If Not Now, When?
One only has to look around to realize how much technology permeates our lives, from electronic banking to online shopping to filing taxes electronically to programming and watching television. Consider the lives of our students: they wake up to the music on their iPod, text their friends to meet at lunch, check their phone messages at their locker, search the web for the movie schedules to plan an outing, and buy their tickets online.
The world today uses technology to increase efficiency and communication. Warschauer and Matuchniak of the University of California, Irvine note that S. Harnad "calls this phenomena of computer communication 'a fourth revolution in the means of production of knowledge' following the previous revolutions of language, writing and print" (1). It is argued that schools are not taking advantage of technology to motivate and increase academic achievement. While students today may be digitally savvy, they are not necessarily digitally literate. The tendency in schools today is for kids to be told to "power down" in school while they "power up" outside of school.
The role of technology continues to increase in business and society. Researchers look at how education utilizes technology to prepare students for the world beyond high school. Research shows that the first digital divide, traditionally thought of as access to technology, is over despite the perception of many in leadership. Kids today find a way to access a YouTube video or an email account if they want. Research also shows there is a growing second digital divide that should concern education. This new digital divide is about how the technology is used, for learning or entertainment. This may increase the achievement gap in our schools.
As early as 2002, students, whom Project Tomorrow in its 2010 report later described as "free agent learners" (2) recognized this gap and insisted that policymakers take the digital divide seriously (3). These students recognized that not all students have the skills to navigate the technology effectively and all students would benefit from instruction on how to use it better. They acknowledge that students with better technology skills and knowledge of educational websites have a significant advantage over other students (3). Students come to school with a different set of skills and expectations because of their use of technology outside of school. The authors of a Pew Institute study conclude: "The type of technological environment that surrounds a teen shapes their online life" (4).
Just as the workplace is using technology to save money, so too is education. Increasingly, colleges are using online courses to help meet demand. Professors are using Skype for virtual office hours. Registration, grades, and communication are all done using technology. The world increasingly is becoming paperless. K – 12 education must prepare students for this world.
Digital textbooks continue to evolve in this rapidly changing world of technology. What started out as PDF copies of the print text have turned into highly interactive electronic resources. Because they are electronic, they can be updated quickly and efficiently. There is no need for printing, warehousing, and shipping. Content information is delivered to students in a variety of ways, such as through visuals (using pictures and video clips embedded with the text), audio (through features that read the text aloud to students with difficulty reading), or the traditional print, to meet different learning styles.
Digital textbooks provide additional resources, such as relevant primary source documents and interactive maps, games, and vocabulary cards, to support the content for both the student and the teacher. This allows teachers to reinforce and reteach content using the variety of resources available. Students can highlight and make notes as they read which can be saved and referenced later. Used correctly these resources, and others which can be accessed via a publisher website, allow teachers to personalize the learning for their students.
Using these interactive digital textbooks meets kids where they are today. This format is more engaging and motivating for students. The more students become active learners, the more knowledge they acquire. The more knowledge they acquire, the more opportunity they have to be successful. As the world beyond high school becomes increasingly digital, so too must the classroom if we are to prepare our students to become productive adults. As Carly Fiorina is quoted in Friedman's book The World is Flat, ". . . the last 25 years were a warm-up for an era in which technology will literally transform every aspect of business, life, and society" (5).
1 M. Warschauer & T. Matuchniak, "New Technology and Digital Worlds: Analyzing Evidence of Equity in Access, Use, and Outcomes," Review of Research in Education 34 (2010): 179225, doi: 10.3102/0091732X09349791.
2 Project Tomorrow, Speak Up Reports, "Creating Our Future: Students Speak Up About Creating Their Vision for 21st Century Learning," 2010.
3 S. Arafeh et al., "The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap between Internet–savvy Students and Their Schools," Pew Internet & American Life Project (2002).
4 A. Lenhart, M. Madden, and P. Hitlin, 2005, "Teens and Technology: Youth are Leading the Transition to a Fully Wired and Mobile Nation," Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005 (202-419-4500).
5 T. L. Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).