Most educators and publishers agree that technology has the potential to greatly improve a student’s classroom experience, and in my previous post, I explored the specific ways in which it can add value to learning. The conversation can’t stop at these benefits, though; before contemplating the best way to implement these new value-adds for students, we must first discuss the limitations and roadblocks of digital publishing in the classroom. Beth Bacon at Digital Book World explores some of these limitations, focusing on tablets in an article from earlier this year.
The market that K-12 educational publishing encompasses spans across the nation and includes many very different demographics. A good solution for one school or district may not be realistic or available to others for a variety of different reasons, but the main roadblocks that are slowing the shift from print-to-digital in educational materials are school budgets and funding.
Bacon touches on two other important concerns teachers have about this shift when discussing the top 3 problems with tablets in the classroom: input and making sure students are using tablets to learn, not to check Facebook or play Candy Crush. These are important issues, but I believe both offer an opportunity for publishers to improve their technology and make their products more user-friendly and applicable to the way teachers instruct and the way students learn. The second issue, monitoring use, should be a challenge to educational publishers: if they make their materials as engaging as the games, sites and apps students may get distracted with, students will have less of a reason to stray.
While these issues are important and should shape the way educational publishers are producing their digital materials, Bacon notes that a lack of funding is the biggest roadblock teachers face with technology:
“In a recent survey of more than 225 Kindergarten through grade-12 educators in the United States, 57% of responders selected ‘No budget to purchase applications/e-books’ as the biggest challenge in integrating tablets in their lessons.”
Funding will improve as educators realize the changing costs of advancing and updating education, as they optimistically noted at the 2013 Content in Context conference held this summer, but change won’t happen overnight and there will always be schools that continue to suffer with funds. Just because many schools still can’t, or may never be able to, afford the most cutting-edge technology such as tablets in their classrooms doesn’t mean technology can’t benefit these classrooms, though. Nor should publishers shy away from digitizing their materials; it means that publishers shouldn’t focus on one medium but aim to provide their content in a variety of formats that can reach the many different demographics that they need to reach. Just because a school can’t afford twenty Interactive White Boards or tablets in every classroom doesn’t mean they shouldn’t experience the benefits of technology, it means that they will experience them in different ways.
The Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, NC is one example of a district that has used technology to advance its educational despite facing tight budgets. In an article about the school district from American Legislator found on statebudgetsolutions.org, John Stephenson explains how the district has used technology “not in the traditional sense” of offering online courses but by enhancing many of the fundamental concepts within their educational system, such as reaching and engaging their communities. The district is even using technology to maximize their budget by allowing administrations to find new ways to save costs.
Educational publishers need to create less expensive ways to reach districts in ways similar to how Moorseville has used technology. Publishers need to explore publishing their content in different formats in order to do this: produce and market expensive e-textbooks or e-readers for the schools that can afford it, but make a majority of the resources and content within these more expensive products available online or as computer programs for the schools that can’t afford it. This is why the shift from print-to-digital in educational publishing can’t be limited or concluded to one medium over another, but should include many different formats that can reach the many audiences within this varied market. In order to address these limitations and push past the roadblocks, educational publishers need to continue to engage with and talk to school boards and teachers across their market to see what will work best for their children, their curriculum, and their budgets.