HB165 and its identical twin in the Senate, SB199, would provide for “all students in the public school grades 9-12, where available, approved textbooks and instructional materials to students in electronic format.” These bills are proclaimed as the Alabama Ahead Act.
It also calls for every public school grade 9-12 student and teacher in Alabama, where feasible, to be issued a “pen-enabled tablet computer for storing, reading, accessing, exploring, and interacting with digital textbooks and other instructional materials, in whole or in part, to students in lieu of hardbound textbooks and other instructional materials.”
And how does the legislature propose paying for these electronic textbooks and tablets? By allowing the Alabama Public School and College Authority to sell up to $100 million worth of bonds for this purpose.
Many school districts across the country are already using pen-enabled tablets, most notably Apple’s iPad. Apple’s announcement last month that it had entered into a deal with three large textbook publishers has the news services abuzz with announcements of school districts considering the switch. Not everyone believes the crunched numbers support the iPad switch.
Back to Alabama. Senator Dial, the sponsor of the Senate version, told the Opelika-Auburn News that, on average, the state purchased $35 million of textbooks each year for the past six years (with each course of study being re-addressed once every six years with few exceptions). While Sen. Dial and Rep. McClendon (the sponsor of the House bill) didn’t quote any cost savings, saving money on paper due to students’ ability to complete homework on the tablet was mentioned.
While these bills place the authority for implementing the acquisition of the tablets and e-textbooks on the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), a quick look around netted a cautionary tale of who controls the market and how books are sold and distributed and how, in fact, our college students could wind up paying more for e-textbooks. If college students wind up paying more for the right to use an e-textbook, why wouldn’t our K-12 environment be subject to those same market conditions? [More details about Alabama’s current textbooks are available on the ALSDE site.] Check out this extensive resource on the e-textbook industry.
The University of Alabama is still finding that paper textbooks are outpacing e-textbooks, but the push is on to convert from paper to digital textbooks, with some citing the cost of paper textbooks as the biggest reason to convert to e-textbooks. Other cite the ability to update e-textbooks quicker than reprinting a paper textbook as the biggest advantage. Colleges have a bit more experience with e-textbooks, and as such it behooves us to pay attention to the lessons they are learning.
Be sure, though, that e-textbooks aren’t the only use for a “pen-enabled tablet”. This technology support specialist in Cullman County Schools makes a good case for adding the technology to the classroom to aid collaborative learning. And this article (from Alaska….about the Alabama Ahead Act) highlights Alabama’s teachers’ enthusiasm for using iPads in school.
Digging further, one could make the case that Alabama is behind the curve, at least where iPads are concerned. Check out this ning (forum) for educators and others to share information about using iPads in education and this newssite dedicated to the terms “iPads and tablets in education”. And while iPads are popular, this article reminds us that iPads aren’t the only pen-enabled tablets, though, and in many cases others cost $300 – $400 less.
Four areas to keep in mind with respect to these bills: (1) initial cost of the tablet, (2) repair, maintenance and replacement cost of the tablet, (3) cost of materials (including e-textbooks), and (4) additional uses for the tablet. How to account for the harder-to-quantify but attractive reasons to use tablets in schools like motivating students to learn and engaging them in their learning remains to be seen.
It should be noted that most efforts to put tablets and/or e-textbooks in schools have been led by either school districts or the schools themselves, funded with grant money or through particular organizations. California is currently piloting a full-year algebra 1 curriculum app for the iPad but only in certain schools and districts. Recent results show that California students are performing better on tests due to using that iPad app. Virginia schools have announced that 75 students will participate in an 18-month pilot program using the same algebra curriculum app.
It appears that Alabama will be the first state to elevate this priority to a state level. In February 2011, a senator in Georgia said Apple and state educators and legislators were considering a deal to put iPads in middle schools in Georgia. Some were concerned that the deal wasn’t as good as it appeared. No evidence of the deal being made can be found.
While the use of a pen-enabled tablet in a classroom can help teachers teach and children learn, there is much evidence across the country of appropriate and cost-efficient use of these tablets on which to draw. Here’s hoping the proper analyses are done prior to the passage of this bill. $100 million is a lot of money.
One lingering question is where the next cash infusion would come from to replace worn-out or broken tablets. If that burden landed on local school districts, that might be a tough burden for districts to bear.
What are your thoughts?
Here’s a great resource created to gather all education-related apps in one place. It’s broken down by elementary, middle and high school.
Some of the schools and districts in our area using pen-enabled tablets
Florence High School
Homewood City Schools
Limestone County Schools – gave them to board members and principals
Vestavia Hills City Schools
University Place Elementary School – Tuscaloosa