As technology continues to advance, the role of printed media is called into question. As newspapers, magazines, and even novels go online, textbooks are increasingly becoming more available in digital format. The rise of personal computers, e-readers and tablets makes textbooks more available in digital format. However, most traditional learning institutions are leery of abandoning hard copy texts in favor of digital copies, citing cost and maintenance issues. A complete switch from hard copy to digital textbooks requires careful consideration of a number of factors and this switch may not be the right choice for every school.
One of the main arguments in favor of digital textbooks is the price of the books themselves. Physical textbooks can easily cost anywhere between $80-$200 dollars (Rapp). While this cost is often passed along to the students in private and higher learning institutions, public schools are often forced to purchase textbooks in bulk and reuse outdated textbooks to cut costs. Digital textbooks can be licensed for much less and can be kept up-to-date electronically. Digital textbooks also offer a wider variety of media material to use in lesson plans. While hard copy textbooks are limited to the printed word, electronic textbooks can convey information through music, video or even interactive games and quizzes. Electronic lesson plans and digital textbooks have the potential to save students and schools money, as well as provide an up-to-date multimedia learning experience for each student.
While digital textbooks may be less expensive than their hard copy counterparts, the technology required to use them presents a different challenge. Although e-readers, tablets and personal computers are becoming considerably less expensive, even low-end machines will still cost at least $200 (Kelly), plus the cost of software and textbook licensing. While most college students own or can easily access a personal computer, public K12 institutions must be able to provide technology to all of their students, if they are to make a complete shift to digital textbooks. Even with corporate sponsorship, providing laptops or tablets for 2,000-4,000 students can easily cost anywhere from $20,000-$500,000, depending on the size of the school and the quality of the machines (Wilson). Maintaining and replacing lost, damaged or stolen equipment are challenges that are easier to address with printed textbooks than with tablets or laptops.
The decision to make a switch from hard copy textbooks to digital textbooks cannot easily be made on a statewide or even nationwide level. Each individual school or institution must weigh the pros and cons of a digital text shift and decide what is best for their students. The cost and upkeep of computers and tablets are some of the biggest challenges for K12 and public institutions to overcome. Making a shift to digital textbooks will undoubtedly be costly, but with more print media being replaced with digital media, students would be better equipped to deal with the modern world if they were taught with modern tools. Partnering with manufactures like Apple or Intel can offset the cost of machines while still offering quality, low cost digital learning materials (Electronista Staff). Affordable laptops, smartphones and tablets are available in almost every home in the country, but schools still insist on teaching with the same methods and tools that have been around since the invention of the printing press. If students are expected to compete in a 21st century world, then they must receive a 21st century education.
The shift from print to digital media has already happened. With books, news and magazines all online, it is only a matter of time before textbooks go online as well. Despite the cost of technology, digital textbooks offer up-to-date multimedia lesson plans that students can interact with. As technology improves and becomes more cost effective, the financial hurdles preventing schools from adopting digital textbooks will disappear. Schools that adopt digital learning programs now will provide their students with the advantage of a truly modern education.