Digital Textbooks: Premature Hurrah?

Moving the kind of content that has traditionally been found in “adopted textbooks” to digital form seems like a no-brainer at first, at least for those of us who love technology, but clearly there are issues to be solved. The first that comes to my mind is how we monitor the content.

In California, and I suspect in all states, we have an exacting and arduous process for vetting the content of textbooks against everything from subject matter accuracy to alignment with content standards to political correctness. Even in the 21st century, schools stand in loco parentis; parents expect that the materials we put into their kids’ hands and in front of their eyes have been pre-screened and deemed acceptable.  If making textbooks digital means every teacher—and who knows whom else—can revise and edit them at will before presenting the material to students, how can we ensure the integrity of the original information?

Another issue is environmental impact.  People tend to look at books and think “trees cut down.”   Yet at least when we throw away an outdated textbook  it will decompose and return to the carbon cycle.  What about outdated technology?  I recently took an old printer to a computer recycling center in my community and I was appalled by what I found: hundreds of old computers, monitors, printers, etc. just piled up and gathering dust. Where does all this toxic technological waste end up? Landfills in Nevada? Mexico? China? Just making textbooks digital does not automatically make them green.

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