When Laptops and E-Reader Converge in the Classroom

I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of news stories about the digital revolution that is happening in the classroom.  Coupled with the histrionics about state of the US education system and the seemingly constant cutbacks, it’s got me thinking about how the digital revolution can help.

Let’s face it, textbooks are a scam.  Most cost over $70 each, with some college textbooks approaching $200 each!  K-12 schools struggle with wear-and-tear of paper textbooks and publishers put out new editions yearly, thereby putting a damper on used book sales.  It only seems natural to go to electrons to cut the cost of firing up a printing press for a limited run of specialized books and to save schools the burden of having to replace worn out or outdated textbooks (not to mention the trees).  When coupled with input features like highlighting and notes, digital books are just as powerful, if not more, than paper books (especially considering in K-12 public schools, student cannot write in the textbooks).  The news reports that electronic textbooks run about half the price of paper textbooks.  There are also experiments around teacher tailored content and textbook mash-ups to add diversity to the content.  This is all very exciting and I can’t wait to see how the copyright laws will change to accommodate these innovations.

The most exciting thing to me about the classroom digital revolution is all the technology that will spawn from it.  I can see E-readers converging with laptops as E-readers gain functionality and laptops limit functionality to meet pricing goals.  There will be new ways of collaboration within a class, between classes, and potentially on a worldwide scale.  I can see blackboards replaced with large touchscreens that broadcast the content (both visual and audio) to the student’s devices.  The blackboard can seamlessly display handwritten content as well as display content from the Internet, and feeds from places outside the classroom.  There can be fun stuff like class polling, instant pop quizzes, and in general, easier ways for more student to get more involved in the class.  Of course, this also facilitates cheating — but I think this just requires a new way of looking at learning and understanding how people will collaborate in the future given all the new technology.  Maybe in the future, it’ll will be commonsense to ask those available for assistance and to be able to search to the find the answers needed on a test — that is the way work gets done now, isn’t it?  Anyhow, this all means that screen technology will have to leap to bigger manufacturing formats (or better stitching of smaller units into big ones) and there needs to be a significant jump in durability to withstand the beating a chalkboard takes and the abuse children inflict upon paper textbooks.  There will also be breakthroughs in collaboration.  Something constant has to stitch all the communication together and it doesn’t necessarily have to be one piece of SW, but rather there needs to be a set of protocols so all software can work together regardless of device (I imagine most of that’s in place now, and it’s just a matter of following the rules).  That’s a tall order, but I’m a believer!  The digital revolution is a big task!  Lots of hardware will be needed, lots of people will be needed to design the hardware and the software, and lots of people will be needed to install the infrastructure.  The contracts will be huge!  And in the end the digital divide will be no more and there will be efficiencies gained with the demise of the paper textbook (plus battery and power optimization technologies for convenience and greenness).    I think it will be a leveler and hopefully lead to more prosperity for everyone.  Or so that is what this wide-eyed idealist believes …

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