Going to all-digital textbooks saves money for private high school students

by Grace

A move to replace paper textbooks with digital versions will save some New York private high school students hundreds of dollars each year.

Stepinac has become one of the first high schools in the country to drop all textbooks like dead weight and replace them with a “digital library.” When students started classes Monday, they were zipping to an app or website on their tablet or laptop and had instant access to all 40 texts in the Stepinac curriculum, not to mention all sorts of note-taking, highlighting and interactive features….

In the past, students’ families had to spend up to $700 a year on textbooks. This year — after the one-time purchase of a tablet or laptop — families have to pay $150 for access to the digital library.

The high school worked out a unique deal with Pearson.

Stepinac officials worked for a year with Pearson, the giant education company that has long dominated the textbook world, to design and create a unique digital library that is bound to be studied by other private and public schools.

The transition will inevitably come with some problems.

The first few weeks may bring some challenges.

Stepinac officials expect to encounter some parental discomfort over dropping books with spines. They recognize there may be technical glitches at first. And they will have to encourage students to leave space-eating photos and music off their tablets — and to keep their devices charged.

I wonder if many students will miss the illustrations and images from their old math and history books.  Even if they do, I suspect it won’t take too long to get used to the new digital format.

Although this exact model wouldn’t work for most colleges, I foresee a similar transition for higher education.

Related:  Save money on college textbooks by using Kindle (Cost of College)

10 Comments to “Going to all-digital textbooks saves money for private high school students”

  1. I found myself recommending digital textbook rentals for one of the courses I am teaching. It makes sense in this course because the course is a skills course (Microsoft applications, required, students largely don’t care about the course), and the only time they will be reading the book is when they are already working on the computer. In the courses in the major, though, especially in the intro sequence, I tell the students to buy the book and not sell it back. It is such a good reference for later classes. They don’t believe me, though, and try to rent the digital version. Then they go nuts because it is REALLY hard to locate specific information in the digital book, and they end up wishing they had the book in later classes. Some even end up buying the hardcover later on.

    Most students report that they really dislike reading on computer devices or tablets, but are too tempted by the money savings.


  2. ” it is REALLY hard to locate specific information in the digital book”

    IME, it’s usually easier to locate specific information in a digital book. Nowadays I sometimes find myself annoyed when I cannot “search” a paper book for a specific passage or other information.

    I know a kid who is trying to use as many digital books as possible for an English high school class. Apparently the teacher is allowing it, but it seems this student might have an edge in some ways over students using paper books.


  3. Digital books are easy to search if you already know the key words to look for, but very hard if you are trying to find a diagram that you vaguely remember, or if you are looking for a concept, but can’t remember the words for it. It is currently easier to flip through a paper book than an electronic one, though that may change in another decade.


  4. Yes, that is exactly the problem. I sat with a student the other day trying to locate the section in his book that discussed a particular twist in parameter passing. I could search on “parameter passing” and get lots of irrelevant locations. I just wanted to flip through the book – I knew roughly where it was located – but we couldn’t do that.

    Most of my students rent through CourseSmart, which has a particularly braindead interface.


  5. I see a “flipping through the pages” feature on the horizon for digital books.


  6. One complaint about digital books that require going to a website is that they require internet access, which is not always available. So kids sometimes can’t do their studying while on the bus, waiting for the bus, or at the home of grandparents who don’t have wifi, for example.


  7. Grace said “I see a “flipping through the pages” feature on the horizon for digital books.” Maybe. Currently the e-ink displays can’t change fast enough and the formatting of pages for LCD displays for fast flipping takes more computational power than cheap e-books have.


  8. Yep, and the Internet based digital books are too slow to flip nicely. That is more a function of the Internet connection than anything else. You get 25, 50, 100 students in classroom all trying to flip at once, and the connections get swamped.


  9. “One complaint about digital books that require going to a website is that they require internet access, which is not always available.”

    Good point. I missed that in some cases it is necessary to be connected to the Internet to access a text in the “digital library”. When I check out an e-book from our local library, it’s downloaded and sits in my Kindle until the return date.


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