop, and it goes out during the quiz?
- How will the district/schools handle those kids who just cannot be trusted on computers? (Yes, they exist, and sometimes they find a way to access porn sites and send hundreds of pictures to the school secretary's printer. Just saying.)
Of course, not all the news is bad. Of course having the most up-to-date information is a plus, especially in history or science class. But how often does algebra change? Or Romeo and Juliet? Of course having graphics and animations can clarify instruction.
Now don't go thinking for a minute that I'm a Luddite. Look how long I've been writing this blog, for example. Consider that I'm one of the go-to guys on campus for teachers who have problems with our student information system (attendance, grades, discipline, parent contacts, etc.). I actually like our student information system and am a big fan of how it simplifies many of my administrative tasks. At home I have a computer, a tablet, and a smartphone. And I know how to use them, and I know which one is the appropriate tool to use for a given task.
So I'm no Luddite. I just don't see how the costs in any way outweigh the benefits in this Houston project. I could be wrong, it may turn out to be wonderful. And if it does, I hope someone will call my attention to the glowing newspaper articles about it. In the meantime, I'm cynical.