In May, Governor Schwarzenegger established a "Free Digital Textbook Initiative" to review free digital high school textbooks to determine which met the state's established academic standards. State education officials asked content developers to submit content and the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) was asked to facilitate the review of the submitted content. The results were not to be considered an endorsement by the state (eventhough most of the free textbooks scored highly) however even as a 'dry-run' or experiment, this effort is likely to both encourage other suppliers of free content and local decision makers to consider adopting free content as part of their curriculum. Which is the intention.
In this first step, the initiative asked for textbooks in math and science and nine suppliers submitted 16 titles. The publishers were both individual educators and publishers and Pearson was the only 'traditional' publisher that chose to submit content. Embarrassingly, Pearson scored one of the lowest scores against the 'content standards met' criteria. (Why they were there at all is perhaps a more interesting discussion point.) The full report is located here.
In addition to the direction from the state level to evaluate digital content, other agencies have also joined in to support this initiative. Notable among these has been the California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA) which recently organized a seminar showing participants how digital content could be integrated into the HS curriculum. The textbook content reviewed by CLRN will be available in classrooms in the fall.
The Governor's office made the following announcement:
Since these digital books are downloadable and may be projected on a screen, viewed on a computer, printed chapter by chapter, or bound for use in the classroom, schools can take advantage of these free, standards-aligned resources using existing hardware - even in classrooms without computers or laptops for every student.As this program develops, it will be interesting to see how the concept of a textbook begins to change. One of the criteria listed in the 'parameters' for review of the digital content is that the material must be 'stable for two years': Changes to the content are not allowed. For some subjects, this parameter should be no problem but, as the state evaluates social science and some other (dynamic) subjects, this parameter will begin to look quaint and limiting in what advantages digital content - free or paid - is able to deliver over print formats. In turn, as the parameters change, so will the process of vetting and approving titles for use in high schools. This initiative, viewed skeptically when it was announced earlier this year, has not only delivered tangible results to California educators but also represents a significant strategic issue for all traditional publishers as they navigate their digital frontier.
To showcase the multiple ways in which digital textbooks can be used, the California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA) today hosted 200 educators, technology professionals and content providers for a digital textbook symposium at the Orange County Department of Education. Teachers led students through lesson plans using digital textbooks in four mock classrooms, demonstrating the materials’ interactive potential. CETPA also moderated panel discussions about the future of digital education and potential next steps in this innovative effort.
Secretary of Education Glen Thomas spoke at the symposium and added, “I applaud the Governor for his leadership and vision in launching this groundbreaking initiative. This represents an important first step toward ubiquitous instruction that will help ensure all California students have access to the first-rate education they deserve.”