In five years (three? two?!) I will not ask my high school students to open the 6.5 pound textbooks that currently sit on the floor under the desks. Nor will I bemoan their reluctance to look up words or mark up the text as they read. I will not wonder how to meet the needs of the 35% of my class who have learning disorders, most of which are language processing disorders of one form or another. Instead, I will ask them to get out their digital textbooks (what will we call them: DBooks? DBs? ETexts? Readers?) and "read the assigned story." Here is what will be different:
- The article they read might be from that day's San Francisco Chronicle, downloaded for free as part of the digital version of Newspapers in Education program.
- Those who find it more helpful will, instead of reading the words with their eyes, pop in their earbuds from their iPods and hit the Audio button to listen to the book read to them (choosing from a menu of different voices) while they follow along with their eyes.
- When they encounter a word they do not know, they will simply highlight it and click a button and the definition will appear with the option of an audio link. If they encounter references (cultural literacy references) they will highlight and search the encyclopedia (or wikipedia) for the necessary background knowledge in context.
- They will read actively, marking up the text with a stylus or some other means, saving these to a notepad on the DBook where they can jot down brief notes to prepare for the subsequent discussion using the keyboard on the DBook.
- When they finish, I will flash a quiz on the screen which they can use the embedded interactive wireless voting button to answer the questions. I will ask them all to choose the answer they think is best for each one; we will discuss these as we go, using wrong answers to provide opportunities for discussion and clarification. It will feel a bit like a game show; it will be fun; it will be instructionally productive and effective.
- For homework, they will write (or use the voice recognition option to orally compose) a paragraph in which they summarize and respond to the article.
- When they come in the following day, I will ask them to upload their homework wirelessly, after which we will discuss what they wrote (for they will still have it to refer to).
- After warming up with this discussion, they will click into the assigned novel they are reading, the previous day's news article having prepared them to read the next section in the novel.
- After they read for a bit to answer the questions I provided them, they will click a button that will take them into a social network within which students post their remarks, interacting with each other through writing in a threaded discussion, their visible avatars and real names keeping them accountable.
- After ten minutes or so, we come back as a class, at which point I use comments from their discussion–which I have monitored and joined to nudge their thinking in certain directions when needed–to lead a focused discussion about what they meant, what the author was saying, and how that related to the article from the previous day (which is only a click away to return to for easy reference).
This is scenario is not probable; it is inevitable in some form. It is inevitable because:
- textbook companies cannot continue to publish six pound textbooks that require schools to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, which inspired the creation of Flat World Textbook Company.
- schools will have steadily decreasing budgets for materials as they spend increasingly more on business- and data-related software solutions for attendance, data management, class management (like www.schoolloop.com)
- technology will make these DBooks increasingly affordable and durable as these articles from the Washington Post and Business Week and Boston Globe prove.
- textbook companies will realize they can give schools the DBooks and make the money on the texts themselves. This will be the deal: We will give you the DBook if you agree to purchase our whole line of Language Arts, social studies, science, math, and health texts for the DBook. Otherwise, the cost of the DB will depend on how many texts the school chooses to buy.
Teachers over thirty-five will (mostly) balk, resist, even freak out; those under thirty-five won't think twice because they have never known world that wasn't digital. My students? They won't even blink, but they will read, will think, will engage in conversations about ideas, the book having been removed as an obstacle so we can talk about the the stories, the ideas and how these connect to them and the world they are trying to understand.