Would getting from New York City to Los Angeles quickly yet safely be better accomplished by driving non-stop for 41 hours or flying non-stop for less than six? The best way to advance our education system is much like the obvious answer to this question.
Since technology-based instruction can reduce the time students take to reach a learning objective by 30 to 80 percent, the clear answer is to use tech-based tools like digital textbooks to advance education. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission, Department of Education, and other stakeholders met to accomplish the task through the Digital Textbook Playbook, a guide to help K-12 educators and administrators leverage broadband technology and develop rich digital learning experiences.
This meeting follows one held in February where Chairman Genachowski and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged states and industry to drive national adoption of digital textbooks in the next five years. Last Thursday, leaders across the digital education space, including CEOs from broadband companies, publishers, and digital device manufacturers, formed a working group to discuss the transition using the Playbook. Representatives included senior executives and leaders from Apple, Aruba Networks, Chegg, Discovery Education, Idaho Department of Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Inkling, Intel, Knewton, Kno, the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission, McGraw-Hill, News Corp, Pearson, Samsung, Sprint, and T-Mobile.
The transition presents many opportunities and challenges such as “affordability, content, interoperability, connectivity, technology, … state policies, … [and] accessibility for students with disabilities,” Chairman Genachowski noted in his remarks on Thursday.
An FCC evaluation the cost of traditional learning versus digital education revealed a savings of $250 per student each year if schools move to digital textbooks. According to the FCC, a traditional learning environment, including traditional textbooks, paper, technology, and connectivity, costs an estimated $3,871 per student per year. Alternatively, a new learning environment today, including digital learning content, devices, technology, and connectivity, costs an estimated $3,621 per student per year, and in three years costs increase to an estimated $3,811 per student per year.
If schools adopt digital textbooks, according to the Playbook, “No longer will students have to tote 50 pound backpacks with … print textbooks [outdated by seven to ten years.] New digital textbooks will be light digital devices – such as a laptop or tablet – that combine Internet connectivity, interactive and personalized content, learning videos and games, and other creative applications to enable collaboration with other students while providing instantaneous feedback to the student and teacher.” The Playbook builds upon the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and the Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan.
In combination with private initiatives like Comcast’s Internet Essentials Program, FCC initiatives to modernize the E-rate program to enable mobile connectivity through schools and libraries, and the Connect to Compete program launched earlier this year, the FCC is making strides toward a better connected America using the Digital Textbook Playbook.
Dorrissa D. Griffin, Esq., is a Staff Attorney for the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, where she works on matters that focus on the advancement of civil rights for minorities and women in the nation’s media and telecommunications industries. She graduated this year from the Florida A&M University College of Law.