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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

December 12, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Are textbooks obsolete? In some classes here, they soon may be

Michael Osbun / Op Art

Michael Osbun / Op Art

With the growing amount of educational materials offered on the Internet for free, are textbooks on their way out?

They soon may be. In the Lake Washington School District, for example, educators are investigating whether they can replace their high-school science texts with e-books built from free materials available online.

Up until recently, district officials didn’t think there was enough online curriculum to replace traditional textbooks, said Linda Stevens, director of curriculum and assessment.

Now, the district believes online materials may be equivalent or superior to what’s in print — and cheaper, too.

“We’re going to dive in and see whether we can build a really great science textbook out of Open Education Resources,” Stevens said. “If we can, that’s our most fiscally responsible way to go.”

Washington’s community colleges have provided a number of free e-textbooks for a few years now, and the Legislature recently passed a bill aimed at helping public schools districts move in that direction, too.

Lake Washington is one of a handful of districts that recently received state grants stemming from that bill to help it use, adapt or create online curriculum. Much of what’s already available has been developed by people who are eager and able to spread what they’ve made.

Most of the materials are licensed, meaning districts need to give credit to the creators. They include videos, games and simulations as well as e-books. But they are all free, can be adapted to a district’s or teacher’s needs, and updated quickly.

Textbooks, in contrast, can cost more than $100 each, and can’t be adapted or updated.

In Lake Washington, the district already provides all middle- and high-school students with laptops, Stevens said, so the district wouldn’t even have to pay for printing out the free materials.

If Lake Washington teachers come up with science e-books they like, the district will vet those materials alongside what’s available in print, Stevens said. They are looking to see what they can do in three subjects:  biology, chemistry and physics. One big criteria will be how closely they follow the new, voluntary national science standards, which Washington state has decided to use.

The potential savings for the district are large — maybe as much as a quarter million dollars per subject.

But Stevens stressed that the primary goal is to provide students with the best, most rigorous materials available.

One added benefit: Many students prefer screens to paper.

“These kids have all been through Nintendo boot camp for many years now,” Stevens said, “and they’re ready to learn digitally.”

Plus, think how much lighter their backpacks would be.

Comments | More in News | Topics: e-textbooks, Lake Washington School District, Linda Stevens


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